Blaine Wetzel of Willows Inn on Lummi Island named top young chef in U.S.

AND THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 6, 2014 

Blaine Wetzel, head chef at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, has been named one of the top young chefs in America for 2014 by the James Beard Foundation.

Wetzel, 28, shared the prestigious Rising Star Chef of the Year honor with Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig in Chicago. It was the first such tie.

"It is such an honor to be included among all these other great chefs from around the country. Congratulations to Jimmy," Wetzel said in a statement.

Previous winners include celebrity chefs Bobby Flay and Marcus Samuelsson.

Wetzel said he was "humbled" by the award.

"Thank you to the James Beard Foundation for this recognition, and for everything that they do to celebrate and promote the culinary arts. I can't wait to celebrate with our chef staff and our community back on Lummi Island," he said.

Wetzel grew up in Olympia and has been cooking since he was 14.

Before coming to The Willows Inn, Wetzel cooked for two years at Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, considered one of the top restau-rants in the world.

He found the job on Lummi Island by answering a posting on Craigslist and is renowned for his locally sourced and foraged dishes.

The acclaimed chef, whose culinary talents have been featured in a wide variety of publications and broadcasts, also was a finalist for the Rising Star award last year.

The award recognizes chefs 30 and younger who display an impressive talent that will have an impact on the industry for years to come. Wetzel has made it to the semifinals for the award every year since 2011.

He previously was named Best New Chef of 2012 by Food & Wine magazine.

The James Beard awards honor those who follow in the footsteps of Beard, considered the dean of American cooking when he died in 1985.

Los Angeles bread and pizza guru Nancy Silverton was named the nation's most outstanding chef — only the fourth woman to get the honor since it began in 1991.

San Francisco's The Slanted Door, where classic Vietnamese food gets a modern rethinking by owner and chef Charles Phan, was named the nation's most outstanding restaurant.

New York's Dominique Ansel — whose trademarked Cronut is a doughnut-croissant hybrid that became a viral success — was named the nation's top pastry chef.

In the Northwest, Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland, Oregon, was named the top regional chef and Nick's Italian Cafe in McMinn-ville won an America's Classics award.

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