I will take credit only for recognizing talent. One block from Hampton Terrace, Bjorn Somlo opened "Nudel," not much more than a year ago. This week, he was nominated for the James Beard Award for "Best Chef in the Northeast." Only four chefs from Massachusetts are in the running...and the other is Peter Platt, also from the Berkshires.
Peter is well-deserving: he is formerly of Wheatleigh and for years has owned the Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough. We have been a few times...and sent guests...but they are located 30 minutes from us, so the relationship is not the same.
Nudel...however...is our neighbor, and my daughter, Lauren is actually a waitress and hostess there now. The most incredible thing is the fact that Bjorn has been nominated for this award after literally a year. Prior to opening Nudel, he served anonymously in the kitchens of various local restaurants...although he certainly will credit each one with developing his obviously prodigious skills. He is NOT an alum from the CIA, French Culinary Institute, or any classroom. He is merely passionate about food.
Since our first meal there, we have aggressively sent guests to Nudel. And that is to take NOTHING away from any other Lenox restaurant. We continue to receive 100% positive feedback about many of them, and Nudel is not for everyone.
But Bjorn has wowed our guests....and apparently the food critics...with perfect execution of simple concepts: (1) buy local and sustainable food whenever possible, (2) prepare it, and combine it in ways which strike the imagination, and (3) change the menu virtually every night so that regular patrons have fresh reasons to sample often.
"When they bring their product through the door, I know it's not the kind of thing to be hidden by something else or served as an accoutrement," he said. "When I say beets, I mean beets. That should be the star of the show for that day. I enjoy all of the challenges of being seasonal. I'm happiest when I'm cooking."
Bjorn is also savvy enough to know that the new social networking paradigm can work for him. His daily menu is posted at 5 pm each day on his website, Facebook and Twitter. His many hundreds of fans get "pinged" at 5 with the latest list of "teases,".....
Foie Gras and Duck Liver Scrapple, maple syrup, French toast
Bluefish and Veal Sweetbread Sausage, capers, lentils and cauliflower
Split and Chickpea Soup, smoked paprika and caramelized yogurt
....three "small plate" choices from just last night. And I mean tease in this context: Anyone can feed you. Bjorn can entice you to leave your house and find out why he thought split pea soup, Korean bar-b-cued pork, parmesan fritters and raw cranberries might work in the same bowl.
The other thing about Nudel...its size. Smaller than our entry hallway, Nudel seats 28, and that includes the high stools at the kitchen counter. If you are lucky, you get (or wait) for a front row seat. Bjorn knocked out the wall between the dining area and the kitchen...and you are in the kitchen with him. Everthing is transparent...he is cooking in front of you. He is calm, organized and on top of every detail.
All this being said.....Bjorn's primary talent is drawing the maximum flavor from each dish. We have been many, many times. Nudel does not have salt and pepper shakers at the tables. It has never occurred to me to ask for one.
So, sincere congratulations, Bjorn. Don't change a thing.