When Hunger moved to its spacious new digs down the hill on Fremont Ave, owners Brian Brooks and Jaime Mullins-Brooks needed more staff in both front and back of house. Josh Slaughter arrived as a nontitled part of the kitchen team, but was named executive sous chef in short order. An Alabama native with a lingering twang, Slaughter spent nearly two years at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, then veered northward, cooking summers at an off-the-grid lodge in Alaska.
Now that he’s installed in his new position, Slaughter played a role in retooling Hunger’s menu, moving it toward less expensive, more shareable plates in response to the neighborhood feedback. However, the chef’s counter in back by the kitchen is where to go if you really want to see what this guy can do.
Here, five questions for Josh Slaughter.
How did you connect with Hunger?
I moved here and started putting out applications at restaurants I found interesting. I come to find out Brian has done his externship at Bouchon when he was in culinary school; we knew some of the same people. We interviewed, then he and Jaime said, "come in and cook for us," so I just started cooking. I think I did four or five courses right before service.
So you cooked in the old space?
I worked two shifts in the old space, I’d never actually cooked a service, besides catering, on bunson burners. Brian and Jaime were limited in what they were doing by that space up there. We’ve been refining things more, doing cleaner presentations, and using more local, sustainable stuff. Before, they didn’t have the ability to store two whole fish. That was a good game of Tetris to work up there—that was tough.
What’s it like reopening a restaurant?
I love the challenge of opening restaurants and starting up menus and training everybody. I’ve opened about seven or eight restaurants in the past, though usually where the previous chef or sous chef was asked to leave. It’s always the same, running around like a chicken with the head cut off in the first two or three days, not knowing the people you work with’s name, that kind of thing. Once you figure out how to put out fires and where the fires are going to be, it gets a lot easier.
How have you put your mark on the menu?
The counter back in the open kitchen has, for lack of a better term, become a chef’s table. We’re doing to do tasting menus pretty much any day of the week. We will change the menu every time, and dinner here will take two to three hours. I’m trying to make it a wanted thing; it’s only four chairs. You have a lot of interaction with the guys and girls in the kitchen. I did a lot of that in Alaska and it was very successful, but then again, we didn’t have paved roads or electricity. We’re trying to almost give it a restaurant with in a restaurant feel. Brian and Jaime basically said, “let’s see what you got.” It’s going to be a blast.
Have you been able to get out much to eat since you got to Seattle?
I so wish I could say I did, but I really haven’t. I’ve been working 12- to 14-hour days, six days a week.