Chef Tracy’s journey to Willow started in Buffalo, New York, where she grew up. Although she finished college with honors and a Communications degree, her passion for cooking brought her to DC where she cooked at Le Pavillon, Galileo, and Kinkead’s. A local favorite – consistently earning the Mobil 4 star rating while Executive Chef at Kinkead’s – Chef Tracy earned national recognition in 2001 when she represented the USA at the International Bocuse d’Or competition in Lyon, France. In 2005, she opened Willow with husband Brian Wolken and long-time friend Chef Kate Jansen. Today, Willow showcases Chef Tracy’s unique talent for combining the finest available American ingredients with traditional French and Italian techniques in an artful, yet straightforward Modern Continental style.
Originally from Iowa, a job with the Federal Government brought Kate out to DC. But her interests in Italian food and culture inspired her to switch gears, attend culinary school, and build a new life for herself as a pastry chef. Kate worked in several DC restaurants and catering companies and met Tracy when they both worked at Galaleo. Kate then helped co-found Firehook Bakery, and when Tracy later asked her to co-found Willow, she knew it was, “a partnership I couldn’t deny!” Kate received the 2009 RAMMY Award for Pastry Chef of the Year and Women Chefs and Restaurateurs’ Women Who Inspire Golden Bowl Award. Watching Willow grow has been tremendously satisfying for Kate, and she is excited to see what is in store for them next.
Debra met Tracy at Kinkead’s in 1994. At the time Debra was a server, but before long she was managing. Debra helped Kate and Tracy open Willow and after playing many roles in the restaurant, she’s found her niche as our General Manager. After 30 years in the industry, Debra’s right to say, “It’s in my blood.” But that’s not what keeps her at Willow. “Willow is my home-away-from home,” she says, “an extension of my family.” Debra loves decorating for the holidays, celebrating with guests on their special occasions, and making all of our guests feel comfortable and welcome.
After college, Chris thought about Law School, but a part time gig as a bartender changed his mind. His first restaurant experience came later at DC’s Les Halles Steakhouse as Bar Manager. After also spending time at The Mark (now Andalé) and Dino and consulting for José Andres at Oyamel, Chris opened up his own place, a wine bar called Enology that served over 300 wines, 60 by the glass. Chris came to Willow after selling Enology. Here he is building an ever-changing, cutting edge wine list, a seasonally-shifting specialty cocktail program, a diverse beer list, and a spirit education program. Chris hopes to promote Willow’s Bar and Nosh as a favorite neighborhood hangout and to that effect, we encourage you to ask him about his work in stand-up and improv.
Co-founding and co-managing Wheatless is Julie’s third career. After completing two degrees in Biology, she started teaching biology, chemistry, and physical science in the DC area. Julie then spent 13 years as an ichthyologist (a fish scientist) at the California Academy of Sciences and here in DC at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. It was there that she co-authored One Fish, Two Fish, Crawfish, Bluefish: The Smithsonian Sustainable Cookbook and co-founded/organized the Smithsonian’s annual seafood event. This latest gluten-free adventure is an important, new endeavor for Julie (click here for story) – tasty, nutritious, and personally rewarding. Plus, she gets to fuse two long-standing interests: cooking and science.
Gabby was a teacher before she came to Willow. With a Master’s Degree in Education, she taught preschoolers, second graders, and mentored new teachers too. Waiting tables part time at Willow was initially just a way to help a friend, but it quickly became much more. For three years Gabby has been coordinating our private dining and special events. From casual, kid-friendly parties to elegant fine dining rehearsals, for Gabby, “Every event is fresh, new, and exciting. I want everyone to experience Willow’s amazing food and wonderful service! My goal is to first understand what our guests want, then help them achieve their vision.”