Chef Bri Welk uses her passion for food and fine dining as a way to evoke memories, learn something new, and perhaps make some new friends. Growing up in Massillon, Welk developed her love for food from her family’s cooking, which in turn created special memories.
Welk grew up and attended Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, where she developed a love for fine dining, French cuisine, and molecular gastronomy. She worked all over the country in four-star restaurants and four-diamond resorts.
Chef Bri WelkBut Welk also longed for those meals in Massillon that brought the entire family together.
In 2016 she made her way back to her hometown to care for her grandfather. The move home stirred Welk’s creative juices.
In February 2022 Welk became a private chef and launched Fire and Fig—creating custom meals in customers’ homes across Northeast Ohio.
A potentially career-ending back injury then forced Welk take inventory of her life and her career. She began thinking of ways to take her thriving business a step further.
Welk realized she had to bring people together to enjoy upscale family-style meals with other people—events that allow guests to socialize, enjoy fine dining again, and come together.
Next month Welk will be launching The Chefs Table—a nomadic pop-up fine dining experience at locations throughout Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. She announced the new endeavor on New Year’s Day and already her fans have shown excitement and support.
“This is a passion project to really fuel the creative fire I’ve missed for so long,” Welk says. “You'll see elements of molecular gastronomy, French cuisine, Asian cuisine, and much more.”
Each event will feature a five- to seven-course dinner—many events will be outside—that will showcase upscale tasting menus focused on local, seasonal, and sustainable food and beverage pairings.
“You’ll see different elements all the time, and I’ll run these tasting menus just a couple of times before I create a new one,” she says. “I’m going to follow seasonal food; I’m really just following what Ohio has to offer.”
Welk will work in front of the table anytime the property has an open kitchen, and guests will be encouraged to ask questions and learn more about Welk’s cooking methods.
Just two days after announcing the launch of The Chefs Table, Welk revealed the first event will be on Valentine’s Day, Tuesday, Feb. 14 at the Barrel Room on Canal in North Canton, with owner Keri Sullivan collaborating on wine pairings.
The five-course dinner will feature a beet and citrus first course with blood orange, yuzu, goat cheese, pepitas, and microgreens; smoked duck tartare; second course with fig, black cherry, cured egg yolk, parsnip, and brioche; a scallop third course with risotto, roasted garlic, truffle, saffron, roe, and microgreens; a ribeye fourth course with whipped potato, winter vegetable ragout, charred leek, local mushrooms and a veal demi; and chocolate bomb fifth course.
The experience costs $150 per person. Welk says seating will be limited to only eight to 10 people per tasting to keep the experience intimate.
Welk says in the future, she plans on waiting until 24 hours before a Chefs Table event to reveal the exact location of the tasting.
The Chef’s Table concept came to Welk after she was diagnosed in 2019 with Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES)—the compression of nerves roots in the back that affects sensation and movement. She was paralyzed from the waist down and needed emergency surgery.
“In that moment I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to cook again,” Welk recalls. She recovered, but she says she will have to cope with the condition and back problems for the rest of her life.
“This industry has a funny way of saying, ‘If you aren't dead, you better be at work when you're scheduled,’” she says. “So, it's really hard for me to even take time off to recover when things like that happen.”
In June 2022, a herniated a disc put Welk out of commission for two months.
“I was cleaning a floor drain at work when I felt a pop and it was just that simple—I couldn't walk upright, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't stand for more than five minutes without extreme pain,” Welk explains. “And when I did get back to work in September, I did all my cooking sitting on a stool. I actually used the computer chair on the omelet station, which was pretty funny. But I've always done my best to make things work.”
While recovering from the CES surgery, Welk started contemplating her future as a chef. “I got emotional about the idea that I had spent my entire career up until that point not cooking for myself, but rather cooking what other people wanted me to cook,” she recalls. “I decided if I recovered well and got to go back, that I would put thought into something I would be passionate about in this industry. That's how Fire and Fig came to be.”
Although Welk could easily collect disability benefits with her back problems, she says giving up her work is not currently a consideration. “I'm only 30 and I have a lot I want to accomplish for myself,” she says. “If I still have the opportunity to work and keep doing what I enjoy doing, I'm going to do it.”
Welk recognizes the day may come when she can no longer be a chef. So, she is following her dreams and making the most of her current abilities and already making plans to expand further. “Part of launching this business is making sure I get everything out of the industry that I can, while I can,” she says. “Beyond The Chefs Table, there are more fun concepts to come."
Tickets to the first Chefs Table on Tuesday, Feb. 14 are on sale now. Click here to purchase tickets.