In the male-dominated restaurant industry, it’s rare for a female to helm a fine-dining establishment. But at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Windsor Court Hotel’s The Grill Room, that’s exactly what you have in 30-year-old executive chef Kristin Butterworth.
Though she came to New Orleans from Pennsylvania in 2012 after helping to elevate Lautrec at Falling Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort to Five-Star status as the chef de cuisine at just 28, Butterworth didn’t have lofty goals of pioneering in the kitchen while growing up. Like any child, her dreams more so centered around playing in the backyard. But because she was reared in a traditional Italian family, many of Butterworth’s days were actually spent in the kitchen or in her parents’ Pennsylvania garden. While her friends lounged by the pool, Butterworth’s summers involved growing vegetables and learning preparation methods passed down through generations of cuisiniers in her bloodline.
And to this day, Butterworth, a graduate of the master’s program at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners in Italy, uses the finest local farm-to-table ingredients, with simplified preparation and a European-influenced culinary style.
Having already honed her skills at Star-Rated properties such as the aforementioned Falling Rock, The Inn at Little Washington and Sea Island Resort, the epicurean world was fully aware of Butterworth’s fresh-first focus. Still, making the move down to the competitive New Orleans market was a challenge — but it was one she was eager to face because of the opportunity to work with Sara Kavanaugh, The Grill Room’s director and sommelier.
“This was the No. 1 hotel in the world at one point,” Butterworth explains of her and Kavanaugh’s strategy for keeping the restaurant in NOLA’s upper crust of dining options. “There’s a lot of respect and pressure that we have to consider going into that — because it’s not an easy feat … be it front of the house or back of the house. We take it very seriously, and work very hard. We sometimes mess up. Every restaurant does. That’s the honest truth. But we try very hard every day.”
One area where chef Butterworth’s team seems to be consistently winning is with its flavorful dishes. When asked about The Grill Room’s new spring menu, Butterworth says, “We’re getting some local chicken, and doing a play on chicken and dumplings. Boudin dumplings, chicken, peas, so I’m excited about that one. But probably my favorite is one we put on [recently], which is the suckling pork chops. They’re really cool. We’re getting those locally.”
When conceiving entrees, Butterworth and Kavanaugh will sit down, taste what Kristin has made and mull over the food and wine details in hopes of finding ways for the two to better complement each other, thus creating a balance between both ends of the dining experience.
Some naysayers may feel that two women leading the decision-making process in a Star-Rated establishment is a recipe for failure. And it’s that similarly out-of-touch way of thinking that Butterworth has had to fight since cooking school: “The challenge was making them not see you as a woman. Working at the same level as them, working as hard as them if not harder, so they just looked at you as, ‘This is my coworker,’ not ‘Oh, that’s Kristin and, if you look at her the wrong way, she’s going to cry.’ There’s a lot of stereotyping, I think. But if you can cook, that’s it.”
Thankfully, those unpleasant aromas are few and far between in The Grill Room’s kitchen. Fueled by past triumphs (and a little pressure about future success), Butterworth will continue to push The Windsor Court institution forward.
“Where we are is not a bad place — a Four-Star restaurant at one of the best hotels in the city,” the executive chef concludes. “But we want to be in a better place. We want to elevate it, and just do things the city hasn’t seen before.”
Photos Courtesy of The Windsor Court Hotel