As a freshman at UMass Amherst, Jim McCarthy’s first cooking attempt was French onion soup in order to impress his latest squeeze. And while it may not have worked with said girl, the cooking sure did. After studying the trade at New England Culinary Institute, McCarthy’s dream was to be a journeyman cook, soaking up all he could for five years per city, before moving to the next. Choosing where to go first seemed easy—he was obsessed with Nirvana. So, packing up life in his Audi, McCarthy drove 3,000 miles to Seattle. And 11 years later…still hasn’t left.
Before taking over after a surprising split at Madrona's Restaurant Bea in July, McCarthy sous-cheffed all over town, stinting at Capitol Hill's Restaurant Zoe, Quinn’s, Queen Anne's 5-Spot, and Ballard's Hi-Life. These days, McCarthy’s comfort food specialty, the Mad Hatcher half roast chicken, beats the pants off college-dorm French onion soup.
Here are a few of Jim McCarthy’s favorite things:
Dish to make at home: If I'm cooking at home I'm normally doing a million other things, so big roasts with long, idle cook times tend to work well. Roast chicken and pulled pork have been some recent staples.
Favorite way to relax: I like to read Reddit, and play with the dog while waiting for the girlfriend to get off work.
Favorite place to eat on a day off: La Carta de Oaxaca is pretty much the most perfect place in the city. I've never had anything but a stellar experience there. Hot Mama's pizza is always a good thing. Samurai Noodle, Chef Liao up on Phinney Ridge, Market Arms or Toulouse Petit, to name a few places.
People I’d like to cook with: Right now I'm super overdue for a trip back to the east coast, so I've been thinking a lot about cooking with the family again, and hanging around a kitchen with my mother and grandmother.
Work gets exciting when: I'm pretty product-oriented, so I'm normally most excited when something new is on it's way to the restaurant. We got our first case of cara cara oranges in last week and I spent a day running around the restaurant making sure that every one had tried some.
My motto is: What could possibly go wrong?
I can't live without: Coffee
Guilty pleasure: When in a very good mood, I've been known to plug Taylor Swift or Justin Beiber into Pandora and see how long the kitchen can hold out before someone shuts it off. For the record, I still can't tell the two of them apart.
Music in the kitchen: We tend to go for stuff that's universally loved. Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, and Queen are all on high rotation. If i'm alone in the kitchen, I'll play some Irish folk music to entertain myself. We have a standing tradition of playing Dolly Parton's '9 to 5' every day right before we open for dinner.
Best advice received: Someone once told me to always pretend that Grandma was always hovering over me while I cooked, holding a heavy wooden spoon, and ready to smack me upside the back of my head if I did something wrong. It is a remarkably effective reminder to keep standards high and to pay attention to the little details.
I put ___ on everything: Salt
Biggest restaurant pet peeve: "Hands in, hands out" is an old restaurant truism. Watching cooks or servers run around with empty hands just kills me.
Holiday to cook for: Of all the major holidays, I still get the most worked up for St. Patrick's Day. It's a secondary holiday so people are way less stressed, and tend to have a much better time. Plus there's something incredibly satisfying about cooking a good corned beef and cabbage.
Work outfit: Hat, busted up shoes, dishwashers jacket, apron and as a native New Englander, I'll continue to wear shorts until it's pretty miserably cold out.
Madrona is: Seattle's best kept secret. It's a neighborhood that I had never really explored or given much thought to, but it's a beautiful spot with restaurants and little shops everywhere.