Chris Keff opened Flying Fish in 1995, won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest in 1999, and in 2010 she was one of the first chefs in town to presciently make her way to South Lake Union. Now an unexpected new partnership (well, technically a new ownership) has her taking the longstanding seafood restaurant in a very different direction.
Two weeks ago, Keff officially sold Flying Fish to Xiao Ming Liu, chairman of China’s Fortune Garden Group, which owns 15 high-end restaurants around that country. However Liu wants Keff to stick around to work with his Chinese chefs, helping translate their flavors and dishes to the Northwest and the typical American palate.
Right now the menu looks exactly the same, but in about two months, once Keff and her new cohorts have completed what she refers to as their “melding and bonding,” Flying Fish will look very different. “It’s not going to become a Chinese restaurant,” she says. “Just some very very interesting food that people haven’t seen before.”
Flying Fish already sprinkles some subtle Asian overtones through the seafood menu, though Keff notes that in Seattle this mostly means flavors of Japan and Southeast Asia rather than China.
However it’s not Asian fusion, she says. She and Liu put on two preview lunches earlier this week, and the example Keff gave me was working with the Chinese chef to make some beautiful Chinese sausage, then sort of improvising a sauce of chantrelles—not exactly a staple in any region of China.
Liu is sending more of his chefs to work with Keff this week and in the next few months. The restaurateur has even built a pristine research facility in Sammamish, complete with guest quarters for his visiting chefs. In short, he sounds awfully interested in investing in local restaurant landscape.
How, exactly, did Keff happen into this unusual partnership? She says she listed the restaurant for sale and heard from Liu almost instantly. While she didn't know him at all before this, she says the chance to still be a chef (she's under contract for at least the next six months) rather than an owner, and to keep all her staff in place, "was one of those dream situations."
Over at the Puget Sound Business Journal, Glenn Drosendahl has details on Liu's restaurant background and potential plans to open more places around the area.