William Bradley of Addison in San Diego creates a menu of refined haute cuisine, firmly anchored to the California coast.
When chef Thomas Keller, America’s high priest of haute cuisine, raises an eyebrow over an item on a menu, most young chefs scurry to change it. Last summer in Southern California, Keller’s eyebrow arched over a course of Ris de Veau Panés—crisp sweetbreads, topped with a fricassee of escargot—on the menu of a young chef named William Bradley. “I questioned his use of sweetbreads—this is L.A.,” Keller said diplomatically.
“I got a lot of flack for that one,” Bradley recalls. “But I just told him we have to do it. I love sweetbreads, I love to cook them, and I think people are going to like it.”
Bradley—the director and executive chef at Addison, the restaurant at the Grand del Mar resort in San Diego—not only kept the dish on his menu, but he made it the centerpiece of a five-course meal he served to 60 judges at the Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition, an annual event in which he pitted his talents against some of the top up-and-coming chefs from around the world. He had a meticulously conceived plan: He had put together an exciting progression of courses, each building on the flavors of the last and growing richer and more complex as the dinner moved forward. He began with two canapés, one warm and one cold: beautiful warm gougères made with aged sherry, and crisp Kumamoto oysters garnished with a horseradish mousseline, caviar, preserved lemon, and a flake of gold leaf. His first course awakened the palate with a bright, acidic chilled tomato-and-fruit soup, and the next courses offered ravishing riffs on familiar favorites—a Caesar salad with Alaskan king crab, followed by a luxurious corn soup with bacon, black truffles, and chanterelles. By the time diners reached the risky sweetbreads course—crunchy, earthy, with a sauce bolstered by red wine, parsley, and Parmesan—they would be ready for it.
“I want to showcase my style of cooking, to focus on simplicity and allow the ingredient to be the center of attention,” Bradley said during the preparation of the meal. Even Keller had to admit, “When he is committed to something, you can’t change his mind. I admire that.”
Bradley was Keller’s nominee in the annual Culinary Masters Competition, now in its second year. In early 2013, Robb Report assembled a panel of five master chefs and challenged them to name the most exciting emerging culinary artists in the world. Their five nominees, who were introduced in the October issue, possess deep expertise in an array of cuisines, ranging from Japanese to Mexican to Portuguese, and exhibit some of the most innovative thinking on the restaurant scene. In addition to Bradley, the contestants were Yoshinori Ishii of Umu in London, chosen by Masaharu Morimoto; George Mendes of Aldea in New York City, nominated by Daniel Boulud; Justin Smillie of Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria in New York City, selected by Nancy Silverton; and Alex Stupak of Empellón Cocina and Empellón Taqueria in New York City, chosen by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Each nominee was challenged to create a five-course meal that showcased his talents and culinary philosophy. The dinners were served to panels consisting of 60 Robb Report readers and editors, who evaluated each course on such factors as presentation, originality, execution, and overall deliciousness. Each of these events—which took place either last summer in Los Angeles or last fall in New York—also benefited a charity of the attendant master chef’s choosing. The competition involved no catches, restrictions, or special requirements: The aim was for each chef to represent his vision within the parameters of a single meal and, most importantly, to celebrate the rising stars of the culinary world and assess the future of fine dining.
Bradley’s dinner took place on a late summer evening, beneath the sprawling 120-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree at the Fairmont Miramar hotel in Santa Monica, Calif. He and his crew arrived at 9:30 in the morning and began briskly unpacking a 24-foot refrigerated truck filled with the components for the evening’s meal. It was the culmination of six months of planning, Bradley said: “Anyone can put a pen to paper and write a menu, but how it’s organized and executed—especially when you’re on the road—is what makes the difference.”
Two months before the dinner, Bradley made the 250-mile round-trip to the Miramar to scope out the dimensions of the room he would be cooking in, so that when he arrived on game day, he knew exactly how he would set up his kitchen. Before that, he had done countless test runs of each dish. The oysters, for example, were originally garnished with a yuzu granité. Though this condiment was delicious, it chilled the oysters too fast and became slushy. He then tried a cucumber gelée. “No staying power,” he said. Finally, he hit on the idea of complementing the sweet Kumamotos with an unusual horseradish mousseline. A touch of caviar boosted the bivalves’ briny flavor, and a dusting of preserved lemon made it aromatic. The result was a single, perfectly clear, refreshing bite that presented diners with a small gustatory gift.
Bradley, 38, began cooking at the age of 16 by cutting salad and making tomato sauce and other basics at a small Italian restaurant in San Diego. “I loved the atmosphere,” he said, “taking the product and turning it into something that makes people happy. And if you cook something that people enjoy, they will be happy. That was interesting to me.” His career included stints in hotel restaurants, including Mary Elaine’s at the Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., and he grew to appreciate the rigors of the French kitchen, particularly the structure of the culinary brigade. His idols are the pillars of haute cuisine: Fernand Point, Alain Chapel, Alain Ducasse, Frédy Girardet—and of course Keller. “I never worked for him,” Bradley said, “but I did a five-day stage at the French Laundry. It seemed like five months.”
