Chef Kristin Butterworth, the new executive chef of The Grill Room at the Windsor Court Hotel, is a woman on a mission. When I recently interviewed her, she made it very clear: “We want The Grill Room to be the best restaurant in the city.”
The 30 year-old chef has accolades that merit such a lofty goal. Last year, she lead a team that converted Pittsburgh’s Lautrec at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa to a Five-Star and Five-Diamond restaurant, naming her the first female and youngest chef to receive the prestigious award. As if that’s not impressive enough, she did it in just 14 months.
Butterworth grew up in a big Italian family where good food was a staple of family get-togethers. “At our house, we were always in the kitchen,” she explained, “I got hooked.” By the time she was 20, Kristin had already finished culinary school at Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Academy of Culinary Arts. She then spent six months in Northern Italy at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners, receiving her masters with a certificate in Italian Cuisine and Pastry. Since then, she’s been all over the U.S. perfecting her craft. “Once I realized I could get paid to do something I liked,” she told me, “that was, you know…it.”
Throughout her 10-year career, Kristin’s worked in every environment—from small, family-owned places to huge Five-Star powerhouses. She’s held positions close to her hometown in Pennsylvania, and she’s uprooted to go as far as Arizona. The more Kristin traveled and worked, the more she gravitated towards finer dining. “I didn’t like the whole chicken finger thing,” she explained, laughing. After converting Lautrec to a Five-Star restaurant, Chef resolved to stick to fine dining for the rest of her career.
The Grill Room discovered Chef Kristin’s talent when their General Manager, David Teich, along with Sommelier, Sara Kavanaugh, and Food and Beverage Director, Skip Adams, flew down to try her food after a positive phone interview. The three staff members liked her work so much they invited her to join their team. Next thing Butterworth knew, she was on a plane to the Big Easy to stay.
Although Chef Kristin has only been at The Grill Room for three months, she’s already begun making a myriad of changes to its menu. Everyone knows that life as a head chef is grueling and hectic, but revamping a menu requires even more stamina and dedication. Chef has been so busy that, on occasion, she’s just slept in a spare hotel room so as not to waste her time going home.
Butterworth and her team at The Grill Room are taking a refined Southern approach in sprucing up the menu. New items include creative twists on classics, like the Hudson Valley Foie Gras which includes a beignet infused with bits of bacon, paired with brown butter pecans, fried sage, pickled apple, buttered date and a decadent foie gras. She has also created an incredible new white bean soup, complete with shaved black truffle and honey-candied ham.
The tasting menu, which varies nightly, features eight small portions of Chef Kristin’s current favorites—whether they are on the regular menu or not. Soon, she hopes to implement an 11-course tasting menu.
Rest assured, regulars, some items are here to stay. The Windsor Court Salad, for example, which has been a favorite since the restaurant opened in 1984, will still be on the menu, unchanged. “I think if I took that away,” Butterworth surmised, with a very serious look on her face, “I’d be fired.” Patrons can also expect some traditional Italian pasta dishes, as Butterworth readily proclaims that she doesn’t intend to completely disregard her Italian education and roots.
Another major change that Butterworth has made to the Windsor Court’s routine is that she requires everything to be made in-house. From pastries to pasta, if you’re eating in The Grill Room, you can be sure you’re eating something that was prepared right in the kitchen. And as far as ingredients go, Chef confidently states, “I want the best product, period. So if that means I can get it two blocks away, I’ll get it two blocks away; however, if I need to fly it in from Paris, I’ll fly it in from Paris.”
Alongside sommelier, Sara Kavenaugh and mixologist, Christine Jeanine Nielson, Chef Kristin completes the female trio that makes The Grill Room such a force to be reckoned with. Still, theirs is a lofty aspiration. I asked Chef Kristin, aside from changes to the menu, how she plans to meet her objective and make The Grill Room a Five-Star dining experience.
Butterworth went on to say that while at Lautrec, she promised the staff that, if they achieved Five-Star status, they would all get five-star tattoos. When they succeeded, the team went to the parlor together, and now Chef proudly displays the stars on the underside of her wrist.
Perhaps the ink is a daily reminder not only of her previous success, but also of her impending challenge. “You really have to get people on board with you if you want to make it happen.” Chef Kristin explained. Perhaps she’s made a similar pact with her new staff at The Grill Room?