The Secret’s in the Sauce

French-trained chef combines old-school methods with right-now creativity

“This is my art,” says chef Cindy Amias.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

The saying is, if you love something — let it go. If it’s meant to be, it will come back around. Cindy Amias began her first job in a seafood restaurant called Harbor House at age 14 in St. Pierce, Florida. She worked as a dishwasher, but, after showing interest in cooking, she was promoted to the salad area within a year, where she shucked shellfish and made Caesar salads from scratch in front of an audience. 

While working at Harbor House and its connected restaurant Top of the Dock, “two restaurants that were the ‘go-to’ back in the day,” she says, Amias spent time learning from the French chef there, Michel, who taught Amias and her manager and friend Lance Brandenburg the fundamentals of French cooking. 

When the restaurants closed down, Amias began working for Hilton Hotels in Miami, where she learned different cooking styles from chefs in fine-dining restaurants. “That’s where I was able to excel and prove myself,” Amias tells Bold Life.

At a later point, pregnant with her son, she decided to leave the culinary business and begin working more reasonable hours. She went back to school in Tampa, getting a degree in elementary education; for the next ten years, she taught all elementary-school grades and raised her son and daughter. “I eventually became a stay-at-home mom, and when that happened, I began to want to cook again,” explains Amias. “My children’s friends became my audience, as well as friends of ours that we would have over.”

When her children went off to college, Amias knew she wanted to get back into the culinary industry in a big way. She went to see her long-time friend Brandenburg, and they began working together as partners, later moving from Florida to Ohio, where she joined his restaurant-owning endeavors. Three years later, in October 2015, they decided to move to the mountains of Western North Carolina, where some of her family is located, and where Brandenburg was beginning to spend more time for work.

In early 2016, after nearly 30 years of being in the culinary business, the couple opened their latest venture, Brandy’s On Main in downtown Hendersonville.

“Without Lance, I wouldn’t be able to purchase a restaurant,” Amias explains. “He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to do what I wanted to do all of my life.”

Aside from the professionals, who have you gained inspiration from?

My family is from Germany, and my uncles were all in the food industry there, so growing up, we always cooked big meals when we went to my grandparents’ house. I have also traveled to Spain with my kids and their father to see his family every year so that the kids could learn the culture and the foods. My mother-in-law at the time taught me a lot about different foods that I wouldn’t necessarily see here. That’s where the sauces come into play.

Sauces?

Yes! Lance and I have been in the business so long that we still cook old-school style, and it’s successful. We’ve proven that it still works. There was a time when people were getting away from sauces, but with us, we still rely on sauces made from scratch. We’ll use lobster bodies, beef bones, and make stocks from scratch. 

So you’re using heirloom recipes?

I don’t follow recipes. But, for baking, it’s science, so I tweak recipes here and there. For the food that we cook in our restaurant, it’s all creativity. We do daily specials that work with the abundance of different vegetables that are in season and fish that’s flown in fresh, scallops and oysters from Maine and Alaskan halibut, fish coming in from Charleston — groupers like black and gag — [and also] NC golden tilefish, local trout, and more.

Would you say your job is also your hobby?

Yeah, definitely. Lance loves to paint on the side, but I always tell him that this is my art. … Aesthetics is the first thing that your customer is going to see. I am constantly thinking about how to present the dish.

Describe the perfect meal.

A fresh piece of North Carolina coast fish, preferably a grouper, seared on the grill and topped with lump blue crab, shrimp, and oyster mushrooms, and a white-wine butter sauce, finished in the oven and topped with a rich hollandaise sauce under a bed of rice. 

Do you cook like this at home?

Everyone thinks we go home and make gourmet food, but we go home and eat simple. Sandwiches, salad, things like that. 

What’s one thing that makes you happy?

I know that I have kept up the tradition of cooking with my kids because now, when my kids cook, they send me pictures of it. They’re not even in the field — they just do it because they’ve been exposed to it so much. Even my mom does it.

What’s next?

We’re planning a culinary-based vacation to France. We’re going to take some cooking classes while there, but we’re still trying to do decide what [classes] to take. Maybe something with bread.

Brandy’s On Main, 111 South Main St., Hendersonville. 828-513-1240. www.brandysonmain.net

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