Brady Williams of Seattle’s storied Canlis won the biggest culinary award of his young career Monday night when he was named Best Chef in the Northwest at the James Beard Foundation Awards.
“I’m just incredibly overwhelmed right now,” the 32-year-old Williams said in a phone interview shortly after the gala at Chicago’s Lyric Opera. “I am so excited. It is a restaurant award, as much a Canlis family award, as it is mine. This is insane. I am still processing all of this.”
The James Beard Awards are considered the Oscars of the culinary world, and this year, Seattle chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi of Joule were also in the running for Best Chef: Northwest, along with Portland chefs Peter Cho of Han Oak, Katy Millard of Coquine and Justin Woodward of Castagna.
“When they read that name out loud, it was such an overwhelming moment,” said restaurant co-owner Mark Canlis, who was four seats away from his chef at the gala. “We were like, ‘Yes. Yes.’ It is his moment to shine. He has worked so hard for it and has come so far….He has restored Canlis to the glories of the old days.”
The Canlis staff was in a meeting getting ready for dinner service when the finalists for Best Chef: Northwest were announced on the live stream of the Beard Awards gala.
“We stopped our meeting and watched. It was jubilation — yelling and screaming and clapping and then it was back to work,” said Canlis’ director of service, Jeff Robinson. “We are all proud of Brady. He has given this restaurant so much. He is more than a chef; he is a leader both in the dining room and in the kitchen. This is exciting for us.”
Williams’ win marks the second consecutive year a Seattle chef has taken home the James Beard medal for Best Chef in the Northwest. Edouardo Jordan won in 2018, when his Southern star JuneBaby was also named Best New Restaurant in the country.
Canlis was a finalist for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Service this year, but it ultimately lost in that category to Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado.
However, as was announced earlier this spring, the restaurant was honored with a special James Beard Design Icon Award that’s given in recognition of “national standard bearers of outstanding design and design innovation.” The James Beard Foundation’s announcement praised the restaurant’s “warmly modern” style that “epitomizes the period’s Northwest Modern movement.”
Canlis has now won three James Beard Awards. The first came in 2017, for Outstanding Wine Program, and all three have come during Williams’ tenure as executive chef.
Born in Southern California, Williams was the chef de cuisine at FT33 in Dallas before he moved to Brooklyn to work at the gourmet pizza outpost Roberta’s and its adjacent double-Michelin-starred Blanca. In the summer of 2014 , he was introduced to a friend of a friend who happened to be third-generation restaurateur Brian Canlis, who just happened to be looking for a chef.
Thus, in 2015, at age 29, Williams became just the sixth executive chef of Seattle’s most renowned restaurant.
Canlis had already been in business for 35 years before Williams was even born, and the restaurant’s legacy wasn’t lost on the wunderkind. In a 2015 interview with The Seattle Times, Williams said, “Knowing that everyone knows of Canlis here is kind of cool. It’s also daunting. It definitely has a special place in Seattle. …very few restaurants have the type of history that this restaurant has.”
Under Williams, Canlis earned one of the few four-star reviews ever given by The Seattle Times. He was also named a finalist for the James Beard award for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2017 and in 2018, Williams was named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs.
Now, he’s finally added that coveted James Beard award to his résumé.
For a full list of 2019 James Beard Awards winners, click here.