In 2006, Bradley returned to San Diego to open Addison, the opulent 18-table restaurant at the Grand del Mar, where he serves seven- and 10-course tasting menus. “It’s all still incredible to me,” he said as he instructed his cooks to drape long white linens over the prep tables in the competition’s makeshift kitchen, ensuring that the back of the house looked as elegant as the front. His refrigerator was meticulously organized, its contents prepared and stored clockwise by course. Professional stoves were set up outdoors, and a cook was briskly making enormous pots of beurre monté, whisking 20 pounds of butter with small amounts of cream to form a rich poaching medium for Bradley’s Alaskan king crab. Another chef was clarifying butter to sauté the sweetbreads. A third was packing still more butter into cups for table service.
Keller first ate Bradley’s cooking in 2010, when he was in San Diego on a promotional tour for his Ad Hoc at Home cookbook. “I felt it the first time I walked into his kitchen,” Keller recalled: “It’s a sense of confidence, knowledge, and respect. A sense of responsibility. You walk into William’s kitchen and see all of this: The organization, the cleanliness, and the soul. He cooked me a piece of bass with crispy skin—and OK, crispy skin, what’s the big deal? But there’s a certain specific technique that requires a dedicated amount of attention. His was one of the most crisp, perfect pieces of fish I’ve ever had.”
As the sun began to set, and chandeliers twinkled from the branches of the fig tree, the first judges gathered on the secluded patio. Flutes of Dom Pérignon 2004 were poured. Trays of oysters and gougères were passed and greedily devoured. Still, Bradley the perfectionist was nervous about the temperature of the gougères. They were supposed to be warm, not hot, but the walk from the kitchen left them too cold for his liking. He was also concerned about the teapots used to serve the chilled tomato consommé. To be certain the correct amount of liquid would be poured into each bowl, he made each server practice 5-second pours.
That first course, which Bradley called Jardin de Fruits, celebrates the bounty of Southern California, he explained, with an assortment of plump raspberries, melon balls, Champagne grapes, tomatoes, and tiny basil leaves tumbled into a bowl. (In fact, each item had been meticulously counted to achieve the proper balance of flavor.) At the tables, the waiters poured the chilled consommé—a clear tomato essence produced by macerating and straining tomatoes for three days with yuzu, vanilla, tomato paste, and fleur de sel.
The second course was built around a single cylinder of crabmeat—pink, dense, and glistening. When Bradley began thinking about the dish, he knew he wanted to serve Alaskan king-crab legs—one of Keller’s favorite ingredients. He decided to poach them in beurre monté, a technique recalling Keller’s famous butter-poached lobster. Next, he considered what would go well with the crab without playing against it. “I wanted mild ingredients,” he said, and thought of an avocado purée for richness and leaves of baby romaine for crunch. And then a thought struck him: “This is a dish that had already been done, highly flavorfully and successfully.” It was the shrimp Caesar salad he grew up eating in San Diego. “It was my go-to dish, just hold the croutons,” he said, laughing. He held these again this time, finishing the dish with just a pungent anchovy sauce and a single sliver of garlic, poached 10 times in milk to remove every trace of bitterness. Sweet, buttery, luxurious, and crunchy, it was the dish of the evening and, as it turned out, of the entire Culinary Masters Competition. As delicious as many other dishes were on every competition menu, none would surpass the scores awarded to Bradley’s Alaskan King Crab, the dish that sealed his victory as the New Culinary Master. —Michalene Busico
Thomas Keller is the most renowned, most revered, and most imitated chef in the country. His flagship restaurant, the French Laundry in the Napa Valley, is the culinary community's Mecca, and its Manhattan spin-off, Per Se, consistently ranks among the top restaurants in the world. At both establishments, his rigorous, French-by-way-of-California tasting menus–which might include such imaginative combinations as oysters served with tapioca and caviar–are intensely focused and meant to thrill and surprise over several hours at table. Alice Waters may be the godmother of the local-foods movement, but Keller took this concept to more ambitious heights by applying sophisticated cooking techniques and rigorous kitchen discipline.
He is the sole American chef to hold three Michelin stars at multiple restaurants; internationally, only Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon can claim this distinction. He has been named best chef in America by the James Beard Foundation, Time magazine, and countless other organizations. The French Laundry Cookbook has sold close to half a million copies since its publication in 1999, inspiring other chefs to add his signature butter-poached lobster to menus from coast to coast. The mostly self-taught chef also owns six restaurants and seven bakeries in the Napa Valley, New York City, and Las Vegas; moreover, he has published four other cookbooks, including one on sous vide. While he is known for his seriousness and precision, his résumé also includes a consulting stint on the Oscar-winning animated film Ratatouille.
