Seattle's Next Hot Chefs 2014
Seattle Met toasts its second annual class of up-and-coming culinary stars.
Well, this certainly got competitive fast.
In just its second year, Seattle Met’s Next Hot Chefs roundup of the five most promising rising culinary stars in Seattle drew so many nominations we weren’t sure whether to feel overwhelmed…or just ridiculously lucky to live here. We were looking for chefs under 35 who have already made a significant impact in their kitchens and dining rooms…and who we believe will soon be marquee names in their own right.
Meet them below. Then come meet them in person at our Next Hot Chefs party on June 4, where they’ll be shaking hands—and bringing food.
Meet the chefs in person — and taste their food! — at our Next Hot Chefs party this Wednesday, June 4. Tickets are going fast - get yours here.
Executive Chef, Tanglewood Supreme
3216 W Wheeler St, Magnolia, tanglewoodsupreme.com
Raised in a family who loved tacos and spaghetti, Jeffrey Kessenich learned early that if he wanted to eat anything interesting he’d have to make it himself. Moving from rural Wisconsin to “middle of nowhere” North Carolina, Kessenich worked his way through culinary school at a country club—where his skills grew bigger than his world.
So he ventured west, as restless talents will, landing at Brasa, where he began as lead cook and wound up chef de cuisine. In time he answered a Craigslist ad for a new fish house in Magnolia.
At the 36-seat Tanglewood Supreme, Kessenich enacts his own vision within the parameters set by owner Kent Chappelle—the freshest local fish, globally treated—and has distinguished himself with a keen palate for offsetting seafood without overwhelming it, often with Southeast Asian elements and rarely the same preparation twice. He’ll tweak a piece of velvet sashimi-grade albacore, say, with mustard, celery seed, and fennel seed, then sear it not an instant too long and serve with mushrooms, lentil broth, and key limes. “There’s kind of a lot going on there,” admits the 28-year-old. “But everyone who tastes it just comments on how great the albacore is.”
What the boss says “The kid blows me away,” says Kent Chappelle. “He has such an understanding of technique.” In hiring for the job, Chappelle auditioned the top three candidates Top Chef style—and Kessenich’s grilled spot prawns were so memorable Chappelle can still describe them to the garnish. (Kessenich also beat out a contender from the Herbfarm kitchen.)
Rising to the challenge Kessenich is that rare top toque who handles every piece of fish himself—a tall order in a house whose kitchen is in full view of the eating bar. “There are times with 20 entrees on the board and you’re getting them out as fast as possible, and there are seven people lined up at the bar…and they are all just staring at you.”
Favorite way to make eggs “I love poached eggs, because I love runny yolks and hate runny whites. And I always have them with bread.”
J. J. Proville
Cook, Il Corvo
217 James St, Pioneer Square, ilcorvopasta.com
Born in Los Angeles, raised in France, attended business school in Montreal, cooked his way up from the bottom at New York’s Gramercy Tavern: J. J. Proville’s path here was circuitous, but he ended up in Seattle the way many culinary types do. He came to visit a friend and left totally enamored with the seafood, the produce, and the watery landscape in general. After Hurricane Sandy submerged much of Proville’s Brooklyn apartment, he moved here. Mutual friends had introduced him to Il Corvo owner Mike Easton, who was getting ready to relocate his popup pasta shop to a permanent address. Proville joined him in the tiny kitchen, as a temporary thing while he scouted a location for his own place. More than a year later, he’s still at Il Corvo, helping sauce and shepherd its revered pastas while his boss is busy opening his Pizzeria Gabbiano.
Proville isn’t the pasta guy, but being one of three people devising a new menu every day offered an unexpected schooling in plating pasta while the line stretches out the front door, curing smelt, and even creating sauces—a vivid sorrel pesto or Walla Walla’s culty sweet onions embellished with little more than spring garlic and a few shavings of black truffle—that pass muster with his boss. (“That took a year.”) Proville is still hunting for his own place, one where he can take this deeper acquaintance with Northwest seafood and produce in a more elegant direction, and add plenty of French and Japanese flourishes.
What the boss says “We’re very different, except we’re both very focused on seasonality and simplicity. The earliest week possible, we’re on our bikes at Discovery Park looking for nettles.” Easton says Proville’s got a keen palate and “a fresh way of thinking after all the pork menus in this town.”
Rising to the challenge A caviar fan without a caviar budget, Proville cures his own salmon eggs. It’s a time-consuming process that involves picking and sifting endless bits of membranes from frozen sockeye skeins, then salting them. The results glisten like traditional Japanese ikura and are cheap enough to use liberally.
How he makes his eggs Melt a knob of butter in a pan, then pour in some whisked eggs to cook slowly over a really low heat. “When the consistency is almost there I put in a fat mound of creme fraiche and maybe some salmon eggs or caviar. The creme fraiche just stops the cooking and you end up with some pretty luxurious scrambled eggs.”
Chef, The Herbfarm
14590 NE 145th St, Woodinville; theherbfarm.com
It seems counterintuitive to describe the head chef at one of the region’s legacy fine dining restaurants as someone whose career is still in ascent. But there, amidst the doily place mats, frog statuettes, and yards of flowery chintz, the diminutive 27-year-old Chris Weber puts his stamp on ingeniously seasonal food that made the Herbfarm such a singular place when it opened in May 1986—the same month Weber was born.
