Tastemakers 2017: Chef Bradley Balch of Trillium Kitchen & Patio

Erin Edwards
Chef Bradley Balch surrounded by the remnants of Alana's Food & Wine. He is opening Trillium Kitchen & Patio in the space in June.

Why He's a Tastemaker

Chef Bradley Balch has been a staple of the local dining scene since the grunge era, after moving to Columbus from Toledo in 1995. He's played a role in opening a half-dozen restaurants since then, but really made his mark over the last three years by putting out sophisticated, high-quality bar food at The Sycamore in German Village, where he was executive chef until just recently (he's still a co-owner). Now, he's opening Trillium Kitchen & Patio with business partner Michael Kulikowski, former general manager at Tucci's. And the pair didn't pick just any location—they took over the lease of a Columbus dining institution: Alana's Food & Wine. Pressure and expectations are inherently tied to the Campus-area location, but Balch has a wealth of experience to help Trillium chart its own path.

Big Shoes, Tight Kitchen

We photographed Balch for this issue in the middle of a construction zone, surrounded by the remnants of Alana's, the walls still Alana's orange and red. The place was in the process of total transformation. The carpet had been ripped up to expose original wood floors, and the old Alana's bar had been extended significantly. Balch expects the bar to be a showpiece of the restaurant, along with the front patio, which will feature live music several days a week and about 70 seats. “There's no competition for patio dining with our quality [in this area],” Balch says. “I was very hesitant on this location, but it came together very quickly. And Michael [Kulikowski] kind of sold me on it, pushed me on it. Now, to see how it's actually coming together is pretty exciting.” One thing he didn't expect: Alana's kitchen is bigger than The Sycamore's, but the kitchen flow is tight. “I should have come in here for a service one night and seen ‘How does she pull it off?'”

Fred's Influence

At The Sycamore, seafood became one of Balch's hallmarks. He loves using quality ahi tuna sourced from Honolulu Fish Company. His penchant for seafood, he says, developed while he was working under chef Fred De Biasio of 55 Restaurant Group. “If there's an influence, when I moved to Columbus I was a sous chef at 55 on the Boulevard (it's a Max & Erma's now). … That's where Cameron [Mitchell] came out of … and it was a seafood-heavy restaurant.” De Biasio, who's still in touch with Balch, had moved to the U.S. from France and lived in the Florida Keys. He brought his appreciation of quality seafood with him to Ohio, and Balch says it left a big impression.

What's on the Menu?

Don't try to pigeonhole Balch. He expects the Trillium menu to draw on wide-ranging influences from Central American to classic French to Southern cuisine. “Let the food speak for itself and know that there's going to be enough variety on the menu,” Balch says. “Keep the menu small enough, change it often, make it easy to execute and rotate it not based on times or seasons, but as we see fit.” An early look at Trillium's mock menu includes dishes as globetrotting as duck confit Vietnamese spring rolls, pork pozole and ahi tuna niçoise.

Thinking Big

Eventually, Balch's plan is to create more restaurant concepts—he and Kulikowski have set up a management group called KB Restaurants LCC. Balch already has his eyes on Worthington, and the overall goal is to create three to five different concepts over the next 10 years. First things first, though: making Trillium a success. Barring contractor and inspection holdups, the restaurant is shooting for an early June opening.

Chef Bradley Balch

AGE 44

PREVIOUS GIGS Barcelona, Tucci's, Barrio, The Sycamore

MUST-HAVE INGREDIENT Vinegars. “I've been on a sherry kick lately. … If you get good quality vinegar, there's so many different flavor profiles you can go with, without being overly acidic.”

KITCHEN NO-NOS “Serving bland food is not acceptable,” and bluegrass music is not allowed in the kitchen. No Weezer, either.

DREAM DINNER DATES Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins (his son's middle name is Corgan, and he's seen the band more than 30 times), Uma Thurman (he digs her Tarantino roles) and Anthony Bourdain (he's read all his books)