Opened in August 2015, Willa Jean celebrates Southern sensibilities with fresh, local ingredients. Named after Chef/Partner Kelly Fields’ grandmother, who inspired her to pursue her passions, the restaurant and bakery serves breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the week, and offers Saturday and Sunday brunch.
The modern elegance of the dining room lends its charm to Fields’ haven of Southern-inspired dishes and sets the stage for the playful, nostalgic nature of the ever-evolving menu. Willa Jean’s menus are categorized by “snacks,” “the biscuit situation,” “sandwiches,” “hot plates,” and “desserts” and showcase everything from fluffy biscuits topped with fried chicken and tabasco honey to cookies + milk served with an eggbeater of fresh cookie dough. Heartier favorites include artichoke and cheese business, New Orleans style BBQ shrimp toast, fried chicken + spicy slaw sandwich on a house-made Hawaiian roll, as well as a seasonal-driven skillet pot pie.
The front bakery counter serves up daily selections of bakery treats and house-made breads, pulling from Kelly’s passion for all things pastry, coupled with the immeasurable talents of the entire Willa Jean team.
Kelly has placed a strong emphasis on the coffee program and is delighted to bring Intelligentsia Coffee back to New Orleans with a signature Willa Jean blend.
chef kelly fields
Kelly Fields is the Chef/Partner of Willa Jean in New Orleans’ Central Business District.
Growing up in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, Kelly discovered her passion for cooking and baking at an early age. After baking for iconic New Orleans chef Susan Spicer and graduating from Johnson & Wales in Charleston, she returned to New Orleans where she met Chef John Besh, and began working as pastry chef at Restaurant August. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina forced her to leave and she pursued travel in Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific, even landing in San Francisco, where she helped open Martin’s West.
After working as the Executive Pastry Chef overseeing all of the pastry programs within the Besh Restaurant Group, Kelly fulfilled her dream of opening a Southern-inspired restaurant and bakery, Willa Jean, in 2015. Willa Jean has received local and national recognition, such as Louisiana Cookin’s “Bakery and Beyond” award and Travel + Leisure’s list of its favorite bakeries around the world.
Kelly has also earned significant praise in Bon Appétit, Saveur and National Geographic among others. In February 2016, Southern Living named Kelly one of their “Southern kitchen magicians.” Later that year, she was nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef and won Eater New Orleans’ “Chef of the Year” and “Readers Choice” Awards. She has also been named one of the most influential people in the South by Garden & Gun and one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional Magazine.
In addition to her role at Willa Jean, she’s worked hard to make a positive impact on the city by developing relationships with local farmers and working closely with the John Besh Foundation as a mentor for Chefs Move! scholarship recipients.
Sarah Mandel has been serving as the General Manager of Willa Jean since January 2016.
A graduate of Tulane University, Sarah has been with the Besh Restaurant Group (BRG) for the past five years, starting her career in the hospitality industry as a busser and server at Besh’s popular Domenica. Sarah helped to open sister restaurant Pizza Domenica in 2014 and went on to launch Johnny Sánchez, BRG’s authentic Mexican concept, later that same year.
Sarah’s greatest passion has been providing service that makes guests feel right at home, and you can often find her at the front door of Willa Jean to welcome folks in.
Sarah was featured in Zagat’s “30 Under 30: New Orleans Edition” for 2016, alongside other young professionals in the hospitality industry. She hopes to grow the Willa Jean brand by expanding their retail and catering programs.
Mike found his passion for baking while attending the University of Nebraska. There, he began working as a Baker at Delice European Bakery, where he mastered the craft of artisanal bread, pastry, pies and croissants. He continued to hone his craft in Louisville as Co-Head Baker at Lotsa Pasta, specializing in Southern French and Italian pastry.
Mike has also held chef and baker positions at top restaurants including Coffea Cafe, Armani Ristorante in New York City, and Gotham Bar and Grill, a Michelin starred restaurant. Here he oversaw the composition and production of a new bread formula month to month, turning out 10 different kinds weekly.
He returned to New Orleans in 2011 as a Pastry Sous for the Link Restaurant Group, leading pastry production for all the restaurants (he’s also the creator of the original Elvis King Cake still in production!). In 2013, Mike joined the Besh Restaurant Group as the Pastry Sous for Domenica before joining Willa Jean as the head baker with Chef Kelly Fields in 2015.
At Willa Jean, Mike oversees bread and pastry production, from formulating recipes to baking. Mike has also been named Head Baker for the Besh Restaurant Group, overseeing operations for the group.