KAWA NI, WESTPORT, CT
Armed with a bachelor’s degree from Johnson & Wales University and concentrating on sustainability and locally sourced products, it’s no wonder Will Friedman continues to put a focus on zero waste and seasonal ingredients. Much of his work has been in Asian cuisine, from his days as sous chef at Ken’s Ramen in Rhode Island to his time as assistant culinary director at Mecha Noodle Bar. Now, as chef at Kawa Ni, he incorporates all he has learned into the restaurant’s creative and inspiring menu.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I was inspired to be a chef during my first summer job when I was 12 years old. I was a dishwasher at a small seafood restaurant, and I loved the high-paced environment. After that summer, I would look through cookbooks and raid the dry storage and fridge in my apartment and try to make my mother dinner for us when she got home from work.
When was the first time you felt innovative in your career?
The first time I’ve felt innovative in my career was probably when I started at Kawa Ni as chef de cuisine. It was the first time in my career I was able to use everything I’ve been taught and put them together and make something new and special. From working at Ken’s Ramen then to Mecha Noodle Bar and after that The Whelk, I had a massive amount of Asian knowledge combined with dish creation under my belt. Going to Kawa Ni was the perfect home for me to be creative.
With so much variety in cuisine today, how does a chef continue to remain innovative?
I think to remain innovative you need to push the limit but also keep things pure and simple. Trying to do something new and exciting is always great, but respecting the main component of your dish and not trying to turn it into something it’s not is super important to me. That is one of the most important things my mentors Bill Taibe and Anthony Kostelis have taught me.
When you want to indulge, what is your favorite dish/cocktail?
When I indulge I love a dirty martini with or without blue cheese stuffed olives. I’ll never ask for them to stuff an olive on the fly but if I see it somewhere else on the menu it’s definitely a go. When it comes to food, my happy place is sitting at the bar at Rosina’s in Greenwich to eat pasta.
When you are stuck for ideas, how do you find inspiration?
I find most of my inspiration from flipping through magazines and Instagram. I also like to go to Asian grocery stores on an empty stomach and the ideas just seem to flow. The life of a chef is challenging and a tremendous amount of work.
How do you find time to enjoy the fruits of your labor?
Most of the time it starts with my wife’s homemade cold brew and some light reading. I also try to be outside as much as possible and will always finish the day off going out or making dinner.
Does your restaurant change its menu seasonally? What is your favorite fall dish?
Our restaurant is seasonal, we change our menus almost daily depending on the produce our local farmers have available. My favorite dish during the fall that I’ve had a lot of success with is a roasted honey nut squash, with an XO and miso maple syrup and finished with a bunch of seeds and nuts.
How has the restaurant industry’s trying times the last few years inspired you to think outside the box?
I’ve found success with cross utilizing anything and everything. For example, with all fruits and vegetables that we juice, we will turn the scraps into Kosho pastes.