Video Best New Chef Kevin Willman.
Born 1977; Greenville, IL. Raised Pensacola, FL.
Experience Jubilee, Pensacola, FL; Rutherfords 465, Destin, FL; The Global Grill, Pensacola; Erato on Main, Edwardsville, IL.
His first break "In high school, I worked at a fish market called Fish Peddler in Gulf Breeze, Florida. Pretty soon, I wanted to get a job at the places I delivered fish to. I got a job at Jubilee; the chef was Frank Taylor. They had high-volume beachside dining, and then fine dining upstairs, where I wanted to work. I bet Frank that I could clean a tuna better then him. I won—I'd been cleaning fish since age 15—so he let me cook upstairs."
Early influences "My dad farmed, and so did my grandfather and most of his brothers; we had gardens growing up. It wasn't a national movement yet—they were cash-crop guys. Those gardens influenced me the most: When I was seven, eight years old, I could walk around my grandma Janette's garden and just grab something and eat it."
Pet peeve Disorder. "It's a one-word answer."
How he relaxes Fishing. "I fish like crazy. Fishing requires exclusion from the rest of the world; it forces peace into your life. My passion is for salt water, but I fish anywhere that fish swim. I pass time between trips to the ocean in waters around St. Louis, with the bass and the catfish."
Ingredient Obsession Hemp oil. "We have a guy here in town who is all into it. You have to get your head up past the cliché part of it. It has a bright, edamame quality to it, and somehow the ability to change flavors. It's very floral, and I'm very into floral flavors right now."
Memorable Meal Schwa in Chicago. "I ate there three years ago, and I can't get that meal out of my head. Chef Michael Carlson [an F&W Best New Chef 2006] is ridiculous. That dinner encouraged me to try to do the best kind of mom & pop place at Farmhaus. He did a course that I've tried to emulate, a beet risotto—I think it had escargot caviar. I don't know how he pulled it off; I don't know how you describe a dish like that."
Cheap Eat Banh Mi So #1, a little Vietnamese restaurant. "It's a father, a mother and a son. I tell them what I'm feeling—usually spicy noodles and beefand they make it. And little banh mi sandwiches with some kind of crazy forcemeat they've concocted."
Favorite beer "I'm a volume beer guy. Busch beer." [In fact, Farmhaus's menu has an item that lets you buy the kitchen a beer for $2; if you buy the whole kitchen beers, the total is $12.]
Next Restaurant "I'd do a place with a split personality: It would be a bar on Fridays and Saturdays with a fleshed-out cocktail program; on Mondays and Tuesdays it would be higher-end prix fixe dinners. My restaurants have gotten smaller and smaller; I image this would be the smallest place yet."
Alternate career A fishing-pole business. "All through my childhood, I made fancy fishing poles as a side job; they have elaborate patterns on them. I'd create a more streamlined fishing pole and mass-market it."
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.