5 Courses with Will Gilson
by Louisa Kasdon
| June 13, 2011
The last five years have been pretty spectacular for Will Gilson. As a fresh-faced chef-cub of 23, riding high from a stint at Oleana, Gilson opened Garden at the Cellar in Cambridge with $1200 in his pocket and plenty of attitude. The place was tiny but jamming every night, stuffed with students in search of real food at a reachable price, and packed with fooderati who loved the farm-to-table connection between Gilson's food and his family farm in Groton, the Herb Lyceum. And whoosh, he's gone. A few weeks ago, Gilson sent an email to his "friends" (a power list by anyone's count) announcing that he was leaving his tiny flagship and selling it to sous-chef Brandon Arms.
What's the story? I was looking for a change. I walked into Garden at the Cellar with $1200 and a chip on my shoulder from working at Oleana. The restaurant gave me the chance to hone my craft and truly learn the restaurant business. I learned something new every day. I did the books, was the dishwasher when the dishwasher didn't show so I could keep the cooks on the line. But the size became a glass ceiling, and I wanted something bigger. When other opportunities didn't pan out, I was still ready to move on. My sous-chef, Brandon, is an amazing cook, and his skill gave me the green light to move on. Plus, the restaurant was always a partnership and never completely mine. I'm walking out of Garden at the Cellar with the same $1200 in my pocket and a much better résumé.
What's the next project? I've opened Adrian's for the summer in Truro on the Cape. It feels like fun to be on the Cape after the city. It's a little cottage in a series of bungalows in a tiny resort called the Outer Reach hotel that seriously needed a facelift. In many ways, it's a pop-up project. We did it all in a couple of weekends, put in four partitions and a lot of LED lights. I hired a friend who is an architect, and he hired a couple of friends who are builders. The food is similar to my food in Cambridge, but with more fish. We're using the wood-fired pizza oven to roast meats and whole fish, and I've hired a guy who fishes by day and will work with me at night, so we'll have very fresh fish. We're making quahog croquettes!
Does it still have the same farm-to-table approach? Yep! My dad came down last weekend with whiskey barrels and planted my herb garden.
What's next after the summer? Winter comes to the Cape. I'm planning all sorts of things with my business partner, Aaron Cohen, at EAT [wheretoeat.in] - more pop-ups, more food trucks. I think we'll surprise people with how creative we can be. We always talk about how we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, and then we get to the bridge and have to jump over it.
Doesn't winter come to food trucks, too? It does. I'm a community person, and I'm a chef who needs to cook in a restaurant. I'll be back in Boston with a big brick-and-mortar project. We'll be leaking that information in the fall.
Louisa Kasdon can be reached at email@example.com.