Shawn Wilson has an interesting role here at Redmond. He works in graphic design and business development…and he’s also our corporate chef.
How’s that for a job description?
Though Shawn has no formal culinary training, he’s a trained artist and went to school for graphic design. He thinks of cooking as art and has discovered a lot of crossover between the two!
Food and Family
Shawn grew up in upstate New York in a big Italian family, where food was central to every gathering.
“Food was a big part of our gatherings on my mom’s side,” Shawn says. “We were always in the kitchen, eating something.” Shawn watched his grandmother make homemade bread and eggplant parmesan, and his grandfather on his father’s side prepare deer he hunted in the mountains.
“I watched, observed, and appreciated, but it never crossed my mind that cooking would be my career because I was into art. I loved sketching from a young age. I’d always zone out in school because I was drawing, so I thought that was the direction I was going.”
To his surprise, he’d later learn that cooking and art aren’t mutually exclusive, and are a lot more related than he thought!
Shawn pursued his love of art and went to school for graphic design and illustration. During college, he worked in restaurants because serving and bartending was a good way to make money while still leaving time for his schoolwork.
When he finished school, Shawn couldn’t seem to find a graphic design job that was a good fit for him, so he stuck with restaurants.
At the time, he was working at Chatham Bars Inn, a 5-star resort right on the ocean in Cape Cod. This place was high-end and a hot spot for celebrities. “We did a lot of high-end weddings for sports players,” Shawn says. “I even saw Madonna there once!”
Shawn also loves to fish, and one day the chef asked him to take him fishing, so they started going out on the water regularly. “We’d go back to his house and he’d show me how to prep the fish he caught,” Shawn says. “He knew a lot of the Food Network guys, so sometimes Emeril or someone would come to his house for dinner and I’d watch him prep the fish we caught that day.”
Chatham Bars Inn was a summer resort (apparently not a lot of people want to vacation on the ocean during the winter), so during the 2002 Winter Olympics, Shawn had the opportunity to move out to Park City for the winter and return to Massachusetts in the summer.
Here, he met Dorian (our chef at Pybus Point Lodge) and his wife, Leanne. “I served for her at the Marriot in Park City and cooked them a meal at their house,” Shawn says. “Leanne told me ‘Hey, you’ve really got something here.’ I didn’t know what she meant, but she said ‘The flavors here are spot on. You should try working in the kitchen.’ I made good money serving and bartending, but I decided to give the kitchen a try. So I did, and I never looked back.”
Roadblocks and Turning Points
Shawn loved working in the kitchen. “It didn’t feel like work. It could be stressful when it’s busy, but overall, I loved playing with food and ingredients.”
Working in a restaurant with corporate constraints did have some drawbacks though. “You have the corporate overhead, and you have to meet your cost or you won’t survive as a restaurant,” says Shawn. “So you take shortcuts on ingredients, which never sat right with me. I did it for 15 years, and it started to feel heavy, and I didn’t know if I could do it anymore. I loved cooking, but I was ready for a change.”
Shawn’s wife, Jenny, had worked at Redmond for a few years, so he already knew some people from Redmond. Eventually, he reached out and said “If Redmond has anything, let me know.”
As it turns out, Redmond’s graphic designer was on maternity leave, so Shawn came on part-time to fill in while he kept his job cooking.
“Then Redmond started to realize, ‘Hey, Shawn can cook for events!’ So I started cooking. I’d talk to Rhett (our CEO) about the budget. He’d tell me ‘Don’t worry about the cost, just get what you can from the Redmond Farms Store, and make sure it’s organic.’”
This was huge. Shawn had found a place that cared as much about quality ingredients as he did, and where cost wasn’t as much of an issue. As an added bonus, he was also doing graphic design!
Eventually, Shawn moved to Redmond full time doing graphic design, product development, and of course, cooking for our many events and retreats.
“I love having the freedom to play and use my creativity,” Shawn says. “I can go out and see what looks good and fresh and make something from that. That’s not how it works in restaurants. You’re stuck with what you’ve got and it better be to cost. I love being free to make what I want and use good quality ingredients. And I try not to repeat any meals.”
We all love having Shawn here. When we have an event, one of the first questions is always “Is Shawn cooking?!”
Cooking at Redmond and Beyond
Shawn doesn’t limit his cooking to work, of course. “People always ask me if I cook at home or if I like to cook outside of work, and I do. I love giving my wife, Jenny, and the kids the best possible food. My kids don’t realize it but they eat better than a lot of adults in this country.”
One of his favorite things to do when he travels is to cook with local ingredients that are native to the area. “I love going to fish markets and local farmer’s markets,” he says. “The coast has always been my favorite place to go because I’m drawn to the ocean. I love fresh fish, scallops, clams, and lobster. It’s so fun to play with that stuff, especially living in a landlocked state like Utah.”
He’s also had some interesting cooking adventures, including a recent Diesel Brothers video! “They invited me to cook for them at Bear Lake,” Shawn says. “They made a hot tub out of a wrecking ball and hung it over a bonfire. It held about twelve people, and had a hibachi grill in the middle for me to cook on.” Shawn had never done the hibachi onion volcano or flipped shrimp into people’s mouths, but he figured it out! “All my friends back east were like ‘I saw you on YouTube!’”
So, what does the future look like for Shawn?
“Cooking for Gordon Ramsey is on my bucket list,” he says. “I feel like I have a good grasp on the things I do well. I feel like I make a pretty good risotto. And if it’s not good, I want to get his feedback. I respect him. He’s been in the industry for years and his food’s amazing. I might as well start at the top and see where I stand.”
Shawn also wants to learn to make cheese from our Redmond Farms milk, and make more bread from scratch. “I’ve tried a few [breads] and they were pretty good, but I’d love to learn more.”
When you’re as passionate and talented at something as Shawn is at cooking, the possibilities are endless!
Cooking as Art
Though Shawn is known around here for his incredible cooking skills, he still loves art and plays a huge role in our product design. He’s created many labels for our seasonings, and some of his paintings are displayed in our large meeting room where we hold a lot of our lunches!
Over time, Shawn has noticed the relationship between his cooking and his art. “It took me a while to realize this, but art and cooking are both creative outlets,” he says. “They tie together at the end of the day. There’s creativity and design in food too, in preparation, plating, and even how I display the food on buffets. Recently, I did this halibut dish, and all I had were yellow tomatoes and it just looked plain, so I chopped up some red tomato and basil to make it look better.” Shawn’s a big believer in the expression, “We eat with our eyes first!”
Q and A with Chef Shawn
Shawn gets a lot of questions about his cooking. One of the most common is, “What’s your favorite thing to cook?”
“I love seafood and fish,” he says. “If I could cook fish every day, I could cook something different. On the other side of that, one of my favorites is to make sauces that complement the dish, whether it’s fish or beef, whatever. I love playing with sauces. Sometimes it’s the simplicity of the sauce that makes it better, even if it’s just butter with fresh garlic and herbs. You could put that on everything. I think it’s necessary.”
Shawn’s quick and dirty cooking advice? “I feel like people just don’t salt enough. It’s as simple as that. You have to season.”
We’re on board with that, of course!
Finally, people often ask Shawn about his favorite part of cooking, and he’s always happy to answer.
“My favorite part is people’s expressions when they eat my food,” he says. “I always have a bit of anxiety and hope everything tastes as good as I think it will. So seeing and hearing how much people love the food ties to the love I put into it. I put a lot of me into my food. So much time, energy, and passion goes into every meal.”
He gets a lot of those expressions around here. We love Shawn’s food, and we can’t wait to see what he’ll (literally) cook up next!