Fresh from Brooklyn, 29-year-old Brady Williams continues the restaurant’s evolution.
Canlis had already been open for 35 years when Brady Williams was born. Now, at age 29, he has become just the sixth executive chef of Seattle’s most renowned restaurant.
“Knowing that everyone knows of Canlis here is kind of cool,” Williams says. “It’s also daunting. It definitely has a special place in Seattle … very few restaurants have the type of history that this restaurant has.”
Williams came west from the buzzy Brooklyn gourmet pizza outpost Roberta’s and its adjacent double-Michelin-starred Blanca. Last summer, he was introduced to a friend-of-a-friend who happened to be third-generation restaurateur Brian Canlis, who happened to be looking for a chef.
The new Canlis tasting menu
Dill, cultured cream, roe
Baywater sweet oyster
Wagyu beef, tomato, succulents
Eggplant, yogurt, celtuce
Fig leaf, tobacco, black walnut
Williams’ youth and his background signal a continuation, if not an acceleration, of Canlis’ quest to go beyond Seattle institution status and take a place on the must-try list of global gourmands. “We had a choice,” Brian Canlis told The New York Times Magazine in 2012. “We could have become the Commander’s Palace of Seattle. We chose instead to become relevant.”
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He and his brother Mark began that effort in 2008 with the hire of then-31-year-old chef Jason Franey from Manhattan’s Eleven Madison Park, widely considered one of the best restaurants in the world. Old-school regulars may have been discomfited by Franey’s updates to Canlis classics like the steak tartare (his version: Wagyu beef, tomato concassé and a ciabatta roll — gasp — instead of toast) and taken aback by his modernist-leaning tasting menus (powders and gels and Lucite stands, oh my).
But Franey earned accolades, including selection as one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2011 and multiple James Beard Award nominations; Canlis also received a sought-after Relais & Châteaux designation. After six years, Franey departed for Restaurant 1833 in Monterey, Calif.
Williams is set to continue the trajectory of experimentation and pursuit of excellence, as his new tasting menu unveiled this week reveals. The price of admission is steep — $145 for a changing number of courses, which themselves will change frequently — but it’s the same cost as before.
Among his innovations, Williams is especially enthusiastic about the 28-day dry-aged lamb, which, he says, “intensely concentrates the flavor and gives it some funk.” He’s quickly smoking albacore over hay, then serving it with radish and a sauce made from the mint relative shiso. Raw summer squash, lightly grilled wagyu beef, egg yolk, purslane and ice plant receive a bath of summer squash broth for a dish Williams says “kind of reminds me of sukiyaki, in a sense.”
Williams notes that while the influence of Japanese cuisine on the Canlis menu is longstanding, he’s eager to carry it forth; his mother is from Japan.
Many think of Canlis’ regular prix fixe menu (three or four courses, $85 and $100 respectively) as “classic,” and Williams would very much like to change that perception. Under his watch, he says, the kitchen will devote itself to ensuring that both menus are “seasonal, inspired and relevant.”
For his interpretation of the restaurant’s standby beef tartare, he looked at founder Peter Canlis’ recipe and talked with Peter’s son Chris about his childhood remembrances of the dish, then reverted to it — “with a few changes.” Those include tossing the capers with kelp powder and dehydrating them; seasoning the egg yolk with ayu fish sauce; finishing the dish with black lime; and entirely updating the plating. It’s a minute examination of flavors and methodologies — and an intense application of creativity — that bodes well.
Williams has also expanded the restaurant’s roster of foodstuff purveyors so much that Canlis’ bookkeeper is spending an additional hour a day on invoices.
He even commissioned new plates and bowls for the tasting menu from local potter Akiko Graham, whose work is found on the tables of fine-dining restaurants like the Willows Inn on Lummi Island and San Francisco’s Coi. The colors of the glazes, Williams says, were chosen with the specific menu items in mind, like the one for the Canlis prawns — as tweaked for the tasting menu, showcasing local spot prawns at the moment — which is meant to bring to mind a tide pool.
It’s all the continuation of a sea change that could finally bring Seattle into the world’s top tier of fine dining.