Chef Michael Willis knows his way around the kitchen – not just the one at The Capital Grille in Dunwoody, where he serves as executive chef, but any kitchen. For Willis, a love for preparing food began early in life, cooking alongside his mother and grandmother. “[They] taught me to have love and passion for cooking,” he says. “If you have hunger and a humbleness to be in the kitchen, it’s amazing what you can do.”
Willis’ career began in 1996, when he served as a dishwasher at LongHorn Steakhouse, another Darden establishment. He was soon offered a training role and helped LongHorn open a whopping 60 restaurants over the following decade. In 2007, Willis accepted a position as pantry chef at The Capital Grille in Buckhead — then worked his way up to sous chef. Today, he has opened 10 locations with The Capital Grille and is proud to be the Executive Chef Partner for the Dunwoody restaurant.
The menu at The Capital Grille has distinctive flair, with steaks that are dry-aged and prepared to each guest’s tastes. If you ask the chef his favorite dish, it coincides with what guests also love: the bone-in ribeye with 15-year aged balsamic. “I love it because of the perfect flavor profile combination from the marbling and the sweetness and spice from the balsamic, olive oil glaze and porcini mushroom crust,” Willis says.
Always working on his art, Willis says simple yet flavor-boosting techniques have translated from his home kitchen to the restaurant's menu. “Most of my free time is spent with the smoker and the BBQ pit,” he remarks. “At The Capital Grille, sautéing is an excellent way to create simple yet elegant dishes.”
However, this chef does more than just prepare outstanding meals — he builds relationships. “I love teaching, training and motivating my culinary team members,” he shares. “ I look around the restaurant, and I see people who I have worked with for many years who have become my family.”