A good restaurateur never forgets that it takes more than the name on the front door to deliver a memorable dinner experience. It's something diners should never forget, either. Every year, Seattle Met recognizes the talents and creative energies of five men and women younger than 40 who aren’t yet the boss but are poised to exert plenty of creative influence over what it’s like to eat out in this town. Through bar food with a vision, through painterly French plates, or even an unexpectedly wonderful interplay of Italian and Filipino flavors—these chefs, and the dishes they create, signal very good things to come.
Executive Chef, Adana
California native Chris Hoey was working alongside Jason Wilson at meaty Miller’s Guild when Shota Nakajima hired him at Naka, his kaiseki fine dining restaurant (recently retooled as the more casual Adana). An unconventional move considering the 28-year-old had almost zero professional experience with Asian food. But, like Nakajima, Hoey grew up with the home cooking of a Japanese mom. He knew those flavors, he recalls, “but I had to learn how to get to those flavors,” through a combination of new skills, classic European techniques, and salt-and-soy-level adjustment under Nakajima’s watchful eye. When Naka became Adana, the notoriously rigorous Nakajima decided Hoey had the chops to be executive chef; now their menu brainstorms usually start with some variation of “You ever eat this growing up?”
The Morning Dashi Ritual
It’s quiet when Chris Hoey arrives for work. Maybe his boss is playing music, but otherwise there’s little to distract him—he doesn’t even get reliable cell service inside the Capitol Hill restaurant’s kitchen. Mornings start the same way: making dashi, the Japanese mother of all stocks, and Adana uses no recipe. Hoey begins with filtered spring water and kombu, sea kelp harvested in Japan that rehydrates to varying sizes with varying flavors dependent on season or surrounding aquatic life...the no-recipe policy suddenly makes sense. He stirs slowly, staying at 65 to 68 degrees Celsius, or what Hoey calls a “sweet spot of prime kombu extraction.” He aims for clean and crisp flavor that “hits that umami part in the back of your tongue.” After removing the seaweed, he scatters wisps of dried, fermented, and smoked katsuobushi into the pot, waiting for the shavings, or bonito flakes, to fall to its depths. Next come tuna flakes for good, delightfully fishy measure. He tastes, seeking a balance of brine and subtle smokiness.
You’d think the guy would leave such tasks to underlings. Humility, it turns out, may be the key ingredient for this fickle broth. “Dashi is one of the hardest things to teach because it’s completely different every time,” says his boss, Shota Nakajima. He credits Hoey’s palate for his consistency and speedy uptake.
As day turns into dinner service, the broth will drive a gamut of dishes: lightly fried tofu served with roasted crab shell–infused dashi, simple braised turnips, or heartier beef curry. Dashi is the foundation of Adana’s abbreviated, multiple-choice menu, which leaves little room for error—or ego. Hoey may perform this intuitive task with impressive consistency, but he admits without hesitation: “I will never master dashi.”
Line Cook, L'Oursin
After culinary school in New York, Morford-Haines scored an Alice Waters–sponsored internship—during a stint in Rome—and it’s been all uphill from there: Two years at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, this time with Waters herself (“a large presence…very encouraging of women”). Nearly two years at the Herbfarm in Woodinville (“when the Herbfarm is your first Northwest job, you learn so much about hyperseasonality”). Then a short gig with Matt Dillon at Upper Bar Ferdinand—and now at L’Oursin, whose destiny as an up-and-coming Gallic charmer in the Central District the 28-year-old’s refined and analytical culinary approach may just lock up.
What the Boss Says
“Cooks can be good, but not all good cooks have finesse,” says J. J. Proville, her boss at L’Oursin (and a Next Hot Chef, Class of 2014). “Ashley can place a leaf of miner’s lettuce so it’s falling like a teardrop into a spring puddle. I saw it and was like, ‘Oh yeah. That’s it.’”
The Art of Ling Cod
At L’Oursin, Morford-Haines often takes her chef’s dishes and imparts her own artistic vision. Case in point: butter-poached ling cod with nettle-mussel broth, turnips, and romanesco.
- Ling Cod: “The ling cod is cooked sous vide, but we just call it butter poaching because we use so much butter.
- Microgreens: “The salad station was the best station at Chez Panisse, because Alice insisted on incredible vegetables and we were always the first to get them. She was very particular about salads. When you’ve done thousands of salads in the style of Alice Waters, you learn how to plop beautifully. So to speak.”
- Green Broth: “To make nettle puree, you clean and blanch and puree them—with gloves. Nettles and I have a storied history. One of our famous pizzas at Panisse had raw nettles on top, and one night we had a crankin’ service, which got pretty hairy. Nettles were everywhere. I had blotches all over my hands.”
- Color: “When you take a scoop of the nettle puree and stir it into the dashi-braised broth, it turns a brilliant green. Do it last minute and there’s no time for the heat or acid to destroy the chlorophyll, so it stays bright. It makes the orange mussels pop.”
Chef de Cuisine, Marmite
Editor’s Note: Nick Apt is no longer at Marmite, but stay tuned for updates on his culinary whereabouts.
