Mertens Prime hires James Beard Award-winning chef

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Paul Berglund’s culinary focus has been on food with European origins. James Beard Foundation

Paul Berglund, winner of the James Beard Foundation Best Chef Award Midwest, was hired to take the reins of the Mertens Prime kitchen in 2021.

Grand Rapids-based Mertens Hospitality said Tuesday it hired Berglund, former executive chef at The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis, to start as executive chef at the Mertens Prime restaurant at 35 Oakes St. SW in downtown Grand Rapids when indoor dining resumes.

As only the third James Beard Best Chef awardee in Michigan since 1984, Berglund said he is excited to bring his cooking to Grand Rapids, which he described as having a vibrant food landscape.

“I was drawn to Grand Rapids in part by its dynamic and growing food and beverage community, which has made me feel welcomed here,” Berglund said. “I am excited to have the opportunity to contribute to the momentum the local area has generated in recent years.”

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said she is enthusiastic about Berglund’s decision to move here.

“The stand-out food and beverage produced by our restaurants, breweries and distilleries in Grand Rapids have generated incredible benefits for our city. Adding a nationally recognized chef of Paul Berglund’s caliber to our already vibrant restaurant community is a huge win for Grand Rapids,” she said. “We welcome Paul with open arms and look forward to attracting visitors to Grand Rapids to explore his cooking among the many outstanding restaurants throughout our city.”

Doug Small, CEO of destination marketing organization Experience Grand Rapids, echoed Bliss’s sentiments.

“This is great news for Grand Rapids as we put the challenges of 2020 behind us and head into the new year,” Small said. “We welcome Paul to our city and look forward to working together to bring more diners throughout the state and beyond back to the world-class restaurant and beverage offerings of downtown Grand Rapids.”

Berglund’s culinary focus has been on food with European origins. He previously worked at the Oliveto Café and Restaurant in Oakland, California, where he rose to the chef de cuisine role and solidified the Italian-focused establishment as a stalwart in the East Bay area.

After moving to Minneapolis, Berglund got his first opportunity to build his own menu at The Bachelor Farmer, where he developed a northern European offering that opened to immediate acclaim from food critics in 2011. It was named one of the Top 10 Best New Restaurants in the U.S. by Bon Appetit magazine in 2016, the year Berglund also won the Best Chef Midwest title from the James Beard Foundation. The most recent Michigan chef to win a James Beard Best Chef Award was in 1994, and before that, in 1984.

Berglund left The Bachelor Farmer in 2017 and moved to Rochester, Minnesota, to be closer to his wife, Tia Chakraborty, who at the time was pursuing a neurology residency at the Mayo Clinic. She was recently appointed as a neurointensivist at Spectrum Health, which brought the couple to Grand Rapids.

Berglund has begun developing his menu at Mertens Prime and will bring his experience with precision flavors to the French-focused cuisine that Mertens has cultivated since its opening in 2017.

Anthony Tangorra, managing member and restaurant director at Mertens Hospitality, said Mertens is “excited to have Paul share his culinary gifts with the city of Grand Rapids.”

“He is developing a menu that is designed to have him bring out his own talent and creativity within the expansive world of French cuisine and premium steaks and chops that is Mertens Prime. We’re pleased to be the platform for Paul’s next step in his culinary journey,” Tangorra said.

Given the current indoor dining prohibition in Michigan, Berglund plans to use this time to perfect his dishes as he prepares for his debut. Mertens Prime is ending takeout during Berglund’s menu development phase and will announce the new menu when it is ready.

In addition, reservations at Mertens Prime have been temporarily halted. The restaurant will announce when bookings resume.

Assuming regulatory restrictions have been lifted, the restaurant expects to debut Berglund’s menu in January.

Berglund also will share responsibility for the other venues at Mertens, including Mertens Rooftop, Café Mertens and 9th St. Steaks.

Unlike Mertens Prime, Café Mertens and 9th St. Steaks will continue to offer takeout and delivery services under their current menus. Mertens Rooftop plans to debut a new menu under Berglund’s leadership in the spring.

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