Chef Eddie Tancredi, recently named best chef in the nation by the American Culinary Federation, is bringing his considerable talents to Willoughby. As corporate chef for the Cleveland Restaurant Group, he oversees menus and food operations at Willoughby Brewing Co., 1899, Ballantine and still-idle Gavi's, all part of the group's operations.

Chef Eddie Tancredi, recently named best chef in the nation by the American Culinary Federation, is bringing his considerable talents to Willoughby. As corporate chef for the Cleveland Restaurant Group, he oversees menus and food operations at Willoughby Brewing Co., 1899, Ballantine and still-idle Gavi's, all part of the group's operations.

Although Solon native Tancredi is more manager than a day-to-day cook, he steps into the Ballantine kitchen regularly to give Chef Jason Sweet a day off.

One way he'll better get to know Willoughby residents and get their feedback is serving them in Ballantine's street-side stand for the Aug. 17 Taste of Willoughby.

He is still getting to know the separate restaurants, whose distinct identities he says will continue to be maintained.

Since returning from the chef competition in Las Vegas he's spent time getting the restaurant group's Town Hall in Cleveland up and running.

Cleveland Restaurant Group CEO Sean Heinman prides himself on putting together a talented team, including Tancredi and Willoughby Brewing Co. general manager Jeremy Van Horn.

"I'm a concept guy," Heinman said. "I've done everything in the restaurant business, but now I'm working on bringing Gavi's to an exciting new place."

He said he is not yet ready to discuss details of his plan for the former restaurant, which he purchased last January but hopes to reopen before the year is over. "It's a great space and we're going to bring it alive as an entirely new place."

Delighted with Tancredi's recent honors in competition, Heinman said he's giving him the opportunity to grow and challenge himself in new ways.

"I love to cook and I love to compete," said Tancredi, 30. "So it's been wonderful to put the two together.

For his Chef of the Year honor, Tancredi competed against three other chefs from different parts of the country. He came into the Las Vegas cook-off as the ACF's Northeast Chef of the year, and triumphed over chefs from Atlanta, St. Louis and Utah by preparing a four-course meal in one hour. The other three chefs did the same.

"I had two apprentices, and the secret ingredient was duck, which had to be part of each course," he said. He said the Restaurant Group supported him with the time he needed to practice, and Scott Ryan, chef at The Country Club in Pepper Pike and last year's Chef of the Year, let him use the club's kitchen to prepare his practice meals. "I've been practicing there every Sunday and Monday for a couple of months," he said.

Ryan, who advanced to another level in competition, will represent the Americas in the Global Chefs Challenge next July in Norway.

"It was really great to be able to practice in the club's kitchen," Tancredi said. "When you're in a restaurant there are always so many interruptions, and we had to get our timing down pat to do it all in one hour."

Tancredi said he wanted to be a chef since age 12, and as a teenager worked for Dave's Famous Subs in Chagrin Falls to earn money to attend Pennsylvania Culinary School in Pittsburgh. He parlayed an internship at the famous Greenbrier in West Virginia into a spot in the resort's 3-year apprenticeship program during which he worked every food station in all nine of its restaurants.

No stranger to culinary competitions, he landed a spot on the U.S. team for the 2012 Culinary Olympics last year in Germany. "Since the inception of the Culinary Olympics the Greenbrier has always had a strong presence on the U.S. team," he said.

Tancredi is committed to use fresh and seasonal ingredients and will bring the chilled peach soup he developed for the chef competition in Las Vegas, incorporating it in a dish for those coming to the Aug. 17 Taste of Willoughby.

"I really look forward to meeting Willoughby people and getting their feedback on what they want from our restaurants here," he said.

Chef Tancredi's winning menu

First course: Duck pulverized to a paste on toasted brioche with orange segments, fried grape tomatoes, candied pistachios, arugula and frisee tossed in a lemon thyme vinaigrette.

Second course: Scallop atop a duck and mushroom ragout with parsnip puree, spinach and mushroom dumplings topped with fried leeks and red pepper syrup.

Third course: Pan roasted duck breast with duck sausage served with polenta, yellow beets and fennel with a blue cheese snow and blackberry gastric.

Fourth course: Chilled peach soup with foie gras almond cake topped with crispy duck skin and chocolate salt mint yogurt.