Four months ago Caprial Pence, Seattle’s first James Beard Best Northwest Chef Award winner (1991, Fuller’s) and one-word-name sensation of the late Caprial’s in Portland, left her post at Seattle’s Bookstore Bar and Cafe at the Kimpton Alexis Hotel. She is now culinary director of the Seattle and Portland outposts of the dinner delivery outfit, Munchery.
“I was looking for something that would stimulate some learning and growing, and there wasn’t an opportunity for that with Kimpton,” Pence told me by phone.
At Munchery, whose International District kitchen makes the meals for both Seattle and Portland—there’s learning and growing aplenty. Ensuring variety is a challenge—Munchery menus offer ten-or-so entrees, a few sides and kid meals, a soup, and some breakfast items and bakery goods—particularly for an outfit prizing wholesomeness. Pence’s Munchery kitchen has a butcher, makes stocks and sauces from scratch, cures its own meats.
Even tougher may be mastering the unique limitations that govern delivery. Without plating or garnishing, how can a chef make the food look inviting? Without face-to-face with customers, how can a chef get feedback? In some dishes, like smoked salmon chowder, she presents the smoked salmon on the side to ensure that every Munchery diner gets the same portion of fish for their soup. And then there’s conception. “A dish just can’t be as complicated as I’d make in a restaurant,” Pence explains. “I know this will go cold to someone’s house—so how they’ll heat it, and how that will change the texture and quality, all has to go into our thinking.”
Caprial geeks will recognize that smoked salmon chowder from Caprial’s, as they will her hot chile sauce Hot as Hell Chicken. “I haven’t really been able to do Asian food because it didn’t really fit the Bookstore’s vibe,” she says. “Returning to that has been fun.”