From Jason Franey’s standpoint, he couldn’t have asked much more out of his six years at Canlis.
The storied Seattle restaurant earned a prestigious Relais & Chateaux designation during his tenure. Franey was named a “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine. He was a finalist for multiple James Beard awards.
“If I wished for more I think I’d be getting greedy. I’m sure happy with what we achieved here,” said the chef, whose last day at Canlis will be Dec. 1, six years to the day after he came to the restaurant from his position as sous chef at New York’s Eleven Madison Park. He’s moving on to Restaurant 1833 in Monterey, Calif., owned by a company whose many other projects include the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Classic.
“The produce in California is just amazing, and Monterey Bay is so beautiful…” said Franey. “They want to get a chef in there and redo the food and that’s what I’m good at.”
He added that while “it’s not going to be white tablecloths… it’s definitely going to be my style.”
When Canlis hired Franey as the fifth executive chef in the restaurant’s 63-year history, the restaurant’s reputation was that “the service is lovely and the view is nice and the food is not as relevant as it should be…” said co-owner Mark Canlis, who handles daily operations with brother Brian. They bet that Franey, who they knew through multiple connections with restaurateur Danny Meyer‘s empire, would “elevate our food and put us on the map culinarily.”
That assessment was correct. While it wasn’t universally adored, it was pretty close. Seattle Times critic Providence Cicero wrote that Franey “eased the kitchen into the modernist era,” largely succeeding in the balancing act between putting his own stamp on the menu and keeping its classic touch. The Canlis brothers called Franey’s hire “The Great Experiment,” and, wrote The New York Times, “it’s paying off.”
Why move on, after all that? It was time — a natural move, if bittersweet, Mark Canlis said.
“What would you say if your high school student went on to college? You’d be like, “Of course he did. That’s the next step.”
Franey noted that Canlis was his first time heading a kitchen, and that the larger restaurant group will have broad opportunities over the long run.
“I don’t think the Canlises would have wanted me to just be comfortable and stay here for 20 years. They want to see me grow…When they speak to that, it’s actually true.”
Looking for the restaurant’s sixth chef will be a serious job.
“I have some really exciting people and I’ll be on the phone with one of them tomorrow,” Canlis said.
Some of the questions a candidate might expect: What are your values, and how do you lead? Where is fine dining going? How can Seattle lead the way?
“If we get really stuck, we just envision them on a road trip with our mother and how that would go. Literally, we have these conversations — how far would they make it? If you can make it across the country and back, you’re in.”
The restaurant was started and stewarded with the goal of being Seattle’s best, “whatever that means,” Canlis said. “It meant one thing in 1950 and it meant something else in 1964 and… it’s going to mean something else next year. I think it’s our charge to figure that out and bring it to the city. Brian and I need a chef we can do that with. We had that in Jason Franey and we’re going to need that in the next person.
“What will that look like? That’s what we’re figuring out.”