The Willows Inn's crew of five globe-trotting sous chefs is back on tiny Lummi Island, preparing for another season cooking under James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year semi-finalist Blaine Wetzel. The acclaimed restaurant reopens this Thursday.
"Our chef and sous chefs have been traveling literally the world, staging in different restaurants," Willows Inn manager John Gibb says. "We've tried to visit some of the finest restaurants in the the world, and the chefs have been gracious enough to let us in."
Willows staffers landed off-season assignments at Benu and Coi in San Francisco, and restaurants in Thailand, Paraguay and France.
Although Gibb says "seeing what Blaine and his chefs do from their experiences is by far the most fun," diners will note other changes at the inn, which over the winter was purchased from Riley Starks by a small group of local investors. Starks, owner of Nettles Farm, took over the century-old property in 2001.
In the words of an elevator speech they developed for potential investors, the new owners are committed to upholding a menu of food "fished, farmed and foraged for you, and only for you, from today." But they're also looking beyond the kitchen: A private dining room has been transformed into a bar, and two guest rooms have been repurposed as a boardroom and gift shop. The main dining room has been touched up too, Gibb says.
"We have restored a bit of the restaurant to its original décor, so we have refurbished floors and taken out the carpet," Gibb says.
Finally, the inn is planning to upgrade its accommodations: Guest rooms, which were scruffy in comparison to Wetzel's refined plates, will be redone one-by-one. The inn has also leased off-site homes, bringing the total of available oceanfront rooms to nine.