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Posted at 4:51 PM ET, 02/ 3/2011

Wagshal's hires former Ardeo chef as culinary director

By Justin Rude

As Tom Sietsema reported last month, former Ardeo executive chef Alex McWilliams didn't stick around long after his restaurant merged with next-door sibling Bardeo, and it didn't take much time for him to land on his feet. The 40-year-old Culinary Institute of America graduate has been hired as director of culinary operations for the family-owned Wagshal's.

The transition for McWilliams has been smooth -- as executive chef at Ardeo he worked charity events with Wagshal's and was already friends with owner Bill Fuchs. Developing that into an everyday working relationship seemed an easy next step. "What really attracted me to this job was that they have a real passion for food and for doing the best they can with good food," McWilliams says. "It's a wonderful thing to be a part of."

McWilliams's duties will extend beyond the kitchen, as he seeks to support Wagshal's well-established enterprises, such as the delicatessen and market, while growing the newer business ventures, specifically Spring Valley Catering and Wagshal's Importers. "We share a lot of the products between the deli, market and catering kitchen," the chef explains, "and as things get bigger there is going to be a need for having systems and procedures in place to help with that." One strength McWilliams says he would like to exploit immediately is pastry chef Ganesh Rajamonickam. "He just does extraordinary cakes," McWilliams says. "It would be nice to branch out and see some rehearsal dinners and weddings."

But McWilliams's new responsibilities won't keep him out of the kitchen entirely. He will head up teams for cooking demonstrations at local and national food festivals, continue to grow the deli and catering menu, and explore uses for new imports. Among Wagshal's most high-profile imports is the Spanish Iberico de Bellota pork. "It has such a high fat content -- immediately as a chef you think of all these slow-cooking, sous vide and slow-roasting techniques to render the fat," he says. "But we've found through experimenting that this product actually requires a really, really high-heat cooking technique. It's the kind of thing where simple is better. All it actually needs is a good old-fashioned roasting."

By Justin Rude  | February 3, 2011; 4:51 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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