It took convincing for Bruce Naftaly to try an immersion circulator—or, as he calls it, “the thing you put in the water.” Credit his chef de cuisine, Nick Apt, for nudging one of Northwest cuisine’s founding fathers toward modernist technique. Always, of course, in service of traditional French flavors and seasonal ingredients. The 29-year-old Apt seeks “exciting creativity” in a kitchen, mostly under laser-focused technical masters—at MistralKitchen, Altura, even Bisato’s recent popup dinners. But Apt’s zeal for making ash or dehydrating fermented Seville oranges into crumble belies a firm grounding in the classics—his first dish on Marmite’s menu was a take on coq au vin made with white wine. The notoriously old-school Naftaly says he wouldn’t embrace more adventurous approaches from just any young chef: “Our palates are really in sync.”
The Nick Apt Fan Club (Or, What the Bosses Say)
“Nick’s probably had more influence on the menu than anyone else. It’s always changing; things will come back constantly that I worked on with Nick and I’ll work on them with the new sous chef. It’s a continuing conversation.” —Nathan Lockwood, Altura
“We were complete strangers when he did [the popups], but I couldn’t ask for a better guy. He’s very quiet, but he wants to be somewhere he can do something exceptional; those cooks are hard to find.” —Scott Carsberg, Formerly of Bisato
“The first dinner we did was a Valentine’s Day event. We put together a complicated tasting menu, coming up with ideas; those would lead to something else, and it all worked together very well. It was fun to see we could do that.” —Bruce Naftaly, Marmite
Sous Chef, Bar del Corso
After a brief stint teaching English in Florence, you’d think Melissa Miranda would settle for a half-finished scrapbook. Instead the Seattle native returned stateside with a culinary degree and six years of Italian cookery under her belt. It was there that she established the backbone of her philosophy of food: Italy “taught me about flavor, freshness, seasonality—that old-school style of cooking.” Now the 31-year-old plies her Italian know-how at Jerry Corso’s Beacon Hill restaurant Bar del Corso and holds occasional Musang popup dinners, where she melds these tenets with the Filipino flavors of her childhood. When stitching two different cultures’ cuisines into a single dish, Miranda has the same goal on both culinary ends—to make you feel like Grandma made it.
What the Boss Says
“When she’s here, I don’t even have to look," says Jerry Corso. "I just know that she’s going to do it perfectly. It helps me sleep at night knowing that I have her on the stove. She nourishes people but has the experience—in Italy and New York—to back it up.”
Two Countries, One Rich Stew
One day in Italy, Miranda had a realization over a plate of osso buco. “This is similar; this could be Filipino.” Slowly braised bone-in meat, its gravy served over risotto...swap in rice, the staple of any Filipino meal—and that sounds about right. When fusing these two cultures, Miranda leans on her pasta prowess, as in gnocchi rolling studied at a Florentine pasta shop. Her learned Italian maxims—let ingredients shine, think seasonally, accept handmade pasta as your culinary lord and savior—help brighten otherwise heavy dishes. Miranda does find a fundamental similarity, though, between Italian and Filipino food: being at the table with family. “Hospitality is huge for both cultures, that’s why I gravitate towards it.”
A lot of people have an idea of what Filipino food is, says the chef: adobo, lumpia, and pancit. But Miranda, in her popups, recasts her food memories in untraditional form. Take kare kare, a peanut stew typically made with oxtail and tripe. “It’s definitely a reflection of my childhood,” says Miranda. It was a childhood favorite; a specialty that her grandmother made. Her mostly vegetarian version, however, has been known to garner gasps from her aunties and uncle due to its near-blasphemous lack of beef: Miranda recreates meaty richness with roasted cremini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms, plus eggplant, long green beans, bok choy, and shrimp paste, all in a peanut sauce.
Chef, No Anchor and Navy Strength
When Chris and Anu Elford opened their beer bar, No Anchor, they figured chef Jeffrey Vance would do some bar snacks, maybe a few solid sandwiches. Instead he gave them radishes with parmesan dipping custard and bright violet, beet-tinged dumplings that look like fine dining and taste like the world’s most refined mozzarella sticks. Next door at sibling tiki bar Navy Strength, he embraces both midcentury comfort food and a globe’s worth of flavors. Vance, 34, learned butchery, charcuterie, and classic French sauces at Spokane’s Santé, then ran the kitchen at the now-shuttered Spur, an early Seattle adopter of modernist techniques. You’d never guess the amount of labor that goes into the textural and visual details of his seemingly simple plates. Which, says Vance, is exactly the point.
What the Boss Says
Given No Anchor’s impressive beer program, “People would say they didn’t realize we were a restaurant,” says co-owner Chris Elford. “Then our food pictures ended up blowing up our Instagram. Now we have a lot of regulars who aren’t even beer drinkers.”
Ketchup Chips, Step by Step
Jeffrey Vance and No Anchor co-owner Chris Elford, both Canada natives, decided their birthplace’s signature potato chip should be on the menu. Easy, right? Well…