March 26, 2010

Northern Colorado’s loss is Peoria’s culinary gain

Chef Florian Wehrli is now playing in Peoria as executive chef at the highest-rated Embassy Suites in the country.

From the moment of his arrival in Northern Colorado nearly seven years ago as chef at the Chimney Park Bistro in Windsor, Wehrli became a very public voice for building strong relationships in the food community, among chefs and farmers and other local producers.

Swiss-born Wehrli did his culinary apprenticeship with renowned Chef Georges Wenger, winning the Best Apprentice of Switzerland in 1997. He completed an 18-month internship under Chef David Paulstich at the Mark Hotel in New York City, then became chef saucier for Chef Jean-Louis Palladin’s Times Square restaurant, Palladin. From there he moved to Palladin’s restaurant in Las Vegas, where, in 2000, he took the helm of the award-winning Andre’s at the ripe age of 25.

Eventually, with the help of three partners, Chef Florian opened the small, casual but elegant Chimney Park Bistro in 2004. A dispute with those partners over selling the restaurant left Wherli without a kitchen in the summer of 2007. New owner Chef Jason Shaeffer terminated Wehrli’s non-compete agreement, which allowed Chef Florian to move onto other culinary ventures in the region.

He opened the Chef’s Basket in Windsor’s Water Valley just months before the May 2008 tornado struck. But it’s an ill wind that blows no good. Wehrli was hired in 2009 as executive sous chef by Executive Chef Chris Cole at the new Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in Loveland.

The John Q. Hammons folks apparently like what they saw and offered Wehrli the job as executive chef in Peoria, Ill., earlier this year.

“This is a really busy hotel,´ said Wehrli. “It’s smaller than the one in Loveland, but a lot busier. In Loveland there were two of us in the kitchen; now I am the only one. The setup here is about the same: a restaurant, banquet space and the atrium breakfast space.”

Wehrli said that he will always have a special connection with Northern Colorado and expects to maintain his relationships with local producers.

“But the only way for me to keep growing was to go someplace else,” he said. “When they made me this offer, I couldn’t refuse.”

By the way, in addition to really good hotel dining, now, Peoria has a metro population of nearly 400,000 and the corporate headquarters for Caterpillar Inc.

Jane Albritton is a contributing writer for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Her monthly column features restaurant and hospitality industry news. She can be contacted at jane@tigerworks.com.

Chef Florian Wehrli is now playing in Peoria as executive chef at the highest-rated Embassy Suites in the country.

From the moment of his arrival in Northern Colorado nearly seven years ago as chef at the Chimney Park Bistro in Windsor, Wehrli became a very public voice for building strong relationships in the food community, among chefs and farmers and other local producers.

Swiss-born Wehrli did his culinary apprenticeship with renowned Chef Georges Wenger, winning the Best Apprentice of Switzerland in 1997. He completed an 18-month internship under Chef David Paulstich at the Mark Hotel in New…

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