The graduate of the rigorous Johnson and Wales culinary program arrived as a commis—a humble kitchen assistant—in 2007, willing to start at the bottom, as long as he could be in a kitchen where vegetables arrived with dirt still on them. By age 25, he had been elevated to head chef, designing the Herbfarm’s signature nine-course meals, each expressing a seasonal theme via the most local of ingredients.
Weber’s cerebral approach to dinners like “a walk in the woods” makes for colossally good food, whether it’s a tiny stick fashioned from puffed seeds and quinoa, or a deep-fried egg with a crunchy exterior that conceals the soul of a bar snack (and a perfectly runny yolk).
What the boss says Working with Weber “is akin to meeting the young Daniel Boulud at the beginning of his career,” according to owner Ron Zimmerman. He and co-owner Carrie Van Dyck were tempted to promote him to chef as early as 2009, but at the time he was only 22.
Rising to the challenge Weber produces an entirely new menu every two to three weeks. “I want everything to be totally original. I don’t eat out in Seattle really; I almost don’t want to know what’s going on downtown so I’m completely uninhibited by it. I like the idea of us being in our own little world.”
How he makes his eggs Weber’s off-duty method is best performed over a campfire and not indoors. “Cook bacon in the pan first, pull it out (and eat it), leave all the bacon fat, just get it ripping hot and crack the egg in there. I beat the egg until it’s this crispy white that encases a liquid yolk. And it tastes like bacon.”
Former Lead Brunch, La Bête
1802 Bellevue Ave, Capitol Hill; labeteseattle.com
Her current place in the vanguard of Seattle’s exploding local Middle Eastern culinary scene wasn’t exactly written in the stars for the 27-year-old blonde Californian. Mentored first by a mother who made or grew everything the family ate, her professional tour of duty has roamed widely from the late Lampreia (cooking Italian under the famously terrifying Scott Carsberg, whom she credits as “a huge inspiration”) to the late Licorous (where Wiley Frank refined her classic technique,) to the Spanish Harvest Vine (“I must’ve packed 10 years’ experience into one year”). Later at MistralKitchen, when Cheney began crafting staff meals out of a Middle Eastern cookbook, owner William Belickis asked if she’d like to launch a Monday popup.
Thus was born Arabesque, the project she renamed Middle Eastern Mondays when she relocated it to La Bête last year, and which kicked off her personal obsession with the complicated preparations (“I love the challenge”) and exotic flavors of Middle Eastern food. Twice she traveled Egypt, learning unwritten recipes from grandmas and aunts—and refining plans for the humble Middle Eastern restaurant she recently left La Bête to open later this year.
What the boss says When asked what he’d miss about Cheney, La Bête owner Aleks Dimitrijevic didn’t skip a beat. “One hundred percent passion for Middle Eastern food. She’s very interested in preserving the traditional flavors and techniques, and she’s very interested in feedback.”
Rising to the challenge Cheney threw a dinner for a celebrated Palestinian cookbook author last year at La Bête. “It was probably one of my toughest nights as a chef,” she says happily, recalling the 100-plus diners (in three turns), 10 mezzes, four mains, and two desserts. “It was a whirlwind; I felt I was outside my body.”
Favorite way to make eggs Across Egypt, Cheney savored the breakfast dish shakshouka, in which red onions and chili peppers are sauteed in aged ghee to pull out the sugars, then reddened with tomatoes. “You crack the eggs in, then break them if you like them that way,” Cheney sighs. “I could seriously eat this dish every single day of my life.”
Chef de Cuisine, Bar Sajor
323 Occidental Ave S, Pioneer Square, barsajor.com
When 34-year-old Edouardo Jordan figured out he was too energetic to sit behind a desk, aspirations like sports management or medicine gave way to the career path he’d unknowingly been on since his Florida childhood savoring Southern food around Sunday dinner tables. He graduated Orlando’s Le Cordon Bleu College of the Culinary Arts into an august list of apprenticeships: gigs at French Laundry and Per Se (“intense as military school”), a charcuterie stage in Italy, the mentorship of New York Italian maestro Jonathan Benno.
Along the way, a stint at the Herbfarm under Jerry Traunfeld—“Jerry’s a genius”—delivered a crash course in Northwest seasonal ingredients along with an introduction to fellow Traunfeld acolyte Matthew Dillon. So when Dillon (Sitka and Spruce, the Corson Building, Bar Ferd’nand, the London Plane) opened Bar Sajor last year, he asked Jordan to head up its kitchen—where shared roots have borne extraordinary fruit.
“I’m always thinking of Matt’s philosophy—keep it simple, keep it clean, use foraged items,” Jordan muses. “I come from a more technical background, and he’s more rustic, so I might split a whole roasted carrot where he’d smash it. But we’d roast it the same, with chamomile or lovage.”
What the boss says “He’s just a great leader, and the staff adores him,” says Dillon. “My method of cooking, it’s…well I can’t put it into words very easily. But I think he gets me, has the vocabulary to speak to what I’m trying to do.”
Rising to the challenge “We only cook with fire, no gas here at all, so the craziest thing for us is when we get wet wood,” Jordan says. “Hey, it’s nature, it happens—but you want to curse and throw things and you can’t because we’re an open kitchen. Diners sometimes say, ‘That dish was so simple! I could’ve done that at home!’ I always think, If you could do that at home, over wood…I honor you. ”
Favorite way to make eggs “Scrambled with salt and a little creme fraiche”