On Monday, both Canlis and its executive chef, Brady Williams, put forth big news on social media: Williams is leaving his post at the restaurant legend turned pivot machine to open his own place.
Williams arrived at Canlis in 2015, straight from the executive sous chef post at Roberta’s and Blanca in Brooklyn. Just the sixth chef in the restaurant’s seven decades, he proved an inspired fit, pushing the menu to new, self-assured heights and winning a James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest in 2019. Just as important, this chef is game. Game for hot tub parties, and country fair–themed Milk Bar popups, and installing a Dick’s Drive-In on New Year’s Eve. He’s also been instrumental in a grueling year when Canlis wrote the book on short-term business models, from delivery meals to burgers to an open-air crab shack, and back again.
The Canlis announcement describes Williams’s hire as “one of the best bets we ever made as brothers.” And did anyone else get a little verklempt about the notion of such a talented chef coming from New York to “discover home” in the Pacific Northwest?
I’m thrilled Williams decided to remain local, and eager to see what’s in store. His last day at Canlis is February 27; he promises he’s staying in Seattle proper, not absconding to Bellevue or Bellingham or some nearby island.
There’s also the small matter of finding a person to fill one of the city’s most prominent—and most complex—chef roles. Last time, brothers Mark and Brian Canlis conducted a national search in relative secrecy. In this era of industrywide transformation, they’re putting out the call to see what, or who, might transpire. Anyway, laser tag, their previous selection method of choice, is hard to come by right now.
Covid has left some awfully talented chefs without a job, and this one would be wildly desirable even in better times. But this post, at this restaurant, isn’t just about talent. Williams was particularly skilled at balancing the longtime Canlis salad traditionalists with a newer fan base wowed by intricate tasting menus. I don’t get the sense the Brothers Canlis get all up in the actual food menu, but they are incredibly hands on in matters of overall philosophy. Some chefs with suitable levels of ambition and drive might chafe at having their bosses’ third-generation surname on the sign out front. And as the restaurant industry as a whole reckons with some toxic legacies, it's a great moment to consider candidates from a broad range of backgrounds—a new perspective to help navigate the very different world in play, both now and when Canlis resumes its fine dining identity in our vaccinated future.
I'm not much for reality TV, so speculating on this selection process and Williams's new project is officially my chief pastime for the remainder of the spring. I also can't wait to decipher the clues Mark and Brian Canlis scatter around the city when it comes time to reveal their selection via elaborate scavenger hunt.