Jason Stoneburner has had a big hand in making Ballard Avenue a serious dining destination in Seattle—his two acclaimed restaurants, French brasserie Bastille and Mediterranean-influenced Stoneburner, sit across the street from one another, both of them typically packed. He even garnered praise from the former Gourmet editor and author Ruth Reichl when she was in town for a book tour.
What makes Stoneburner’s food exceptional is his rare ability to work with unusual ingredients and flavor combinations without crossing the line into unapproachable. Whether he’s charring a vegetable or a pizza in a wood-fired oven, composing a beautiful salad, or creating a pasta dish that feels like it belongs on a table in Tuscany, everything he turns out of the kitchen is inventive and delicious. He learned, in part, from some great chefs in town, so it’s no surprise that he’s invested in sharing his knowledge with the students at FareStart, the nonprofit that provides culinary and life-skills training to students who have dealt with everything from poverty and homelessness to drug and alcohol addiction.
Here’s what Stoneburner had to say about FareStart, growing his own vegetables, and what’s on the menu for his next Guest Chef Night dinner.
You’re known for really investing in your ingredients. You’ve had farmland in Redmond, and you tend a garden and beehive on top of Bastille. Why is it so important for you to be hands-on with the sourcing, and what do you grow that’s unexpected?
First and foremost, it’s about relationships—the connections to where your food comes from. I work with local farmers who plant specific crops for me, so it’s easier to navigate the growing season. Some of the things that are kind of fun are these Thumbelina carrots, a Spanish onion, and a handful of different kinds of greens. Some of the farmers grow the same seed stock that we have on our rooftop at Bastille.
Bastille is French and Stoneburner is Mediterranean-influenced. Are these your favorite cuisines?
I grew up cooking in a French kitchen, so that’s the basis of my cooking. I think most chefs start out in that French realm with the technique and exactitude that cuisine offers. But these days I just cook the way I like to eat, which is constantly changing. It’s a combination of my work history, the way that I cook, my ongoing travels, my continuing study, and the marketplace—staying current and aware of what people are interested in.
You were an early adopter of the wood-fired oven. What drew you to cooking that way?
I’m more in love with ingredients than menus. We have a short growing season—great ingredients in a short amount of time—so I engineer my menu to showcase these amazing vegetables. The hearth is a great way to cook things. It can change flavor profile and texture by exposure to really high heat and the rapidness of it. It kind of does double duty. They’re really rocket shops when used correctly.
How did you get involved with FareStart, and what do you admire about the program?
It started off as me backing the chefs that I worked for when they did Guest Chef Dinners, like Daisley Gordon and Ethan Stowell, just being in the background and helping organize as a sous chef. I really appreciate what they do because they’ve adapted the high-end French kitchen system while also being a social service program. I’ve been there six times—twice as a headliner and recently as a speaker at a graduation ceremony. I got to tell the students my unedited story (a tumultuous past, let’s say), which mirrored some of the students’.
What do you want the FareStart students to learn from you?
I think what they’re really interested in is technique, whether it’s how to handle a specific protein, knife skills, or composed plates. Adhering to their structure and really focusing on logistics to create these dishes is my focus. I want to show them that these skills are adaptable and what you need in the workplace. They get to witness that: the “I can do this in a job setting.”
At your dinner, you’ll be cooking dishes such as grilled short rib with a lovage and sweet pea passata. Tell me about some of these dishes and why you chose them—including the rhubarb brown butter bar for dessert!
I like to have some things that are kind of familiar so everyone is comfortable working with them, but also introduce a trickier item or technique, so there’s something for everyone; like the diners and the students who are a little more advanced. Lovage is in the celery family and is responsible for celery seed. We grow a ton on Bastille’s roof. It lends a really herbaceous flavor to the sweetness of peas and is not a flavor profile seen often. The rhubarb brown butter bar uses fat solids from the milk to get that hazelnut/burnt toast vibe, and then we poach rhubarb in honey from our roof, which provides a little acid for the dish.
Chef Stoneburner’s dinner at FareStart is on May 4th at 5:30pm. Dinner is $29.95. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.