Seattle Met’s annual profile of five ascendant chefs reveals the inner workings of restaurant kitchens and the culinary savvy therein. These men and women are all younger than 40. None of them runs their own place (yet). The influence they exert on some of the best meals in town happens behind the scenes. But probably not for long.
Chef de Cuisine, Stateside
The precision and technique with which Chris Barton once deep fried cayenne-peppered Nashville hot chicken is not unlike the care he now employs while searing a delicate piece of fish marinated in turmeric. Both dishes are deceptively tricky. Both make diners’ jaws drop like cartoonish wolves when they arrive tableside. So, when the chef left Georgetown’s low-key Sisters and Brothers and its Southern-leaning menu for the Southeast Asian flavors at Stateside on Capitol Hill, it didn’t seem like a huge leap. “I think it actually makes perfect sense,” says Barton. “It’s food people want to eat.”
The 32-year-old chef de cuisine has been making food that folks want to savor for over a decade. In lieu of culinary programs, Barton graduated from the illustrious school of kitchen grunt work. From dishwashing to line cooking to deftly wilting dill that tops a fillet of seared black cod, Barton’s of the philosophy that you do everything all the way or not at all, an approach that quickly earned him the respect of the whole staff at Stateside—and the chef de cuisine title. “It’s not as easy as it sounds to correctly wilt a piece of dill,” says Barton. Yes, he knows how precious that sounds. He also knows that, be it hot chicken or chili-cumin pork ribs, these details matter.
"Chris is young, but he’s kind of like an old-school gentleman chef: He’s even keeled, he’s got the work ethic and a great palate. Anyone who’s going to be a good chef is adaptable and needs to be constantly learning—that quest for new information is what drives a good chef—and he definitely does that.”
—Eric Johnson, chef-owner, Stateside
Chef’s Day Off
Before Blind Pig closed (with its chef’s tasting menu format currently revived at Belltown’s Babirusa), Barton got in one last supper. When his schedule’s tight: “I’ve been known to eat Domino’s or Jack in the Box late at night.”
All About Umami
Salt is the not-so-secret key ingredient to any dish, ever. Barton likes to experiment with “crazy umami flavors,” using soy sauce or fish sauce in place of the usual salty granules. Savor those piquant results with bun cha (vermicelli noodles, caramel fish sauce–marinated pork) at Stateside.
For the Record
How stints in bars around town led to Vietnamese cuisine.
- 2001 Barton gets his first job at age 15 washing dishes at the Pettibone Boat Club, right on the Mississippi River, where he grew up.
- 2008 Graduates from the University of Minnesota with a degree in sociology. All while cooking on the line in Minneapolis restaurants.
- 2009–13 Moves to Seattle and later becomes a line cook at Tom Douglas’s Brave Horse Tavern, then sous chef at Zig Zag Cafe.
- 2015 Helms the kitchen at Sisters and Brothers in Georgetown and the joint’s famous mouth-tingling, spice-packed Nashville hot chicken. By the end of 2016 he lands at Stateside.
Executive Chef, How to Cook a Wolf
An Italian restaurant is treacherous ground for someone with an olive oil allergy, but just such a diner walked into How to Cook a Wolf one recent spring evening. From her post in the wide-open kitchen, chef Nicole Matson noted the longing stare this woman bestowed upon her husband’s order of soft-cooked eggs, each half perfectly topped with slender rings of pickled shallot and the orange glow of trout roe. The smoked halibut and aioli beneath, with its liberal amount of olive oil, rendered these bites off limits. “Oh my god, she’s got to try it,” Matson said to herself, and fashioned an impromptu aioli-free version.
Nearly 11 years in, Ethan Stowell’s second-eldest restaurant is still packed most nights. The restaurateur famously gives his chefs broad latitude with his Northwest-meets-Italian style, and Matson’s love of vegan and pescatarian dining has proved a surprisingly inspired fit for a restaurant that finds beauty in simple, often vegetal ingredients, like ravioli with nettles and pine nuts. She tops bruschetta with summer figs and the thinnest drape of lardo, and displays Stowellian staples in their best light with seasonal flourishes, like a hamachi crudo with intertwined flavors of pickled huckleberry and Calabrian chilies. Matson’s a rare chef who embraces the challenge of cooking for people with dietary restrictions, but don’t write off her ability with meat—her white lasagna with rabbit bolognese is the 15-layer stuff of legend.
"Her strength is beauty and simplicity by design. She has a knack for knowing what goes with what—both her combinations on the plate and what she pairs with her food. She’s excellent at writing menus, training, sharing her knowledge, the list goes on and on. She’s badass.”
—Addam Buzzalini, culinary director, Ethan Stowell Restaurants
Chef’s Day Off
Matson’s a huge fan of the carefully sourced tacos at Gracia.
