Evanston chef nominated for James Beard Award

Julia Jacobs, Assistant City Editor

Above all else, Evanston chef Brian Huston values simplicity.

Wearing a starched white-collared T-shirt, Huston opens his downtown Evanston restaurant Boltwood to the public just before noon. Boltwood is there to bring good food to the people, Huston said.

Huston was nominated on Feb. 18 as a semifinalist for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef category of the Great Lakes region. The James Beard Award, which Huston called the Academy Awards of cooking, covers many aspects of the food world, including chefs, restaurateurs, food writers and restaurant designers.

Huston has settled back in his hometown of Evanston after more than two decades as a traveling chef, from San Francisco to Boulder, Colorado to Europe and back to Chicago. His intention was to gather unique experiences and techniques to bring back home, Huston said.

Boltwood, located at 804 Davis St., the former site of LuLu’s Dim Sum & Then Some, opened last June. Huston named his restaurant after the freshman wing and cafeteria at his alma mater Evanston Township High School, which are also named Boltwood.

“A lot of us cooks get into it because we like cooking for friends and family, and that’s what it’s been every night,” Huston said. “If it’s not my mom, it’s my sixth grade teacher. If it’s not her, it’s my wife’s good friends.”

As an executive chef at the Publican in Chicago a couple of years ago, Huston shopped for ingredients at the Evanston Farmers Markets, where farmers encouraged him to open his own restaurant in Evanston. Huston initially dismissed the idea, until he joined his friend John Kim, co-owner of The Brothers K Coffeehouse and Other Brother Coffeebar in Evanston, in the search for an Evanston space for a restaurant.

Huston and Kim, who is a partner at Boltwood, both do anything they can to build community inside and outside the restaurant, Kim said. Huston often volunteers to cook at charity events, and Kim is a mentor at Youth Organizations Umbrella in Evanston, he added.

“The exciting thing is in five years becoming an anchor in this area, and when people think about Evanston they’ll think about Boltwood,” Kim said.

During the summer the ingredients at Boltwood are almost entirely locally-sourced, but when the season is not right Huston prioritizes good food over close food, he said.

“If I can get a quality product that is local, that’s the home run,” Huston said. “But I’m not the chef that’s like, ‘I’m local, don’t mess with me.’ I don’t want to serve trout every day of the year. I like scallops and I like red snapper or oysters from Maine.”

What separates Boltwood from other local restaurants is that the menu is reprinted every day based on the best ingredients the cooks have at their fingertips, Kim said. Customers can’t expect to come back to the restaurant to order their favorite dish — they have to trust that whatever Huston puts together will taste good, he said.

This year the awards gala in May will be held  for the first time in Chicago, at the Lyric Opera, in celebration of the James Beard Awards’ 25th anniversary. Paul Kahan, Huston’s mentor and former colleague at the Publican, is one of the four winners from Chicago of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef.

Not only would it be a personal honor for him to win an award, but it would help draw new customers, especially chefs, to Boltwood, Huston said.

“It would put us in a tier that is seldom seen at the suburban restaurant level,” Kim said.

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