When Jonah Amodt was 23, he was all about having that executive chef title and having his name on a white coat. Now 30, his priorities have shifted. "I realize I did myself a disservice going for that, and not focusing on the food and the ins and outs of building the relationships with purveyors."
It's a lesson learned from three years working at Cafe Juanita, where he's now Holly Smith's sous chef. Before that, Amodt cooked at resorts in the Virgin Islands and Vermont, Waikiki's Hula Grill, and a cruise ship where he seldom saw the light of day. The Sammamish native eventually returned home, worked at Ray's, and after a little time off to be a new dad, approached Smith and told her he would wash dishes, do prep—whatever it took to be part of her kitchen. It's an offer that must have involved swallowing a bit of ego, considering Amodt was used to working at a sous chef level at that point. Now that he has worked his way up to right-hand-man status, Amodt displays a reverence for his boss that comes off as genuine, sweet, and not at all gag-inducing.
Here, a few of Jonah Amodt's favorite things.
Dish to make at home: Tacos for the family. It is easy, tasty, and fun for [five-year-old son] Aidan to help in the kitchen.
Dish to impress guests: I feel that anything that is cooked and seasoned properly can impress. It depends on the season.
First dish ever made: That is hard to remember, but I was always in the kitchen with my mom.
Best part of a shift: Seeing our guests leaving, talking about how much they enjoyed their meal. That always makes my night.
Item on your menu: Our goat cheese gnocchi with Snoqualmie Valley braised lamb, candied pumpkin, and fried parsley.
Secret ingredient: Love! Happy cooks make happy food.
Banned from Cafe Juanita: Nothing I can think of, but that is food for thought.
Guilty Pleasure: I don’t eat fast food much, but when I go to visit family I will stop and get a Double Double from In-N-Out.
Hangover remedy: Biscuits and gravy!
Kirkland is…: Growing
Place to eat on a day off: I enjoy a pork sandwich from Paseo.
Place to drink on a day off: Matador, nothing better than a nice tequila selection.
Recently splurged on: My wife and I flew to Hawaii for some friends' wedding.
On the wish list: A happy and healthy second child.
Can't live without: Family.
Lesson learned from working with Holly Smith: Every little bit matters.
Work outfit: Something comfortable.
Lunch spot: I try to spread it around, so not sure I have a favorite at the moment.
Cookbook: Cooking by Hand, by Paul Bertolli.
People I'd like to cook with: Anyone who shares my passion, you can learn from everyone.
Craziest Café Juanita story that can be committed to print: Ha! I will have to do some digging for that one. Every night has its moments; we are lucky to have such an amazing chef and mentor with whom we’re working.