Food Arts' November 2012 Silver Spoon Award winner, Brad Nelson, the culinary vice president and global corporate chef at Marriott International.
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Brad Nelson

Julie Mautner / November 2012

Food Arts presents the November 2012 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Brad Nelson, the culinary vice president and global corporate chef at Marriott International, responsible for over 3,700 hotel kitchens in 73 countries…and counting. Colleagues past and present praise his enduring passion for the product, his global perspective, and his facility in instilling his unimpeachable high standards in others.

“Brad has an incredible ability to inspire and develop people,” says Dennis Gavagan, vice president of food & beverage/principal at Resort Lifestyle Communities, who worked with Nelson at Marriott for several years.

During his 15 year career at Marriott, Nelson has also proven adept at launching important culinary initiatives, with pitch-perfect timing, across a vast corporation. Two of many examples include the Trans-Fat Free program he spearheaded in 2006 and the global sustainable seafood initiative, Future Fish, that followed in 2010.

“Brad is the go-to person on the latest culinary trends, tapping into regional cuisine and locally grown products, developing our sustainable seafood guidelines, and staying ahead of the curve on healthy eating,” says JW Marriott Jr., the executive chairman and chairman of the board. “Leading the culinary efforts of a global company the size and scope of Marriott International is a very tall order. Brad makes it look easy.”

Growing up in Seattle, Nelson inherited his love of food from his parents. “We grew vegetables, savored the first salmon of the season, and were buying grass-fed beef from a local butcher before it was considered cool,” he recalls. “I was 19 before I tasted a commercial pickle, because my mom always canned what we grew. I learned to respect nature’s simple, clean flavors and now strive to spread that philosophy in our kitchens today.”

By the time he got to high school, Nelson was fairly certain he wanted a food career. Early restaurant jobs (dishwasher, sandwich-maker) cemented the goal. He graduated from The Culinary Institute of America in 1984 with the Richard Keating Award (“Most Likely to Succeed”), then went to work in hotels and restaurants in Seattle, Florida, and Hawaii. He joined Marriott in 1998, as director of culinary development, and was promoted to his current position in 2003.

Today he leads global culinary strategy for 15 Marriott brands. During his tenure, the company has more than doubled in size; of its 300,000 employees, roughly 40 percent work in f&b. When he’s not in the test kitchen or his office at corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, Nelson is likely to be on a plane or in some far-flung kitchen, as foreign travel takes up 40 percent of his time. “A major goal has been to build an international culinary team that shares my dedication to raising the bar,” he says.

Nelson lives in Fairfax, Virginia, with his wife, Elizabeth, and their kids, ages 11, 12, and 16. When he was 16 and decided to become a chef, he says he never imagined how his love of food would lead him, literally, around the world. “Time and again, this job lets me experience the great cultural equalizer of a fantastic meal,” he says. “This is a very competitive business, and, yes, I’ve worked hard. But it’s the people and friendships made over 35 years that mean the most to me. I’ve been extremely lucky.”