A Winning Recipe

Posted on 8/26/2020 8:45:00 AM
Kristin Butterworth, executive chef at Lautrec (Brian Henry)
Kristin Butterworth, executive chef at Lautrec (Brian Henry)

Kristin Butterworth could never have imagined being the only chef of her kind on the planet.

While a student at the IUP Academy of Culinary Arts, Butterworth was assigned to write down her 5- and 10-year goals. Some were decidedly lofty. Even so, Butterworth—the executive chef at Lautrec, both a Forbes Five-Star and a AAA Five-Diamond restaurant at the exclusive Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington—didn’t foresee reaching such stratospheric heights so soon after her 2002 graduation.

Editor’s Note: Most Nemacolin Woodlands Resort restaurants, including Lautrec, reopened in May at limited capacity as Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 restrictions eased. Executive Chef Kristin Butterworth spent much of her spring updating kitchens and reworking menus—essentially preparing for a fresh start. “We wanted to show that we can adjust,” she said. “Your safety comes first, but you’re still able to get that luxury experience.”

She was 28, in her first year running Lautrec, when the restaurant earned a Forbes five-star rating.

“I was taking my team to the Inn at Little Washington [in Virginia] for dinner. I wanted them to experience a restaurant where I had worked—a five-star restaurant,” Butterworth said. “It ended up being a celebration. The Forbes ratings had just come out, and we found out that our own restaurant—Lautrec—had gotten five stars.”

The chef at the inn, Patrick O’Connell, told her he didn’t know of another female chef at a five-star restaurant.

“He did some research, and that’s when we found out that not only was I the first female chef to have a five-star restaurant, I was also the youngest,” she said.

Under Butterworth’s leadership, Lautrec has earned both Forbes and AAA top ratings continuously since 2009, and it’s one of only 30 restaurants in the world to hold both distinctions in each of the last 10 years.

If Butterworth has rocketed to the top of her field, IUP’s culinary school was unquestionably her launching pad. Guiding forces were everywhere on the academy’s Punxsutawney campus.

“All of the professors there were amazing,” Butterworth said. She specifically mentioned current faculty members Lynn Pike ’04, M’06, chair, Martha Blake ’05, M’09, and Hilary DeMane and faculty emeriti Albert Wutsch ’03, former chair, and Mindy Wygonik ’90, M’91, who taught computer, business, and other classes at the academy.

“They were all really impactful,” Butterworth said.

A little clairvoyant, too. They sensed she was destined for great things.

“From the very beginning,” Blake said, “she was extremely focused and really showed the kind of flame, the passion, that we see in our very special students. The ones you just know are going to do something, and it’s going to be pretty spectacular.”

Pike believes Butterworth’s willingness to evaluate her work objectively proved especially beneficial.

“I think part of anyone’s success is being able to accept where you have failed or had difficulty and to look at that and make improvements,” she said. “If you can critique yourself, take an honest look at how you’re doing, and then work to improve yourself, that’s so important. I think Kristin has been able to embrace that and use that to catapult herself through the industry.”

Indeed, Butterworth’s rise in her profession was practically meteoric. After completing her externship in Arizona and graduating with honors from the culinary academy, she landed a job at Nemacolin and went from cook to sous chef within two years. From there, she helped open the Georgian Room at Georgia’s five-star Sea Island resort, where she worked her way up from cook to sous chef, was hired as sous chef at the Inn at Little Washington, and joined Lautrec in 2010, assuming responsibility for managing the restaurant.

“He did some research, and that’s when we found out that not only was I the first female chef to have a five-star restaurant, I was also the youngest.”

In the veritable blink of an eye, the Northern Cambria native made the leap from small-town girl who enjoyed cooking for her family to cooking for the rich and famous, some of whom arrive at Nemacolin via the resort’s private airstrip. Since taking the reins, she has strived to remove perceived stuffiness from fine dining. A pancake order at Lautrec is accompanied by bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup served in a vintage Mrs. Butterworth’s bottle, name-dropping in a fashion that invariably elicits giggles from diners. A meal of charred octopus, wood-oven-roasted bison, or Hokkaido scallops is capped by a visit from an old-fashioned candy cart that features everything from imported truffles to goldfish crackers. Even the most humorless of diners will crack a smile as servers invite them to select their favorites.

“A lot of times, fine dining has a certain pretentiousness to it, and people don’t feel comfortable,” Butterworth said. “So my goal is to make sure that it’s comfortable and relatable to everybody. This experience shouldn’t be, oh my gosh, I don’t know which fork to use. It should be fun.”

Butterworth has garnered plenty of praise for both her casual approach to fine dining and her skill and creativity in the kitchen. She is, for example, a three-time semifinalist for a James Beard award as the premier chef in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“It’s a huge honor even to be considered for it,” Butterworth said. “It’s great for the restaurant—it recognizes my team and the amazing things they’re accomplishing, so it’s not just a nod to me. One person can’t run a restaurant. I’m lucky to have an amazing team behind me.”

Butterworth prepared a new menu item, Cranberry-Orange Posset, in December. (Brian Henry)
Butterworth prepared a new menu item, Cranberry-Orange Posset, in December. (Brian Henry)

In 2018, Butterworth was one of Pittsburgh Magazine’s 40 under 40 honorees. The annual list spotlights those making a difference in their professions and communities who are under 40 years of age.

“So my goal is to make sure that it’s comfortable and relatable to everybody. This experience shouldn’t be, oh my gosh, I don’t know which fork to use. It should be fun.”

You read about the other people who are featured in that edition—doctors and lawyers, just amazing people—and you wonder how you measure up to that,” she said. “It’s very humbling.”

But the honor that most moved Butterworth originated with the Hardy family, which owns Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and 84 Lumber. The family recently made a sizable gift to name the demonstration kitchen in the culinary academy’s forthcoming building—a key initiative of IUP’s Imagine Unlimited campaign—in Butterworth’s honor.

“I’m thrilled to be able to support IUP in honor of Chef Kristin Butterworth,” Maggie Hardy Knox, president and owner of the resort, said in a statement. “Nemacolin is beyond proud to have Kristin as part of our Nemacolin family. It’s truly exciting to think about the creativity and culinary skills that will be developed in this new demonstration kitchen.”

Butterworth was overwhelmed by the Hardys’ generosity. It’s just the latest recognition for this one-of-a-kind chef. Sometimes she can’t believe all that’s transpired since she wrote down her 5- and 10-year goals while attending IUP’s culinary academy. She has realized most of them—and at a younger age than she ever dreamed possible.

“I’ve been really lucky,” Butterworth said. “To be able to work in such a beautiful place—a lot of people don’t have that kind of opportunity in the course of their career. To have it happen so quickly, to win awards, to accomplish the things we have here, it’s just . . . unreal.”