Calling All Vegans
Under Matson, How to Cook a Wolf has built a reputation as a place that honors dietary restrictions with particular verve despite its tiny kitchen. While she enjoys the challenge of creating dishes on the fly, “The more notice a chef has to prepare, the better meal you’re going to have.”
For the Record
How the graduate of Scottsdale’s Le Cordon Bleu program rose through the ranks of Ethan Stowell Restaurants.
- 2010 Starts working as line cook at a Tucson bistro under chef Addam Buzzalini, coming up with endless daily specials. “He pushed me to create every single day.”
- 2014 Her mentor, Buzzalini, pulls her aside and tells her he’s moving. Would Matson come along and be a chef with him in Seattle? A month later, they’re both in the kitchen at Stowell’s Tavolàta.
- 2016–17 Sous chef roles at Mkt. (“It was more about getting creative with hyperlocal ingredients”), then Staple and Fancy, where she embraced tasting menus and the pasta station.
June 2017 Promoted to executive chef at How to Cook a Wolf.
Sous Chef, Copine
A brainstorming session convened in Copine’s spotless kitchen on the topic of halibut and fava beans had been reduced to a moment of perplexed silence. Both ingredients were coming in season; favas with halibut was a natural basis for a dish. Chef Shaun McCrain asked his team of cooks, “What else are we going to do?”
Silence. Then Jack Mazzacavallo spoke up. What about mint pistou? This twist on the French basil-based sauce, already in the cooks’ repertoires, creates a classic combo of mint and favas. Halibut could come atop brandade, McCrain’s favorite use for fish trim. The resulting dish—roasted mushrooms for earthiness, pickled onions to bring acid, and dramatic green arcs of pistou—was the first time Mazzacavallo’s famously rigorous boss put one of his dishes on the menu without significant changes.
Not only does Copine’s 29-year-old sous chef butcher, make pasta, and generally execute to the satisfaction of his boss—a chef who came up in renowned kitchens like Per Se—Mazzacavallo masters the unglamorous tasks critical to a restaurant of this caliber, finding artful ways to use up every last morsel of product. Mazzacavallo put his greatest culinary imprint on the weekly specials, like a rib eye cap served recently with duck fat potatoes sliced thin and pressed into a cast iron pan so each cut reveals a multitude of layers. It’s an understated exercise in precision—just like the chef who made it.
Jack definitely has that Northwest feel to his approach, which I really like; French-style food and Northwest food really blend together because we have similar products and seasons. He’s a great support, and the balance that we need in the kitchen; when I’m freaking out, he stays calm…not that I freak out.”
—Shaun McCrain, chef, Copine
Chef’s Day Off
A meal at Guu with Garlic, an izakaya to the north, in Vancouver, stands out in recent memory, but closer to home, Mazzacavallo unequivocally declares Rosellini’s as the best croissants in town.
Mazzacavallo also oversees the food at Copine’s retail counter; soups like chicken and cavatelli, coriander-scented butternut squash, and cream fennel and cucumber sell out on the regular.
For the Record
How a degree in forest sciences led to a life in fine dining.
- 2007 Moves to Seattle from his Camas, Washington, hometown to attend UW; cooks part time as he studies sustainable forest management.
- 2013 Decides to get serious about cooking, and works with Daisley Gordon at the former Marche; the French training comes in handy down the road at Copine.
- 2013–16 Continues cooking his way down First Avenue with jobs at Matt’s in the Market and Goldfinch Tavern.
October 2016 Arrives at Copine as a tournant, covering various stations throughout the kitchen; becomes sous chef in June 2017.
Sous Chef, Joule
There’s something about buffets. Maybe the promise of a “bottomless” meal ignites a primal joy in us, or the feeling you cheated the system. For Cecily Kimura, buffets are her literal bread and butter—though that bread might be za’atar crackers with sesame and poppy seeds. See, among her other duties, the 27-year-old sous runs Joule’s rotating brunch buffet; she embraces a new culinary theme each month, like a recent Middle Eastern spread full of tangy honeyed yogurt and herby feta-crowned frittata.
Kimura grew up in a small town in Hawaii where her mom cooked dinner every night: Campbell’s cream of mushroom over pork chops, clam spaghetti. Part Korean, she would whip up kalbi, bibimbap, and meat jun, wherein Hawaii meets Korea in a bowl of sliced marinated meat that’s breaded, fried, and served on white rice with gochujang dipping sauce. Raised on a diet of rotating menus, Kimura spins brunch with similar savvy.
