Eric Nelson Executive Chef, Bridgewater Grill
Eric’s love of the culinary arts began at the age of 16, while working at a Steakhouse in Ames, IA. Every day he would peruse the six onsite gardens to pick fresh flowers and other greenery to garnish the evening’s dinner plates. In two years, he moved up through the ranks – starting as the dishwasher, moving on to salad boy, sauté boy and then finally to grill MAN. It was his experience at the Broiler that solidified his love for cooking.
After high school he moved to Colorado to attend the Keystone Culinary program. The program featured a three-year apprenticeship where he rotated through six of Keystone’s highly acclaimed restaurants. It was here he had the opportunity to join a special group of students to embark on a field trip to the Culinary Olympics abroad in Germany. The trip included stops in Epernay, the Champagne region of France and most notably a tour at Dom Pérignon. Along with a half-day class at le cordon bleu in Paris, France. Exquisite!
He was offered the opportunity to become a private chef at an experience design consulting firm in ’03. During his five-year position as the Executive Chef at Starizon he honed his culinary skills. Being given full reign of the menu he enjoyed the freedom this experience provided not only to himself, but also to the firm’s clients, who were encouraged to explore new tastes and sensations. A few of the clients enjoyed the food so much they flew him out to their home locations to cook meals for their spouses and fellow employees. This guest-chef honor fed his desire to select and create fine cuisine from local markets.
Also during his time at Starizon, he was invited to the Wine Spectator’s California Wine Experience. This remarkable opportunity introduced him to countless wines paying homage to the world’s remarkable terroir. Although he enjoyed the entire experience, the most impressionable part of the California Wine Experience was a food and wine pairing cook-off whose contenders included Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali and Charlie Trotter. One word. Amazing!
Feeling inspired, he took his training and love of food to a new level, starting his own catering business – Scenario Catering. The experiences he offered ranged from hosting private dinners to creating culinary affairs with cooking classes, wine/food pairing and themed events. But all of this was short-lived. He was approached with an opportunity he couldn’t refuse – in Oregon.
An Executive Chef position was offered at The Bistro at Wellspring in Woodburn, Oregon. This position heightened his technique and brought his restaurant management skills full circle. The Bistro challenged him to investigate healthier styles of cooking while simultaneously feeding his desire to showcase food as art. This effort created a destination place that many people – both locals and those from far and wide – called their safe haven for delicious, quality food.
As the Executive Chef at Willamette Valley Vineyards he brought his passions and skills to complete fruition, running a kitchen while building a full-service fine dining tasting room food service. With a blank slate and strong-willed determination he eagerly attempted to execute and exceed Jim Bernau’s vision (founder/wine maker). There he made a splash with a localized creative sampling menu to enhance Willamette Valley Vineyards’ already phenomenal wines.
He’s always found great pleasure in the art of food – almost telling him how it wants to come together. He credits his mother for two early lessons in life, if you truly love your work, you can create magic: and a dash of love put into everything you do can keep you well.