Chef brings Windows’ reputation to Glen Arbor restaurant

GLEN ARBOR – Windows restaurant, located between Traverse City and Suttons Bay, has been an area fine-dining standard for decades. Now, those looking to experience the exquisite menu, impeccable service and striking view offered by the original can do so at Windows’ recently-opened second location.

The satellite restaurant opened June 16 in the new LeBear residential community on the shores of Lake Michigan in Glen Arbor. The developers of the 14-unit fractional share condominiums included space for a high-end eatery in the complex’s construction, but weren’t sure who would occupy it.

But over the winter, chef Randall Chamberlain and Phil Murray, chef/owner of the original Windows, cooked up a plan.

“I was looking at the space by myself, as Phil was, but neither of us was really able to get it going on our own. Then (the developers) suggested that we do it together, and it worked,” said Chamberlain.

Their alliance is not unfamiliar; Chamberlain has worked at the original location off and on for about the last 15 years, though he most recently made his professional home at another restaurant in Glen Arbor.

Opening his own restaurant marks the fruition of a dream for Chamberlain, who was raised in a restaurant family (his father owned several, notably Traverse City’s Chamberlain’s) and reared in the kitchens of some of the area’s finest establishments, including Reflections and Windows. Though he is accustomed to working in much larger restaurants, he considers his, which seats about 30 and employs a small staff, perfect for his tastes.

“This size has always been my dream. I’ve worked in much larger kitchens, but I’ve always enjoyed dining in smaller restaurants. Here, I get to be very hands-on. You can lose track of things when you have to delegate. It’s a struggle. To actually have my hands in everything is very pleasing and rewarding,” he said.

Another bonus of his kitchen’s size is that it fosters the freshness and creativity of Chamberlain’s daily-changing menu.

“I only have a very small ice cream freezer which means everything is always fresh, nothing is frozen. It’s really a blessing. It adds to my preparation and planning and dishes that I don’t have the room to warehouse products.”

Chamberlain looks to local farm markets and vegetable stands, as well as what’s available fresh from his purveyors for inspiration in creating dishes. “If I’m driving here and I pass a farm stand and the corn’s ready, I’ll use it. It allows me to use my creativity and knowledge of the balance of flavors and how they’re going to work together. It’s a blank page every day,” he said.

Chamberlain also noted that he owes much of what he knows about being a chef to Phil Murray, who hired him at the original Windows in 1988, despite the fact that he was still a little green when it came to fine-dining restaurants.

“In hindsight, hiring me was maybe a little risky for Phil. I didn’t have much experience. He taught me a lot,” he said.

But even though the restaurants share a name, Chamberlain said patrons shouldn’t expect a carbon copy of the original.

“I have tried to carefully blend what has always been the standard of Windows with my personal taste. It’s pointless to replicate the food, but not the great service that people have come to expect. People’s expectations are high. You can’t just put the name out there and be successful. We had to set our goals high and do it with gusto.” BN