BEST LOCAL CHEF - 2006
Being a great chef is many things—and it's much more than being a great cook. It's leadership and charisma. It's the ability to work with other, usually younger chefs, to convey to them your particular vision, and inspire them to sweat and scramble to achieve it—because only then can you take a night off, or walk a circle through your dining room, sure in the knowledge that your food will be made to the level it must be. It's humility and the ability to cede control of parts of the restaurant to others with greater skill than you have, be it in the fields of valet parking, serving, bartending, or sommelliering, so that the people leaving your tables at the end of the night remember your food, and not the way the waiter dumped a tray of Banyuls on their heads or the valet filled the car with cigarette smoke. It's stamina, and the ability to stay on-message, through decades and endless cases of lettuce, never surrendering to the desire to hang the appetizers on wires from the ceiling, for something new. It's also the ability to stay fresh and creative, through all those cases of lettuce, and never throw in the towel and have your line cooks serve shrimp cocktail so you can stay home nights and watch Desperate Housewives. Tim McKee has all those qualities, as is obvious to anyone who stepped through the doors of the newly relocated, thrilling, subtle, utterly accomplished restaurant La Belle Vie. His food is exquisite, certainly—a pasta dish of garganelli with braised rabbit, guanciale, and truffled mascarpone with a bit of sweet and sour cabbage had a richness that made the depths of northern winter seem like the lushest and most vivid time to be alive. But in addition to the food, the rest of the restaurant, the service, the wine, the parking, the tabletop, the everything, the work of a hundred people, pushes McKee's vision forward as one unified delight. That's the height of being a chef, the glorious art, plus the all-too-human management, resulting in happy little tables full of happy little diners, blissfully ignorant of all the work that goes into their happy little night.