My Story

Aspen Photo

Between the fruits and vegetables from my Grandfather’s ranch and the small garden in the backyard of my childhood home in Northern California, I experienced some mighty tasty fresh fruits and veggies.In fact, eating baby carrots fresh from our garden was one of my first food memories. My mom loved to experiment with fresh foods and ethnic cuisines and that meant that, yes, I actually learned to use chopsticks shortly after I learned to use a fork!

After high school I decided to hang out with friends in a ski resort town and it was there that I got my first job; a prep cook at Don Giovanni's, a little Italian restaurant in Aspen, Colorado. I ended up staying almost five years, working at over 15 restaurants, including the Parlour Car, Maurice's, the Golden Horn, the Copper Kettle, Abbetone Ristorante, and ultimately as executive chef at Andre's of Aspen, an exclusive restaurant and private club. Along the way, I worked with Enrico Salvatore (ex-chef for King Constantine of Greece and Aristotle Onasis),  and Ermanno Macini (former chef at the Hotel Pierre, NYC), among others.

Chez Panisse Front

I left Aspen to move to the San Francisco Bay Area to—of all things—go to the California Culinary Academy. I was impatient, and I wanted to learn everything about cooking as quickly as I could. I got some incredible experience and I worked with some great chefs, like Jeremiah Tower, Ken Hom, Carlo Middione and Wolfgang Puck, to name a few. One day in 1980, while still attending the Culinary Academy, I was lucky enough to be hired at Chez Panisse Cafe. I began working with Joyce Goldstein in the kitchen and for the next two years I worked at every position I could in the restaurant. I even took over for the baker, Steve Sullivan (of Acme Bread fame), for one day a week. In addition to my other duties, I eventually became responsible for ordering all the beverages for the restaurant.

Chez Panisse changed my food paradigm. Aside from the air of creativity permeating the place and Alice's (Alice Waters) contagious energy and enthusiasm, there was a constant undercurrent of uncompromising quality and newness. The menu changed daily and experimentation was the norm. Jean Pierre Moulle, the chef at the time, was extraordinary, as were all the members of the team: Lindsey Shere, Todd Koons, Mark Peel (of Spago and Campanile), Patricia Curtain, Peggy Smith and Sarah Tenaglia, among others.

"The most interesting things in life are usually on the road less traveled."
Blackbird Logo

Fast forward a few years. After traveling in Europe, going back to college, then dabbling in some other creative endeavors, in 1993 I founded Blackbird Food Company (named after an old Beatle's song). My cooking interests and style had changed considerably since my early years—now focusing on healthier ways to achieve good taste. I experimented with many products but eventually focused on freeze-dried foods and created a new category of snack food. Crunchies was the first freeze-dried product line specifically positioned as a snack.


I went on to develop a number of innovations in this category, including grilling vegetables to naturally increase their flavor, using protein-rich edamame, creating a proprietary process for seasoning freeze-dried products, creating the first comprehensive freeze-dried organic product line and using a revolutionary new clear material to package this hydroscopic product that substantially increased its shelf life.

My Story Logo

This product line was eventually spun off as a separate company and I sold my interest in late 2007. The Handmade Culinary Collection is a line that I created back in 2002 but it was put on the back burner while I focused on snacks. As a chef though, seasonings have always been important to me. I constantly look for ways to simplify my cooking and still end up with a flavorful dish. The Handmade Culinary Collection does just that. Stay tuned, as there are many more products to come!

While this page has been mostly about my history, the reality is that many people have contributed—and continue to contribute—to the success of my companies. My original staff of Elena, Isabel and later Marta were the backbone of my production for many years. My graphic designer and friend Jeff Harris, owner of Buffalo Bros, and his wizard employee Roy are responsible for bringing my visual ideas to life. In 2002 Greg Hartman and his team at Oasis Sales and Management did a spectacular job of getting my products launched nationally. And I am particularly grateful to Wegmans, Whole Foods and REI for taking a chance on such a young company. Without making this sound too much like an Oscar acceptance speech, I can say that I never could have done it alone.

Chez Panisse

Brien and Michelle Seay

Chez Panisse

Chez Panisse

To Be Continued...