This Is Matt Farrer...And His Benefit Dinner
The Restaurant Zoe sous chef is 32 years old and battling colon cancer. And every chef he has ever worked for is banding together for a benefit dinner.
Apparently when Matt Farrer cooks in your kitchen, he makes an impression. The 32-year-old is a sous chef at Restaurant Zoe, but his cooking career began at the Rainier Club during culinary school and has spanned the kitchens at Crush, Canlis, and Willows Inn, where Farrer staged before landing in his current post.
But on October 27, a Saturday shift, Farrer ended up in the emergency room with what looked like kidney failure but ultimately turned out to be a tumor on his colon and a secondary tumor on his liver. And now every single chef he has worked under during his culinary career (and these are some big names) is pitching in to stage one hell of a benefit for him on Sunday, January 27 at Canlis.
Breaking Bread (is the name a Breaking Bad reference?) is a five-course tasting menu, the combined creation of Canlis chef Jason Franey, Restaurant Zoe chef James Sherrill, Crush’s Jason Wilson, Bill Morris of the Rainier Club, and Willows Inn chef Blaine Wetzel. Canlis wine director Nelson Daquip and fellow somm Phillip Dunn are designing the accompanying wine flight, and Canlis bar manager James MacWilliams is planning the pre-dinner cocktail hour. More details below.
Earlier this week I started emailing with Farrer to double check a few details about his culinary career. And he ended up writing a sort of mini bio that was both sweet and inspirational; the room became quite dusty while I read it.
Farrer arrived in Seattle in 1998 to attend the University of Washington. He rowed crew all four years, a commitment he says taught him “discipline and perseverance under extreme conditions.” Funny, those are two skills highly useful in the world of cooking, which he entered after school. After a stint in culinary school, he landed in the Rainier Club kitchen to learn on the job, working for three unpaid months before a real (aka paying) job opened up. After three years of learning from a kitchen that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus special events, he moved to Crush. Jason Wilson, says Farrer, exudes a generosity you can feel in his dining room. While working at Crush, Farrer got to see the “mega” effect of his boss being named a Food and Wine Best New Chef: “Going from doing 60 or 70 covers on a Friday to doing more than 150 a night over the course of that summer.”
After Crush, “there was only one place to go next.” Farrer’s friend had told him about a new chef from New York City who was shaking things up at Canlis. “After a shave, haircut, a new pair of black kitchen pants, and a knife-sharpening,” Farrer did a stage at Canlis that turned into a full-time job on a tight-knit restaurant team. “I thought I had good discipline in the kitchen. I was wrong. I had a lot to learn. Jason Franey really opened my eyes to how beautiful cuisine can be. He has an eye for the plate that is very rare.”
After three years, Farrer left, did his stint at Willows, visited his family on the East Coast and returned to Seattle a year ago to help open Restaurant Zoe with chef James Sherrill, whom he cooked with back at Crush. Working with an old friend in a restaurant where more of his friends could afford to come in was an easy choice, says Farrer.
He wrote his email while hooked up to a portable IV pack at home, enduring his sixth round of chemo. Scott and Heather Staples and the whole Zoe team has been incredibly supportive, he says, as has his Canlis family and all the chefs he has worked under.
Farrer concluded by saying how frustrating it is to be sidelined from cooking. “I'm trying to do everything I can to get healthy enough to get back in the kitchen…I figure if I can survive Morris, Wilson, Franey, Wetzel, and Sherrill, cancer should be no problem.”
Breaking Bread is $250 per person, which includes the wine flight. All proceeds and gratuities go to Farrer’s medical fund. Call 206-298-9550 for reservations.
Additionally, there’s a $20-per-person public afterparty at the lovely 1927 Events venue downtown, from 9pm to 2am. There’s a $5 raffle and that admission price gets you in on some roast pig action, as well as two drinks.