When he was a wee lad, Rob Sevcik knew he wanted to be one of three things: a writer, a rock star or a chef. Lack of musical talent nixed his dreams of rock stardom, and after Sevcik realized that a career in writing would render him unable “to pay my rent until I was dead” (ouch), he worked his way into cooking.
At age 18, Sevcik left his small hometown outside Milwaukee for the West Coast. His move to Portland quickly stretched from six months to 10 years spent working with the likes of Ramona White at Nourishment and Lucier chef Pascal Chureau, who helped shape Sevcik into a rarity in today’s fine-dining world: a self-taught chef. Sevcik says he would often work a 12-hour shift then go home and devour cookbooks until reporting for work the next day. Three years ago he made the move to Seattle.
When Sevcik arrived, jobless, he headed directly to the door of the Chef in the Hat, Thierry Rautureau and told him he was even willing to wash dishes to get a foot in his kitchen. Passion, persistence, and timing won Sevcik a position at Rover’s, where he worked his way up to the restaurant’s chef de cuisine about two years ago.
Sevcik says that at Rover’s he feels constantly inspired. At the back of the restaurant, where the chefs enter, “there is a sign in French that says “artist entrance”, and [Rautureau] really means that. All the chefs walk through that door every day, and that’s what we are here, we are artists and we create."
Here, Sevcik answers a few of our questions.
What’s it like to work under the Chef in the Hat?
It’s a complex relationship. Not only do I feel like a partner in his business ventures—I help out with Luc, and we work closely together on the future of the company, we have that aspect to the the relationship—it’s my privilege to be his really close assistant, but I consider him a friend as well. Since I started working at Rover’s we have grown pretty close, and we have a lot of fun in the kitchen together. I most definitely look to him as a teacher, where he is in his career is where I am striving to be.
Do tempers ever flare?
The kitchen life is a very high-stress environment, and takes a certain personality type that is completely insane. We are all completely nuts, there are a lot of times when passions and tempers rise, and we argue about what we do, but 99 percent of the time were just a bunch of cooks having a great time, making great food.
Where do you like to eat in Seattle? And what do you order?
I am a sucker for pho. I love a big bowl of steaming hot beef broth with lime and jalapeños. I enjoy Pho Cyclo on Broadway but I also love discovering new-hole-in-the-wall restaurants that serve similar styles of food. In general, Seattle has really great Asian influence to its cuisine.
What is the most difficult task that you have been faced with as chef de cuisine?
I find that coordinating the back of the house and the front of the house often takes a surprising amount of thought and energy. One thing I tell the students that come through our kitchen is that cooking is the easy part of being a chef. Once you are competent with that, a whole new world of challenges presents itself. Timing everything from the kitchen to make sure our diners are experiencing an amazing, choreographed lunch or dinner requires juggling lots of moving parts. At the end of the day, though, the things that are the most difficult can also be the most rewarding, because when we in the kitchen hear from a customer that not only was the food and wine terrific, but the service and overall experience as well, it makes everything worthwhile.
If you could only eat at one restaurant for the rest of your days which one would it be (excluding Rover’s and Luc)?
I would have to say a little taquería called Santería in Portland in the back of Mary’s strip club. You actually have to go through the strip club to get to the taquería, They have the best lengua chimichangas. If you can stomach the environment, the chimichangas are the best ever. It only seats 15 people, and even shares a bathroom with the strip club.
What cookbook do you go to for inspiration?
At the moment I am working my way through the Modernist Cuisine books (as I assume most chefs in Seattle are doing). It’s fun for me to see not only the new techniques but the technical explanations of things I’ve been doing for years. It’s helped me understand more of the science behind what’s going on in the kitchen.
Tell me about the dish you were the most proud of mastering?
My rabbit blanquette is by far the dish I am most proud of mastering. The story behind it is that a few years ago as a new sous chef (at a restaurant other than Rover’s), I put rabbit blanquette on the menu. The Executive Chef tasted it and wasn’t into it. So I spent a year making and remaking the dish and I finally perfected it. On my last day at that restaurant, I presented it to him. Through huge mouthfuls and a big grin he told me that he loved it and would be happy to serve that dish anytime. A version of this dish will reappear on the Rover’s menu in the spring.