Atlanta loses a supreme culinary talent in Angus Brown

Local culinary notables pay tribute to the 8Arm chef, who passed away this morning
Angus Brown
Angus Brown

Andrew Thomas Lee

Angus Brown, the chef at 8Arm, was found dead Wednesday morning, according to his longtime business partner, Nhan Le. Le confirmed Brown’s passing in a text: “I can’t believe it. We lost him.” Brown was 35.

Brown and Le first gained attention when they opened Octopus Bar in 2011. It was a casual spot that absorbed and reflected the energy of East Atlanta Village, and it attracted other chefs eager for good, late-night meals post-shift. Octopus Bar was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show “The Layover,” where he called Brown’s food “terrific.”

In 2014, the duo opened seafood-centric Lusca in South Buckhead, which, despite being a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant 2015 and landing on GQ’s list of 25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2015, closed its doors in early 2016. Seats were often empty; perhaps it didn’t jibe with the neighborhood. So last fall, Brown and Le shifted their focus to 8Arm, a morning-to-night restaurant adjacent to Paris on Ponce, as they readied to open the upmarket seafood restaurant Ama next door.

When I interviewed Brown in December, he seemed excited to be working closely with food again, after stepping away from the line at Lusca. “I wasn’t touching sauté pans there,” he said. “I wasn’t touching a dish. I was like, ‘I want to be back in the kitchen,’ you know? I believe in myself and I believe in the food that I put out, the simplicity of it.”

An Atlanta native, Brown went to boarding school at the Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island before becoming a chef. He worked in Maine, Florida, and, ultimately, moved back to Atlanta, where he enjoyed much success at his young age. His food was influenced by his travels throughout Vietnam, Japan, and Cambodia; by his relationships with Georgia farmers; and by his love of reading. Inspired by a book about Rome’s Jewish ghettos, for example, he made a chicken heart ragu with San Marzano tomatoes at 8Arm, crowning the dish with a fried duck egg. By week’s end, the chicken hearts were gone, so he served leftover duck eggs with fat and creamy white royal corona beans dressed in white anchovy vinaigrette.

“He was just starting to come into his own,” says chef Steven Satterfield, who hired Brown as a grill cook not long after Miller Union opened in 2009. “He wasn’t done yet.”

Below, some thoughts and memories from Brown’s friends, colleagues, and fans.

Greg Best, co-owner, Ticonderoga Club: “We are just incredibly sorry for the loss and, in particular, because we considered Angus to be a great leader and a huge comrade in a shared philosophy of unorthodox restaurateurs that we believe will be the underpinning of a city this large. We needed his voice. To lose that is the part that will keep us up at night. Never mind the fact that he was such a wonderful human being, sweetheart, and friend. To lose him as a conspirator is just as infinitely hard to take.”

Neal McCarthy, general manager and co-owner of Miller Union: “We knew that he had a bigger picture of what he wanted to do. We’re very fortunate at Miller Union at having a sustainable business. It’s hard to accomplish that. So the business side was always something Angus and I would talk about. We had a lot of professional admiration for each other. Our ethos at Miller Union was to cater to more of an upper middle-class clientele, because they’re the ones with money. Octopus was different. And to see him fail at Lusca—though I suppose if it was a failure, that’s for them to say. I went to 8Arm a couple of weeks ago, and just saw him cooking and in the kitchen and doing what he truly loved to do. That part of it was there. It was back. It was Angus.

He wasn’t held in by borders by his food. He made one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve traveled all around Italy. It was a lamb neck with pappardelle and, man, it just sang me a song. He wasn’t tied to any one cuisine. He just does what’s right to him at the moment.

He was such a good person, such an infectious person. You wanted to spend time with him. You wanted to be friends with him. It was genuine. It’s just hard to wrap my head around. You get a do-over with a new year—a fresh start—and you think things are gonna change, but this is a big kick in the nuts. Nhan told me they’re thinking of a having a party, because that’s what Angus would have wanted.

I’m just at a loss today.”

Christiane Lauterbach, food writer, Atlanta magazine: “His cooking had a surprisingly feminine sensibility. I admired the fact that he interrupted his career to travel to Vietnam, and I really loved him as an individual. I will miss running into him and getting one of his big bear hugs. He was a great hugger, a really warm individual. We lost one of the ten chefs who matter in Atlanta.”

Zeb Stevenson, chef at Watershed: “Angus was the kind of cook that this city needed at just the right time. There was no ego and no star complex with Angus. He cooked great, spirited, singular food simply for the love of it. Anyone who appreciates great, genuine food got a real gift in the form of Angus Brown. I can’t begin to say how saddened I am to know that he’s gone.”

Guy Wong, chef and owner of Miso Izakaya: “The industry as a whole is sad. This is such a grueling industry, and to work for something and just be gone… It’s scary. It’s a wake-up call. RIP Angus.”

John Kessler, former AJC restaurant critic, on Brown’s Facebook page:

Additional reporting by Julia Bainbridge and Steve Fennessy.