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Most people know Shaun Brian as the chef and operator of Ocean 362, where he expertly crafts Caribbean dishes with a modern perspective and fresh local ingredients.
His latest venture, building a tiny house in Coral Bay with his wife Ally Nichols-Sells, has drawn the attention of HGTV, which is currently filming the house’s construction progress for an episode of Tiny House, Big Living.
Brian’s affinity for food and tiny houses can both be traced back to his childhood, which he spent largely in Coral Bay.
Brian runs Ocean 362 with his ethos of “truth in menu” and sourcing as much local ingredients as possible; he uses ingredients grown fresh in gardens that he established on the restaurant’s property, and forages on the island for other items to feature in dishes. His interest in foraging likely stems from his younger years, when he spent a lot of time outdoors exploring. He also spent part of his young academic career being schooled at Josephine Roller’s farm, where he learned about hands-on gardening and even helped her build the barn on her property.
“That early involvement explains a lot about me,” said Brian. “To this day, Josephine and I work so closely with each other; she supplies me with so much.”
Brian’s always had a heightened awareness of food and its origins thanks to his mother, who raised her family as vegans.
“She was always really in touch with nutrition,” he said. “She would bring in co-op trailers of food with a group of like-minded people on the island. We were eating organic down here when you couldn’t even get quality fresh veggies in the grocery store.”
He fondly recalls his first memorable cooking experience at age 9, when he read the ingredients on a can of spaghetti sauced and realized he could replicate it himself.
“I was like, ‘I can make this,’” he said. “So one of the first things I really made that I was proud of was spaghetti sauce.”
After getting into trouble for doing “typical teen stuff,” as he calls it, Brian made the decision to attend a Quaker boarding school in California, where students were responsible for helping to run and maintain the facilities, including preparing food.
“It developed a phenomenal foundation for me,” he said.
Brian returned to St. John to finish his high school career at Antilles, where the headmaster, who was an avid gardener, inspired Brian’s interest in pickling and preserving with a class on canning. After graduating, he decided to attend Johnson & Wales University to pursue his associate’s degree in culinary arts. The summer before he left for college, Brian worked at Rhumb Lines, which was just opening.
“They hired me as a fry cook, and it was a really good foundation to understand what I was getting into,” Brian said. “Cooking was my love, my passion, and I knew it would allow me to travel anywhere in the world.”
During breaks from school, Brian would return home to work in local restaurants, with stints at the former Chloe & Bernard’s at the Westin; parent company Consolidated Resources, where he worked under Mathayom Vacharat; The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, where he cooked for celebrities and famous sports figures; and the former Stone Terrace. After finishing his degree, Brian worked at various Florida restaurants as a server, bartender, bar manager, and chef while he studied commercial real estate law at Florida Gulf Coast University.
“I wanted to understand the whole dynamic of running a restaurant,” he said.
Brian eventually returned to St. John where he worked as executive chef at the former Cruz Bay Prime at the Westin before landing a job at the Martha’s Vineyard boutique luxury hotel, Harbor View Hotel.
“It was a chef’s dream,” he said. “Farms everywhere and beautiful fresh seafood, plus foraging and wild mushrooms. I really found myself as a chef up there.”
Brian eventually left the hotel to focus on his and Ally’s marriage when they were newlyweds. The couple decided to return to St. John, where Brian worked in the kitchen at La Tapa before hearing about a new opportunity—Ocean 362.
“Twenty days after taking it over, I was open,” he said. “It’s been exhausting but it’s been so rewarding.”
As if running his own restaurant where, in addition to acting as chef operator, he makes ceramic dishes and cutting boards from local wood, doesn’t keep him busy enough, Brian and his wife decided to build themselves a home.
“My entire childhood was spent helping build the family home, or living in a two-person tent,” Brian said of his interest in building a tiny home—just 400 square feet. “Ally and I are outside people and we want a tiny space that’s easier for us to clean.”
The construction is expected to finish in June, when HGTV will film the big reveal for Tiny House, Big Living episode. An air date has not yet been announced. To learn more about Brian’s food, visit www.ocean362.com.