While much of the world was stuck in an endless loop of Zoom calls and scrolling through their Netflix queues, Sean Brock was busy opening restaurants in Nashville.
His fast-food joint Joyland debuted in March 2020 with burgers, biscuits and fried chicken. The Continental came next, serving classic American cuisine inside the Grand Hyatt hotel, followed by Audrey, a refined ode to his Appalachian roots and the rural south. Brock’s latest restaurant, June, is his most ambitious project yet.
June opened July 13 in East Nashville. Situated directly above Audrey, the nine table, 32-seat restaurant serves a tasting menu that averages 20 courses and features ingredients that are indigenous to the American South. Dinner service arrives in five acts — canapes, water, land, dessert and petit fours — with multiple courses per act. The dining experience runs between two and three hours and costs $250 per person.
Brock’s stated goal is to push what’s possible with Southern food and hospitality by highlighting local ingredients and emphasizing seasonality. He intends to change the menu twice per season.
“I find the tasting menu format extremely exciting,” he said. “A tasting menu allows you to focus so much more on the overall experience because you have so much more control. It’s much easier to tell a story from start to finish.”
Plates from the opening menu include a crab head omelet with crab roe bottarga, cherrywood smoked scallop with fennel, crispy quail leg with shiso, and Appalachian blue barley with benne seed oil.
Despite the tasting menu concept and price tag, Brock wanted to ensure the June space is relaxing, not fussy and formal. The dining room features natural woods and natural lighting, and guests can see into the open kitchen as chefs create and plate dishes.
“We put a lot of emphasis on making the most zen experience possible,” said Brock. “The last two and a half years have been very difficult for all of us. June is a place to escape and focus on art and happiness.”
Much of the concept is driven by the restaurant’s R&D lab located next door. Run by dedicated lab manager Elliot Silber, a food scientist and fermentation specialist, it’s integral to menu creation at June while also playing a role at Audrey.
“At the lab, we focus on extraction and concentration,” said Brock. “Our goal is to take every seasonal ingredient that walks through the door and explore ways to unlock hidden flavors of sweet, sour, umami, salt and acidity.”
The lab looks like what you’d expect to find in a scientific research facility. It houses a microwave extractor, which the team uses to extract flavors from normally wasted products, like corn silk and vegetable peelings, and an ultrasonic homogenizer, which vibrates at a high frequency, using sound waves to quickly infuse ingredients without heat.
Incubator rooms are employed for their ability to control temperature and humidity. At June, that means growing koji mold and fostering culture cheeses and mushrooms. They can also dehydrate and ferment items, and age ingredients like miso and shoyu.
Though June and its associated lab are brand new, Brock got to this point in his career by employing lessons he’s learned over the past 20-plus years of working in restaurants: always hire people more talented than you are, and never stop being curious.
With the team he’s assembled at June, and the creativity on display in the lab and the kitchen, he’s taken those lessons to heart.
“Over the next decade or two, I hope to continue to refine the experiences at Audrey and June,” said Brock. “I have to continue to evolve.”