A Q&A With Brandon Arms, Executive Chef of the New Kitchen at Club Passim

club passim

Back in August, many in Cambridge mourned the closing of Veggie Planet, which had served as the restaurant side of Club Passim for more than thirteen years. But they got some great news in early March, when it was announced that Brandon Arms—formerly of Garden at the Cellar and Clio—would be taking over food and drink operations at the renowned music club.

It’s been a hectic month for Arms, whose restaurant The Kitchen at Club Passim just opened its doors earlier this week, but he made some time to sit down with Scout to tell us about Passim, his cooking style and a new duck pastrami reuben that sounds like heaven between two slices of bread.

Scout Cambridge (SC): The Kitchen at Club Passim has only been open for a few nights, but how’s it going so far?

Brandon Arms (BA): So far, so good! The first night of service was a sold-out show. [Laughs] We could gauge what we’re like at capacity on the first night. There might be a few kinks, but those are soon to be ironed out. I have a very helpful team, so we’re all working to get that straightened away. My service staff is great.

SC: Had you been to a lot of shows at Passim before jumping into this role? Were you a fan of the spot already?

BA: I actually didn’t know much about it. I always sort of wondered what it was. Veggie Galaxy—Veggie Planet?—whatever was here before, I didn’t even know it existed. I’m more of a food person, so the venue wasn’t necessarily on my radar.

SC: So how did you end up hearing about the position and deciding that this was a good fit for you?

BA: Mary Canning, who owns Follow the Honey here in Harvard Square, she used to be a regular at the restaurant [The Garden at the Cellar], and I did a honey dinner with her last year. She heard about my situation sort of going sour over there, so she was like, ‘Well, Club Passim is looking for somebody,’ and she basically put me in touch, and we went from there. We worked out the logistics, and here I am.

SC: And now it’s open.

BA: Yeah! I mean the concept at Passim, the idea and how involved with the community they are—it’s all really cool. It’s a different art form. At the end of the day, we’re all sort of artists, so we get along in that aspect.

SC: So tell me a little bit about yourself. What do you like to do?

BA: Well, I try to go out fly fishing as much as possible. When I can’t do that, I’m usually either working on my fish tank at home. I have a giant reef aquarium in my living room—150 gallons, so it’s quite large. I’ve got a lot of cool stuff in there, like sea urchins, star fish, stuff like that. But I work a lot. I work a lot. Whatever time I do have I just try to get the laundry done.

As far as cooking, I started out at a really young age. My mother used to work nights, so I would always have to cook myself dinner. I guess I started cooking out of necessity. And then I just got into the restaurant community—a couple fast food places to get a start washing dishes. I continued to work all around the city, moving up. I did some serving, table service. And after working at different restaurants around the city I decided, ‘All right, I’m gonna go to culinary school.’ Once I got there, I started to realize that I knew what I was doing, so I did a two-year course in a year. And then I went to work at Clio here in Boston. I was there for two-and-a-half years, but then students loans started to come around and I needed to go somewhere that was a little more lucrative, so I ended up hanging out with Will Gilson at the Garden at the Cellar, and the rest is history.

SC: So when your time at the Garden at the Cellar came to an end, did you consciously decide that you wanted to stay in Cambridge or did it just happen that way?

BA: I did want to stay in the Cambridge area. You know, over the years I’ve met a lot of friends and patrons and regulars that I grew fond of. They were always, ‘What are you gonna do next?’ And I didn’t want to leave everybody stranded or make them travel a long way.

SC: For those who haven’t been to your new restaurant yet (which I assume is most people, since it’s only been open for a few days), what can we expect from the menu?

BA: Oh, it’s all over the place. Just well executed food, lots of flavor, ingredients from all around the world and lots of different styles of food. I think we came up with the term “boldly inspired new American.” [Laughs] A lot of French techniques, ingredients from all over the world and food that’s… nostalgic, I guess. That’s the word I want.

SC: Are there any dishes on the new menu that people need to be absolutely sure to try?

BA: Oh, the butter poached lobster, the lamb gnocchi, the smoked salmon with Sunchoke rösti, definitely the pork buns. We’ve got a really tasty burger. But there’s a lot of vegetarian options, I take allergies and stuff like that into consideration. I’ve got a couple vegan dishes—I’m all over the place. And people can always talk to the servers, and they can come talk to me. We’d be happy to work anything out for anybody.

SC: And are there still plans to introduce a breakfast menu down the line?

BA: That’s still the plan. We’re working on the logistics of lunch right now, and we still have a couple construction situations that we need to address and to really get used to our new POS system. We’re nailing all of that stuff down, and then we’re going to talk about moving forward. I tested the duck pastrami reuben today. I wanted to… well, one of my cooks punched me. Gruyere cheese, Kohlrabi kraut, Russian dressing… It’s so good.

SC: Anything else we need to know about the new spot?

BA: Well, I just need to say how happy I am to be working with such a great team and having that help and support and care and the drive to do your best every day. That’s nice to be around. It’s a nice change of pace.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To check out the complete Kitchen at Club Passim menu or see a list of upcoming shows at the club, head over to clubpassim.com.