In late October, Seattle's fine-dining icon Canlis announced its chef Jason Franey — who racked up multiple James Beard Award nominations and a Food & Wine Best New Chef nod during his tenure — would be moving on after six years in the Canlis kitchen. A few days later, Franey (who also spent six years at NYC's Eleven Madison Park) confirmed he was packing up and heading south, although not to expected locales like San Francisco or Los Angeles. Instead, Franey will soon lead the kitchen at Monterrey, California's historic Restaurant 1833, now owned and operated by Coastal Luxury Management, the group behind food festivals like Pebble Beach Food & Wine.
Franey's last day at Canlis will be December 1, exactly six years to the day after he joined Mark and Brian Canlis's extended restaurant family. But Eater recently chatted with the chef to learn more about the Monterrey dining scene, his tentative plans for the 1833 menu, and why cooking is all about a sense of time and place.
Congrats on the new gig — it must have been a tough decision for you to leave Canlis.
"They allowed me the time to look for the right spot."Oh, yeah. I put the last six years of my life and my career in that place, and love working with the Canlis family. The restaurant's just super special. Canlis has been so great to me. But at a certain point, Mark and Brian are about growing people, and that's what happened. Six years into it — and that's not a small amount of time for a chef to be at a restaurant — was a good amount of time, and we did great [things] there. We just reached a point [where we agreed], "You know what? You need more." They're great about doing that, investing in their employees and noticing that instead of being selfish, like, "We're going to keep you forever. No, you need to go out and do your thing, and we support that, and we're going to help you look." We talked about this for several months. As a chef, having an employer that would support that — 12 months of me looking for a job — that's pretty special. They allowed me the time to look for the right spot.
So how did this opportunity come about?
I've known Dave [Bernal, Coastal Luxury Group's co-founder] for the past few years. Once the feelers were out, people start talking, and I got an email basically saying that were looking for a chef for 1833. We talked directly and decided that 1833 was the best start for me. That's my main focus right now. But I really want to be part of this company: they're growing, they've got great restaurants out there. They also do Pebble Beach Food & Wine, which I'm super excited about, to be a part of that from the planning standpoint and as part of the company.
But 1833 is a gorgeous restaurant. The kitchen is amazing; the dining room is insane. It's a historical building that was built in 1833, it has a lot of history in the Monterey local scene. It's a really special place. So I'm looking forward to getting in there.
For those who aren't familiar, how would you describe the dining scene in Monterey?
It's upscale casual, but there are a lot of good chefs living there. Jeffrey Weiss, who just wrote Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain, he's down there. Justin Cogley [the Food & Wine Best New Chef at Carmel-by-the-Sea's restaurant Aubergine] is down there. So it's up and coming, it's a special spot that's been untapped... Instead of being a part of Napa Valley, or something like that — where it's already established, there's already great chefs there — to be a part of something that's up-and-coming is cool.
How would you describe your style of food?
It's [about] time and place. I don't want to be like, "My style is contemporary California," because I don't live in California now and I haven't cooked in California in probably 10 years. I am French-trained, and I believe that's very important, to be classically trained. But I do cook progressive and contemporary, and I try to use as much local stuff as I can.
"To tap into all that history and figure out a style of time and place is what I need to do."
Once I get into the restaurant, understand the restaurant, and get behind what that culture is [I can] figure out what makes sense: What makes sense for the history? There was an old restaurant there back in the '50s that was like the French Laundry of its day. They had crazy stuff like calves' head on the menu, with brains — that's in Monterey, California. To tap into all that history and figure out a style of time and place is what I need to [do]. I would say "contemporary American," if you had to dumb it down into two words, but it's a lot broader than that. I don't want to put myself in a box to where I'm like, "This is what I have to do my entire life." I'm continuously growing and learning, and figuring out new techniques, different places, trying out new things. It's a constant evolution.
Now that you're going to have easier access to California product and produce, how will that affect your approach or the potential menu?
I'm super excited to be back with the California produce. Everybody knows it's the best in the country: You get a longer season, you get perfect vegetables. But also I'm very excited to work inside that kitchen: There's all kinds of new stuff in there. They have a wood-burning oven that I want to start roasting meats in. I want to start roasting vegetables; I want to cook using ash. I have all these things running through my mind and I've only been in the kitchen one time. But I'm super excited to get down there. The product down there is just insane.
Canlis obviously has this history and diners who have been coming there for decades, so you had to work with their menu and bring your take to it. What did you learn from having to meld those ideas of tradition with your ideas of progression?
"What I learned the most while cooking at Canlis was you can't cook selfishly."What I learned the most while cooking at Canlis was you can't cook selfishly. You're there cooking for the guest, and that's the only reason why you're there. Of course you want to put your own spin on things, so it kind of humbled me and brought me down to earth as a chef. You want to be these chefs who can do whatever they want — "This is my menu, if you don't like it, don't come" — and they're packed anyway. That's the dream job: You just do what you want, people come, and you're super successful. But that's not always the case. I feel like I learned how to cook for people more than myself.
Last week, when Brian [Canlis] talked to Eater Seattle, he said that you needed to go to a place where you could earn a Michelin star. Is that one of your goals at 1833?
Those were not my words. I just want to go down there, put my stamp on it, and make it better. I want a thriving, delicious, fun restaurant. If Michelin decides to come to Monterey, which I don't think they will, sure. [Laughs] That's not my priority. My priority is to make a really good restaurant.
Beyond 1833, there was a suggestion that you'd do multiple concepts with the Coastal Management Group. Is that something you see happening?
Definitely. They have so much momentum. But right now, my number-one focus is 1833, but until that's humming — we're not McDonald's. When it's the right time, we're going to do it. There's been a conversation, but right now, I'm focused on 1833.