The pro’s pro: Herb WilsonPhoto courtesy Herb WilsonThere isn’t much Herb Wilson, the newly appointed executive chef at both the Tribeca Grand and the Soho Grand, hasn’t seen over the years. He’s cooked at good restaurants and mediocre restaurants, been praised (as the chef of Jack’s Fifth, for example), been obscure (a five-year run at Wall Street watering hole Bull Run), toiled in small kitchens, and overseen platoons. But he’s not well known outside the business. Gael Greene once called him, admiringly, a “skilled journeyman.” Now he’s come into the biggest job of his career, a happy ending if ever there was one, and it’s hard not to feel happy for the guy.
Classically trained in France by the legendary Troisgros brothers and a protégé of the late Patrick Clark (and like him one of the few African-Americans chefs in town), Wilson makes up in experience what he lacks in star power. He accomplished the very difficult feat of getting two stars at three different restaurants, from three different Times reviewers at Le Refuge, Bambou, and most recently Jack’s Fifth. And he’s one of the few working New York chefs to have been steadily employed here for over twenty years. Which, as far as we’re concerned, is reason enough to like him. Wilson’s first full menus at both hotels won’t appear until spring, he tells us. But having just started at his new post, he feels prepared to take over the restaurants, banquets, and room-service programs too. Why not? “It’s all cooking,” Wilson says confidently. “It’s what I do. I’ve been doing this a long time.”