By Megan Sayles
AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
Harbor East’s newest restaurant Blk Swan, which serves up elevated Baltimore and American classics, opened back in May, and for executive chef Saon Brice, this return to the city has been a long time coming.
Brice grew up in West Baltimore around the Forest Park neighborhood, but when he was 14, his mother moved them out of the city to Owings Mills to get away from crime and violence in surrounding areas.
“It was devastating,” said Brice, who is also part owner of Blk Swan. “When I moved out in the county, it was a whole different world because I was raised in the city all of my life.”
Looking back now, Brice said the move allowed him to decipher his purpose in life. Although he had always been passionate about playing the drums, Brice learned he also had an affinity for food.
His culinary journey began in his late teenage years when he applied to be a cook for the food service company Sodexo at Northrop Grumman. With little experience, he was hired as a dishwasher, but his drive and willingness to learn allowed him to eventually become a chef.
After leaving Sodexo, Brice worked in various roles at numerous restaurants and catering companies, including, Hamilton’s at the Admiral Fell Inn, Linwoods and Copper Kitchen. During his time as executive chef at Copper Kitchen, Outkrowd Restaurant Group approached him with the concept of Blk Swan, and his vision to own a restaurant in Baltimore became reality.
“I always wanted to go and own a restaurant in the city because I’m from Baltimore,” said Brice. “It was about me wanting to reconnect with my city because, personally, I felt that I was cut short.”
Blk Swan derives its name from the black swan theory, which describes an event that comes as a surprise and has a major impact. Brice said the restaurant embodies this theory because it’s virtually unheard of for a Black-owned restaurant, owned by a Black restaurant group, to be found in Harbor East.
Although Brice said the success of Blk Swan has been a blessing, being a Black chef has presented challenges.
“Every day, because I am a Black chef, I have to work extra hard. That’s just how it is,” said Brice. “The fortunate part is that I’m used to it, but the unfortunate part is that it shouldn’t be that way.”
Over the years, Brice has had co-workers discard his kitchen prep and accuse him of stealing. In spite of this, the chef said he ensures that customers can understand his experiences through his food.
The chef could not pick a favorite meal from the menu, but some of his honorable mentions were the Korean barbecue cauliflower, cheesesteak spring roll, branzino bass and vanilla bean crème brûlée. The restaurant specializes in elegant dining with an urban twist while also providing music from popular local DJs.
In the future, Brice said Blk Swan wants to open a rooftop garden to teach kids in the city how to grow their own vegetables. He also wants to welcome young people into the kitchen to teach them how to cook.
“I want us to have a footprint where we [represent] Baltimore,” said Brice. “How ever we can help our city, that’s what we want to do.”
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