Although he modestly insists that he is just “a simple boy from Kansas,” Bill Bracken is a nationally renowned chef who has accrued numerous awards and critical acclaim during his 35-year culinary career.
Bracken developed a love of food at a very young age while cooking with his mother and grandmothers in Wathena, Kansas (population 1,200). As a child, he was drawn to the kitchen because “I loved to eat, and was motivated to cook the things I like.” I really believe that in many cases you don’t choose a career, it chooses you – and that I was born to be a chef.” During that time, he also cultivated a particular fondness for classic American staples. Indeed, one of his most popular dishes is his inventive take on traditional macaroni and cheese, made with elbow pasta, Taleggio cheese and crushed truffles.”
Bracken landed his first restaurant job as a dishwasher in a local diner – and by the age13 he was where he was meant to be: in the kitchen cooking. After high school, he attended a small vocational school where he won a scholarship through a national cooking competition to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York. Following his graduation from CIA with honors in the top 10 of his class, Bracken took a job at the Mandalay Four Seasons Hotel in Dallas, Texas. He later moved with the company to its Newport Beach property, now the Island Hotel, working his way up to Executive Sous Chef.
In 1994, he joined The Peninsula Beverly Hills as Executive Chef – overseeing all of the hotel’s culinary divisions, including the nationally acclaimed The Belvedere Restaurant. During Bracken’s tenure, The Belvedere was awarded the coveted AAA Five Diamond Award for 12 consecutive years. Additionally, he was voted “Chef of the Year” by the California Restaurant Writers Association, and received rave reviews in publications such as Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure.
Through Bracken’s passion and creativity he built a variety of successful food and beverage projects and programs. From being one of the first to introduce small plates in the form of his “Small Bites Offerings” to the LA dining scene or his signature “Macaroni and Cheese,” elbow pasta with Taleggio cheese, crushed truffles and a parmesan tuile, Bracken was on the forefront of the culinary movement.
After 10 years of running the kitchen Bracken stepped into the role of Executive Assistant Manager – “Food & Beverage” overseeing the entire food & beverage operation at The Peninsula Hotel. He enjoyed immersing himself in the service side as well as the world of wine and food pairings and took great joy in helping build the hotels award winning wine list.
In October of 2005, Bracken joined the Island Hotel in Newport Beach. As Executive Chef, he headed up the property’s culinary operations, overseeing the new Palm Terrace Restaurant & Lounge, and a staff of 65 cooks, pastry chefs & stewards. His first focus was on repositioning the hotel’s signature restaurant, Palm Terrace, firmly on the culinary map. Previously known as Pavilion Restaurant, the Palm Terrace opened in June 2007 following an extensive refurbishment with a new tropical-themed décor and new menus that reflect Bracken’s whimsical American-style cuisine.
After five years in the kitchen, Bracken again took the reign of the entire F&B division, this time while still wearing his chef coat. Bracken was tasked with creating a new business model to navigate through some very trying economic times. While doing so, Bracken also created the culinary vision for the Oak Creek Golf Club’s food & beverage operation.
While enjoying the challenges presented to him, it was time for Bill to move onto new challenges. Since leaving the hotel world Bill has consulted on a variety of restaurant and hotel projects including the only “Forbes Five Star” resort in Santa Barbara, El Encanto. As well Bill helped to open DivBar Smokehouse BBQ in Newport Beach to rave reviews.
Bill’s most recent project was to open and establish The Ensaymada Project with his wife Molly and his partners Ramon & Chari Reyes. After spending a year establishing this exciting new online Filipino pastry store with rave reviews in the Orange County Register, OC Weekly and Riviera Magazine Bill has turned the reins over to his partners.
With the recent news that the IRS has granted Bracken’s Kitchen 501c3 status Bill has sold his interest in the Ensaymada Project to dedicate all of his energy and efforts to his project. Bill is excited about building the business and truly making a difference in the lives of those who need it most.
A resident of Fountain Valley, California, Bracken lives with his wife Molly and his three children Jacob, Jessica and Lukas. In his spare time, Bracken enjoys taking an active role in his kid’s lives supporting their various school and sporting events, as well as his active involvement in Seabreeze Church where his family are members. On those rare occasions when Bracken has some time to himself, you can find him enjoying many outdoor activities or taking a ride on his Harley.