Canlis Introduces New NYC Chef


Photo by Adriana Grant

A roomful of food reporters were treated to a pre-lunch dose of truffles and champagne at this morning's press conference. The KOMO cameramen were hoping for clouds, as the sun glared against the enormous dining room windows.

First, let’s dispel the rumors. Canlis is not closing. The restaurant is not selling their waterfront view to condo developers. The family is not opening a new location. They have a new executive chef.

Yes, Aaron Wright is stepping down (he’s heading to Napa), and a new chef, Jason Franey from New York City's 11 Madison Park, is beginning in December.

This easygoing, baby-faced chef, who came out in his whites, possesses quite a resume. Franey, who is a Florida native, has been working under Daniel Humm (was Hum, now you say Hume) at San Francisco’s Campton Place, before being invited to be Humm’s sous chef at 11 Madison Park.

This restaurant (and Humm himself) has been showered with numerous awards, and the restaurant Web site is replete with gorgeous food photos: colorful cubes and foams and delicately rendered edible sculptures. 11 Madison Park has garnered a rack of awards for its service and wine list, which, as a place for a new chef to hail from, pairs quite nicely with Canlis.

Franey was plainspoken and obviously excited to get into the kitchen. He spoke about introducing a new menu in January. “It’ll be very market-driven, farm-driven, locally focused, “ Franey explained, "using the freshest ingredients possible. I think that’s what makes great food.” But it might be February before the change is evident. As Brian Canlis explained, the family goes on a yearly retreat in January, out of the country, to dream up big plans for the coming year.

“He’s heartfelt and not foofy,” said Mark Canlis of Franey. “I’m not sure if that’s a word, but we really like him.” And when the Canlis brothers talk family, they mean it. “We’re gonna have to live with this guy, so we have to like him.” It may seem like a publicity stunt to announce a new chef in a press conference, but there is a genuine pride in the personal with the Canlises, and their affection for their new chef was palpable.

There is the obvious question. Was there no local chef to fit the bill? Maybe not.

Both Mark and Brian studied at the Cornell Hotel School, and Mark himself worked at 11 Madison Park, years ago. It seems that the family’s New York connection is a potent one.

And, on first nibble, a tasty one.

Franey spooned a light foam atop sunchoke panna cotta, which was then finished with a slice of Umbrian black truffle.

“Truffles?” Chris Canlis--whose sons affectionately refer to as the patriarch--queried Franey. “Don’t you know about food costs?”

“Not yet,” replied Franey.

But oh, the truffled panna cotta was good. Delicate, richly earthy, and yet amazingly light.

The way Mark Canlis introduced the press conference was telling: “We want to reintroduce you to Canlis restaurant. We want to stay.” His mom, who Franey referred to as Mrs. C, used the word evolution.

Franey introduced himself with a bit of charm as well, saying, “I don’t want you to think, new chef: new restaurant. I want you to feel, more Canlis.”

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