2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Chef Chris Kearse of Will

2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Chef Chris Kearse of Will
February 2013

Like many chefs of his generation, Christopher Kearse fell in love with food watching the Food Network and discovering the culinary world beyond his suburban upbringing. Unlike his peers, Kearse watched food television while confined to a hospital bed in his home. After a drunk-driving accident left 16-year-old Kearse with severe damage to his face—even robbing his ability to eat solid foods—he poured his energy into the kitchen, devouring cookbooks and making meals for his family six nights a week.

At 18, Kearse left home to attend the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, through which he set up stages at wd~50 and Café Gray in New York City and London’s Gordon Ramsay and St. John. After graduating as class valedictorian, Kearse mailed letters to 10 of America’s greatest chefs, hoping to secure challenging jobs. He went first to The French Laundry for a two-month stage, followed by a short stint at Charlie Trotter’s as poissonier. Staying rooted in Chicago, Kearse worked for a year and a half under Chef Laurent Gras at Tru—topped off by weekend stages at Grant Achatz’s Alinea.

Ultimately, Kearse wanted to open his own restaurant, and he knew Philadelphia would be the market to make his break. Returning in 2008, Kearse worked at fine-dining Lacroix before moving to under-the-radar Pumpkin, where he began to hone his personal style. In August 2012, Kearse opened Will, a small BYOB with big ambition and beautiful food. The restaurant is a personal testament to Kearse’s own will and the fruits of his boundless determination and creativity.

I Support: March of Dimes


Interview with 2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Chef Christopher Kearse

Caroline Hatchett: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?

Chris Kearse: I always liked [cooking] and helped my grandma. I watched “Great Chefs” on PBS. And when I was in a car accident at 15, I had to be home schooled. I was in and out of hospitals and in the house for two years. I started watching the Food Network and helping my parents with dinner. I worked in restaurants, and got good at it. I went to restaurant school and graduated when I was 20.

After graduation, I sent 10 letters to 10 chefs over and over until they called me, [including] Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Charlie Trotter. Some places I stayed two days, some two weeks, or two years.  

CH: What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started?

CK: You won't have a life for 10 years. You can have anything you want in life, but you have to sacrifice everything—your personal life, finances. Do you homework. When you’re home, read and dine out. That’s paramount. If you work 12 hours here, you then need to do your homework; go to farmers markets and talk to other chefs.

CH: Tell me about the Philadelphia culinary community.

CK: Right now, it’s my whole generation. We're a little different. Lacroix in 2003 or 2004, it was old-school with a Four Seasons-type feel. Right now, it's very communal. We're all friends and colleagues. It's a close-knit team.

CH: What is your philosophy on food and dining?

CK: Dining is an experience. On Friday or Saturday night, you don't go to clubs, you eat. You get dressed up, spend three hours here, with the service, food, and flavors. That's the whole concept here. It’s based on a French philosophy. It has to make sense.

CH: What’s the toughest challenge you have had to overcome?

CK: Staff. It took such a long time to find the right staff. The staff is almost perfect. I need people to take the job very, very seriously. We opened at 9am this morning. It's a lot of work. I’m out at 1am and here at 8am.

CH: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your career?

CK: Not seeing my family. My social life. The rest is cooking and managing people.

CH: What’s your greatest accomplishment?

CK: I couldn't eat for almost two years. I’ve overcome that. Working at the best restaurants in the country—Alinea, Tru, The French Laundry. I learned a lot about myself.

CH: Where do you see yourself in five years?

CK: I want to get reviewed and get accolades, and cook at the James Beard House. I want to have fun and challenge myself. I'm cooking every day—if I had 10 restaurants, I couldn't do it. Money is money. I’ll keep doing what I'm doing and see what happens.