Before competing on the Food Network series “Beat Bobby Flay,” chef Brian Cripps practiced making his signature dish in an empty kitchen during off hours at Tre Rivali, the restaurant inside the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel at 200 N. Broadway where he’s the executive chef.
At first, it took him 36 minutes to finish his take on lamb kafta. Then, he shaved down his time to 32 minutes.
Add cameras in his face, a director’s instructions and a live audience, and Cripps showed he was made to cook on screen.
Though he didn’t beat Flay on the show’s latest episode, “Ready for Their Close Up,” Cripps demonstrated he belonged.
On the show, two chefs are invited to compete against Flay. In the first round, the two chefs compete against each other and have 20 minutes to complete a dish that features a Flay-chosen ingredient. The winner competes against Flay, this time with a dish of their choice, and has 45 minutes to make it.
Cripps won the first round, beating Texas chef Maiya Keck with a couscous salad. He then challenged Flay to the lamb kafta, a dish you can find on the Tre Rivali menu.
Cripps was ambitious and decided to grind his own meat and make pita bread from scratch. He knew he could get it done.
“The hard part is, it’s not my kitchen,” he said. “I was going into the unknown.”
He finished the dish on time and got great feedback from the judges. But they ultimately picked Flay, who used pre-grounded meat and ready-made pita bread.
“I feel like this gave me the opportunity to showcase my skills,” Cripps said. “I really felt like everything I executed, I executed well.”
He said the most nerve-wrecking part was knowing he’d be cooking in front of his peers.
“It takes a lot to put yourself out there,” he said.
Cripps was surprised at how realistic the competition was. Going into the show, he said he thought that, because it was TV, he’d have the chance to stop and go. But, as soon as the cameras started rolling, it was go time.
“It was very real from what people see on TV,” he said.
Working at a Chili’s in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., when he was 18 taught Cripps how to make his way around the kitchen with urgency and attention to detail.
He then worked in restaurants throughout San Francisco, including Laïola, a Spanish restaurant known for bold Mediterranean flavors.
He’s worked with Michelin-starred chefs and has had his food tasted by celebrity chefs like the late Anthony Bourdain.
In 2017, Cripps joined the Task Force Program at the Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and, in 2021, landed in Milwaukee as The Outsider’s temporary acting chef in the Journeyman Hotel.
Cripps fell in love with Milwaukee and decided to settle down as the executive chef at Tre Rivali, the hotel’s first-floor restaurant.
“Proud to represent Milwaukee,” Cripps said. “I’m new here. … And I really enjoy it here. I really like the city and the culture and the people. I made it my home so I’m hoping that I can make the city proud.”