Fab Food Travels
Chef Sean Wilson is not from Des Moines -- but he's definitely done a lot to help build the city's culinary profile. The North Carolina-born chef studied at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, VT, and has cooked in cities including New York, Boston, Seattle, Spain and San Francisco, before moving to Des Moines about ten years ago for his wife's job.
Since he bought his restaurant Proof in 2012, Wilson has earned three James Beard nominations for Best Chef-Midwest and turned a former downtown lunch spot into an acclaimed regional destination that has helped change the way Des Moines dines out.
"When we first opened, we were probably a little too progressive," Wilson recalls, noting that the perception of being overly fancy can be the kiss of death for a Midwest restaurant. "So we pivoted, changed some things around without selling our souls. Once people started catching on to what we were about, we were able to ratchet it up again."
The Proof menu is often inspired by Wilson's travels and experiences in kitchens around the world. Right now, the focus is on the Eastern Mediterranean -- highlighting the flavors of Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel and Greece, but with mainly locally-raised products and a Wilsonian beat. "The palette that we paint on is Mediterranean, but it's not necessarily a classic representation of the food of that region," Wilson explains. "We are pulling flavors and techniques that are used throughout the Levantine Sea basin and interpeting them in our own way -- without obscuring them."
Omaha will have the chance to experience this firsthand at today's Dandelion, where Wilson will be the first Des Moines-based chef-in-residence, but I also recommend taking a trip to Des Moines to try out Proof's upcoming menu (Central Italy and Southern Spain are the new muses) whilst overlooking the (also world-class) Pappajohn Sculpture Park.