Her menus pull no creative punches. “Once I have a theme, like street food or a specific cuisine, I’ll brainstorm the buffet in its entirety,” she says. Winter is for “cozy spices”; summer means tropical fruit flavors. Once, Kimura devised a lineup of Ethiopian-inspired dishes (honey-roasted beets with grapefruit, berbere, and pink peppercorns; dabo bread with onions). “God it sounded so good,” she recalls of the planning session. “But I had never had Ethiopian food.” That menu remains one of her favorites.
The biggest thing that you ask of your sous chef, who’s basically in charge of your restaurant sometimes, is to see the big picture. She is one of the smartest and most hardworking chefs I’ve seen. Her creativity and amazing work ethic especially shine through brunch—she’s on every single level of it!”
—Rachel Yang, chef-owner, Joule, Revel, and more
Chef’s Day Off
When Kimura first visited Seattle, a stop at Marination always offered some comforting Hawaiian-style food: “It just seemed like I would find somewhere to fit in.” It’s where she goes for that taste of home.
She Can Pickle That
A component that Kimura just can’t live without: something pickled. “In almost every dish there’s some punch of acid from a pickle,” she says. It’s practically gospel at Joule, where you’ll likely encounter Kimura’s pickled peanuts, cucumbers, even yellow curry beets.
For the Record
How teenage dough drudgery launched a culinary career on the mainland.
- 2006 In her small hometown in Hawaii, Kimura, 16, scores a summer job weighing, shaping, and wrapping pizza dough. This evolves into making dainty phyllo-wrapped flourless chocolate cakes.
- 2009–13 Farewell sunny isle, aloha sunny California—Kimura earns her bachelor’s degree in food science from the University of California, Davis.
- 2013–14 After graduation, wastes approximately no time making her way up to Seattle—“a great food city to start my culinary journey”—and studies at Le Cordon Bleu.
- 2014 Does a brief stint at Tom Douglas’s Home Remedy, then starts as a line cook at Joule. Becomes sous chef in August 2016.
Sous Chef, Le Petit Cochon
Derek Ronspies spent months looking for a new sous chef, but so far his best option was a dude who kept making mistakes on a busy Friday night. An aggravated Ronspies glanced at his phone in the middle of service; there was an email from a guy named Kyle Fong, responding to a months-old job posting. The chef stepped out of the kitchen and called immediately; the next night, he and Fong executed one of LPC’s busiest nights with nary a hitch. The 31-year-old has been sous chef at Le Petit Cochon ever since.
For a guy who arrived out of the blue, Fong shares his boss’s particular culinary dichotomy: reverence for ingredients, irreverence for pretty much everything else. In other places, says Fong, a chef might consider sweetbreads in a clam dish too risky. Suggest this combo to Ronspies, and he’ll ask, “What else can we add?” Week after week, Fong devises with dishes like octopus sausage or a salad of grilled shishito peppers with caesar dressing, shaved parmesan, and bone marrow croutons, but he also finesses LPC signatures, like the savory granola that adds texture to the Phat Ass Pork Chop. Four years is a relatively long tenure in the world of sous chefs, (especially given LPC’s three-person kitchen crew), but Fong appreciates the endless opportunities to experiment. Nothing is off limits, provided it grows in Washington. “I’ve always been a little more serious,” he says, but under Ronspies, “I’ve been having a lot more fun doing the crazy stuff.”
He can make anything I throw at him; his purees, his sauces, his meat-cooking skills are bomb. He adapts to what I do, but if he had his own place, it would be completely different. He does a really good job of adding two or 35 extra ingredients. I joke that I like 108 things on a plate.”
—Derek Ronspies, chef, Le Petit Cochon
Chef’s Day Off
Consider Fong a fan of late-night pho; his preferred bowl comes from Green Leaf. During daylight hours, he digs Scooter’s in Ballard. “They make a great cheap-style cheeseburger, and the fries are delicious.”
That’s the name of Fong’s hypothetical (part joke, part serious idea) food truck, which batters and fries wings, pork belly, even seasonal asparagus, then douses them in his own buffalo sauce recipe. For now, that sauce surfaces at LPC on dishes like a chicken roulade with buffalo butter and celery slaw.
For the Record
How a trail of California cuisine veered Northwest.
- 2000 The son of a pastry chef, Fong gets his first kitchen job at age 15. He realizes pretty quickly, “This is what I want to do forever.”
- 2005 Graduates from California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Works in restaurants across his native California, then does a stint at Merriman’s Fish House on Kauai.
- 2010–14 Back in California, works at Tyler Florence’s flagship Wayfarer Tavern, then gigs at famed SF restaurants Boulevard and Zuni Cafe. Plots a move to Seattle.
- September 2014 Walks into Le Petit Cochon for his interview, spies Ronspies’s charcuterie fridge, and thinks, Oh, this is the place for me.