NEW YORK —The winners of the 2014 James Beard Foundation restaurant and chef awards were announced Monday, and a few chefs from the Northwest were among the winners.
Blaine Wetzel, head chef of The Willows Inn on Lummi Island in Lummi Island, Wash., won a Rising Star Chef of the Year award, which goes to a chef age 30 or younger who displays "an impressive talent and who is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come."
Before coming to The Willows, the Northwest native worked as a sous chef at Copenhagen's reknown Noma restaurant, considered by many to be the best restaurant in the world.
It was Wetzel's desire to come home and a tiny Craigslist posting for a chef that brought him to The Willows. It didn't take long before word about the young chef's talent got out.
What sets The Willows apart is Wetzel's deep commitment to sourcing the ingredients from around the area, many of which he forages himself on the very day they're eaten.
"Wild ingredients are constantly on the menu and it just brings a real natural flavor that you might not get otherwise," said Wetzel.
Once gathered, he and his crew set out to make a multiple course meal they hope diners will not soon forget.
"The style of cooking here is really simple and really boasts the individual product," said Wetzel. "Lots of times we'll do a dish with one or two ingredients, but just done really well."
The dishes are done so well, Wetzel and his crew have received raves and awards from around the nation. And now he can add a James Beard Award to the list of accomplishments. But for Wetzel, its the blissful guests of diners that give him the greatest reward.
"People are so happy to just get out here to this beautiful island," he said. "By the time dinner comes around, they're so happy and enthusiastic."
Other Northwest chefs who won James Beards awards include Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland, Ore., for Regional Chef Award - Northwest, and Ashley Hansen, owner of Nick's Italian Cafe in McMinnville, Ore., for a James Beard Foundation America's Classics.
The James Beard awards honor those who follow in the footsteps of Beard, considered the dean of American cooking when he died in 1985. Monday's ceremony honored chefs and restaurants; a similar event on Friday was held for book and other media awards. Last year's top chef honor was shared by David Chang and Paul Kahan.
(Editor's note: KING 5 previously reportedly incorrectly that Wetzel won for Outstanding Restaurant of the Year award).