Like other top chefs, David Belknap had to venture out in the world before finding a home, which happened to
be where he began.
The executive chef of AC Hotel Columbus
Dublin’s Spanish tapas-inspired lounge and
restaurant VASO was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, but his career trajectory and
love of his family brought him back home to
the Columbus suburb of Dublin. He honed
his craft at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande
Lakes, studying under celebrated chef Thomas Keller in New York City at the Michelin
three-star PerSe before opening his own
place, L&W Oyster Co., on Manhattan’s tony
Fifth Avenue. Other stops included Puerto
Rico, Mexico, Denver and Naples, Fla.
“There’s something to be said for working for one hotel your whole career, but
you’re not going to learn much if you don’t
travel and learn different cultures, different
cuisines,” Belknap said.
This experience gives license to Belknap
to take the traditional Spanish tapas formula and give it a substantial twist.
“I take a very liberal view of the term
‘Spanish,’” he said. “I feel that when you
stick with one type of cuisine it’s pretty re-
stricting, so I focus on places that Spain has
of it I sort of spin into my own creations.”
The tapas theme fits in perfectly with cur-
rent dining trends, according to Belknap.
“These days people are really on board
with trying a bunch of things. Instead of
trying three plates in your meal, try 10
plates,” he said, adding that the small-plate
trend allows diners to expand their cuisine
horizons and try things they normally
wouldn’t. “It’s less risk to order a small
plate, and a lot of times you find out it’s
really, really good.”
The crowning jewel of the 150-room
hotel is its elegant rooftop patio, which
in spring, summer and late autumn can
accommodate up to 250 seated and 500
for a standing reception. In winter, VASO
can handle up to 110 inside and up to 250
standing. Buy-outs are available.
The hotel, part of Marriott’s cutting-edge
AC Hotels brand, a design-centric offering
that was founded in Madrid by Antonio
Catalan, offers five event rooms and a
total of 1,569 square feet of meeting space,
so groups primarily use the property for
off-site dinners and receptions. Much of its
corporate customer base draws from the
global powerhouse insurance, pharmaceutical and healthcare companies near the
property, such as Nationwide Insurance
and Cardinal Health.
Belknap was originally hired for a different
F&B outlet at the property, but when VASO’s
chef left the day before Belknap arrived, he
was thrust into the premier position, which
presented a number of challenges.
“The menus were pieced together by a
bunch of different chefs, so it didn’t have
a clear vision,” he said. “Within a couple of
months I told the general manager that I
needed to change the menu—get rid of it.
I said, ‘If you want nice food, let me do my
work,’ and the GM said, ‘absolutely.’ We’re
doing something here at the AC that Columbus hasn’t seen before. That’s pretty exciting
for a kid coming back to his hometown
Belknap stresses that meeting planners owe
it to their guests to really push chefs to try
out new concepts and customized menus.
“The one thing that excites chefs is a
challenge—doing things differently,” he
said. “It’s fun for us when I have a client
that says, ‘I want something fun, I want
something interesting that’s not on your
banquet menu.’ That’s when we get fired up
and get excited.”
DAVID BELKNAP // EXECUTIVE CHEF
VASO // AC HOTEL COLUMBUS DUBLIN // WWW.MARRIOTT.COM
By Tyler Davidson
8 oz. diced halibut
1 C fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic
1 t. aji Amarillo (Peruvian yellow chili powder)
½ t. Kosher salt
1. Marinate the halibut with ½ cup of lemon juice for two hours in the refrigerator. 2. Drain excess liquid.
3. In blender, puree remaining lemon juice, garlic, salt, chili powder.
4. Mix with drained halibut.
5. Garnish with coconut popcorn, cilantro leaves and pickled onion.