With his Southern Gulf Coast-meets-Midwest farmer laidback disposition, chef Kevin Willmann is sure to be welcomed with open arms into the mountain town of Aspen, where honoring one’s roots with exceptional farm-to-table cuisine is revered. Willmann has focused on the food grown and raised by the community in earnest from the beginning of his career. His St. Louis restaurant, Farmhaus, is recognized as a farmto-table leader, where his recipes are often kept on “chicken scratch notebooks in our back pockets.” His work is different than the other chefs, but it is this diversity, Willmann says, that makes this kind of dining experience so exciting and continually fresh.
“Diners can try four different styles of American cooking in one place; that’s what has me so excited about being a part of this,” he says. “There is so much diversity, and instead of being afraid of it or confused by it, I look at it as an opportunity to celebrate it. There is so much opportunity there with four chefs. And they will tweak the menu throughout the season as well. That gives local people and return visitors a chance to see the seasonal changes.”
Seafood holds a prominent place alongside local pork on Willmann’s menus. As a child his family raised hogs and farmed crops such as corn, soybeans and alfalfa, as well as grew fruits and vegetables in gardens for the family. Willmann’s family would eventually leave Greenville, Ill., and make a home in the agriculturally different city of Gulf Breeze, Fla., where he instantly became passionate for the Gulf and its backwaters and bayous. He found work as a young man doing all things fishing, including several years as fish cutter and delivery boy at The Fish Peddler, where he delivered fish to the many of the area’s best restaurants.
At the 65-seat Farmhaus, which he runs with his wife Jessica, Willmann and his team butcher and utilize whole animals and fish in the ever-changing menu that reflects his experiences. There are often Southern notes to Willmann’s cuisine that pull from his beloved Gulf Coast region, which will also be evident in his contribution to Chefs Club by FOOD & WINE. “Fish is a big passion of mine,” he says. “I grew up in the Gulf region and have deep connections to that food. Those fish dishes we make now are more sophisticated than what we grew up with, but they are always something I’m excited about. I want people to know that the Gulf Coast fisheries are still there, and the fish is so good, it’s tested every day. It’s something that is really important to me.”