Keller is also a cleaver-sharp judge of talent, and he sees the future in William Bradley, the director and executive chef of Addison at the Grand Del Mar resort in San Diego. "Everybody who comes to my restaurant who will be in any proximity to San Diego, from Santa Barbara down, I tell them you've got to go to Addison," he says. "It's one of those hidden gems in our country."
Like Keller, Bradley, 38, has been inspired by French masters such as Fernand Point to put a modern spin on classic dishes. Bradley's duck is coffee-roasted with candied peanuts; his sweetbreads are served with creamed leeks, cornichons, and caper confiture; and his coconut parfait is accented with poached pineapple, elderflower, and lime. In 2010, four years after opening Addison, Bradley was designated a Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef, one of only 160 in the world.
Keller and Bradley are also golf buddies, which gives them time for long conversations on the greens. As Keller says, "William's food is just extraordinarily focused. It's simple, but we all know simple is the hardest thing to do. When I eat there, I think: 'Why can't I cook like that?' " –Regina Schrambling
THOMAS KELLER:When did we first shake hands?
WILLIAM BRADLEY:In 2009. I was in Napa doing a stage at the French Laundry, and the day before I had lunch at Bouchon. I went up to introduce myself. The French Laundry is like Harvard, you know: You go there because of the atmosphere and the culture created there over the years. To go there was truly amazing–to see the culture, to see the connection between the chef and the restaurant. That was inspiring to me, as it was for those who work there and for those who go there just to eat. It's a magical place.
TK:We didn't rehearse that.
WB:I saw a restaurant that to me–I've been very fortunate to travel and dine all over the world–was unique. You have your own voice. We–and I'm speaking for colleagues and professional chefs around the country–we look at you as the Paul Bocuse of the U.S.
TK:One of things that I love about this profession, you know, is there are so many of us, and whether we've met or not, we have a real connection through what we do, or dedication for what we do. You really embrace that as well.
Addison is that perfect example of what Michelin says: Worth a detour. It's extraordinary. If you were in New York or Chicago or San Francisco, William, your name would be much more recognizable. Your food is of a level that is truly world class. The thing I love about it most is, as a cuisine, there's an emotional connection to it. It has reference points to it. It does exploit some of the modern techniques, as we all do, but at the heart of food, you have to connect to it. It's about connecting to one's soul, making people feel happy about eating your food, not challenging them.
A perfect example is last time I had the crispy bass. I eat at a lot of places, but not a lot of times do I remember what I've eaten. With this, the skin was uniform; each morsel was as crispy as the next: the aroma, the flavor, the color. The gougère you serve to start off–with that beautiful cream with reduction of sherry–or the little side dish of mushrooms you serve with your beef. Each course is very, very thoughtful, extremely well executed, and the flavors are intense and focused.
WB:We both have a huge reference point in Fernand Point. There's a quote from Ma Gastromie that describes what I've always tried to do on a daily basis: Refine simplicity. Simplicity is the hardest thing to do–to keep yourself from adding two more things and to get your young chefs to understand: If you have a bowl of perfect chanterelles, you don't need anything else.
TK:Your kitchen is organized, clean, well designed, functional. The staff has great respect for themselves, great respect for the food. For me that resonates: I want to be in this kitchen working. It exemplifies what we as leaders need to do.
WB:You were a rock star before all chefs were rock stars. That's another thing that draws us together. The chefs I admired growing up, you admired growing up, like Jean-Louis Palladin. This is passing it on.
TK:There will always be icons in our profession. You think of Escoffier, Fernand Point, Chapel, Bocuse, Palladin. In this profession, we have so much depth and so much richness it makes you really proud to be a chef, to be a cook. We can finally see some of the rewards of that in our country in the last 30 years. We have come so far from where we were 30 years ago.
And we're constantly trying to find better ways. We'll go in tomorrow and do a little better than today; very seldom are there quantum leaps. For us, it's chipping away. We continue to support our fishermen, farmers, foragers, gardeners; those are the most important individuals in our equation. Talking about recipes is irrelevant. Poaching a lobster is easy. Roasting a lamb is easy. Braising carrots is easy. Doing it all together to make a composed dish night after night, week after week, year after year–that's the challenge.
WB:I've always had the mind-set that it's already all been done before.
TK:We've just got to do it better. Each generation has to be greater than the previous one. If not, we haven't done our job. Each generation has to pass on to the next. In 10 to 15 years, you will be in my position. I'm in that first generation of American chefs who gained notoriety around the world; you're in the next, and you'll be better than the previous generation.