By Joe Ray
LUMMI ISLAND, Washington
I’ve seen the future on a little island in the Pacific Northwest. A few weeks ago, I got a taste of Blaine Wetzel’s cuisine in his new role as executive chef at the Willows Inn.
Who’s Wetzel? You’ll likely be hearing quite a bit about him, particularly if you’re from that neck of the woods. Wetzel, 24, is fresh off a stint at Copenhagen’s noma restaurant, working as the chef de partie for Rene Redzepi. He was there when noma officially went through the roof, knocking El Bulli out of the top slot in San Pellegrino’s Best Restaurant in The World hooplah.
Did they win because he was there? No. Was he taking good notes? You bet.
I was at the Willows to interview Wetzel for a set of upcoming articles and a sneak preview of what to expect when the Willows reopens next month.
A seven-course tasting menu was about six courses more than I needed to know that it was worth the trip. He might be a two-hour drive and five minute ferry ride from both Seattle and Vancouver, but you might want to reserve now.
What’d he serve? Barely poached end gently pickled Hammersley Inlet oysters were one of many surprise ‘snacks,’ but my favorite dish might have been the wild mushrooms, fresh cheese and woodruff. For the latter, he forages some of the mushrooms and woodruff and makes the cheese - rennet’s in a little bottle on a shelf in the fridge. He devotes a whole course to the potatoes inn owner Riley Starks grows at the adjacent Nettles Farm that supplies much of the kitchen’s produce.
Need any more reason to go? A four-course tasting menu will start at $40 and a seven course for $65. The inn and restaurant are closed for a January remodel.
Taste of the future begins in February. Go early.
Food and travel writer and photographer Joe Ray is the 2009 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year and author of the blog Eating The Motherland. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @joe_diner.