Blaine Wetzel of The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, who was wooed to his job with photos of the region’s spot prawns and salmon, won the prestigious James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year on Monday night. In the first-ever tie for the coveted national award, Wetzel won the title along with Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig in Chicago.
Wetzel, 28, was also a finalist for the award last year. Past winners in the highflying category have included Bobby Flay and Marcus Samuelsson.
Wetzel had cooked at Noma in Copenhagen, named the world’s best restaurant in one well-known survey, before answering a Craigslist ad from then-owner Riley Stark about a chef’s opening at the inn. In 2010 he came to Lummi, where his intricate, carefully sourced, hyperlocal meals quickly made the dining room a national destination. (For background on the chef and the cuisine, see http://seati.ms/SuLZva.)
Wetzel, who attended the awards in New York City along with his parents, said that he was “humbled by the opportunity and challenges” the award brought with it, and that he couldn’t wait to celebrate with his staff and the community on Lummi.
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Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland was named Best Chef: Northwest, beating out Seattle’s Renee Erickson (the Whale Wins, the Walrus and the Carpenter etc.), Jason Franey (Canlis) and Ethan Stowell (Tavolata, Staple & Fancy etc.) and Portland’s Cathy Whims (Nostrana).
Lake Union restaurant Westward had been a finalist in the category of restaurant design for restaurants with 75 or fewer seats. The Huxley Wallace Collective and Graham Baba Architects lost out to Grace restaurant in Chicago.
Former Seattle pastry chef Dana Cree, now at Blackbird in Chicago, had been a finalist for best pastry chef in the nation; the award went to far better-known New York chef Dominique Ansel, creator of the Cronut.
At the book division of the awards ceremony on Friday, Vashon Island residents Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern won the “Focus on Health” category for “Gluten-Free Girl Every Day” (Houghton Mifflin,$29.99.)
Rebekah Denn is a regular contributor to The Seattle Times blog All You Can Eat. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.