Chef Tyler Hefford-Anderson works in Seattle’s tallest building, as Executive Chef at the Columbia Tower Club—and his culinary vision is high in the sky as well. He has delighted the Club’s restaurant members with his inspired, whimsical use of the very best of the Pacific Northwest’s bounty for nearly five years. Now he’s taking time out to impress a different audience, hosting the next Guest Chef dinner on August 31 at FareStart, a nonprofit that provides culinary and life skills to students who have dealt with everything from poverty and homelessness to drug and alcohol addiction. Here’s what he has to say about cooking at a private club, working with out-of-the-box ingredients, and what he hopes to instill in the FareStart students.
You’ve worked at some of the most upscale restaurants and private clubs in the region, including the Rainier Club, Salish Lodge, Cedarbrook Lodge, and now the Columbia Tower. Is cooking at a private club different than at a regular restaurant?
Yes, definitely. I like private clubs. They really give me an opportunity to get to know the diners more in-depth. I know their kids. I know their likes and tastes. We’re already ahead of that curve and know what they’re looking for when they arrive.
You regularly do seven-course dinners at the Columbia Tower. How do you plan a progressive meal like that?
I’m a big proponent of ingredients. I start by making a list of what’s seasonal and interesting that I’ve seen from purveyors, blogs, cookbooks. Then I figure out how everything fits together. What makes logical sense today and how we can really showcase those unique ingredients.
You source a lot of ingredients for your menu from local and sustainable farmers. Do you have any favorite purveyors, and what ingredients are you excited about right now? I just started working with a farm called Apulum Gardens out of Darrington, Washington, and they’re really doing some cool stuff. They’re certified organic and about to be certified biodynamic. They just brought us some Chandler blueberries, as big as your thumb, that are super sweet and delicious and some cool new tomatoes. I also work with Willowood Farm on Whidbey Island. They’ve got beautiful leeks, tatsoi, and yacon—a Peruvian daisy tuber. I dice it and sweet-pickle it to use in desserts.
Your dinner at FareStart looks ambitious—but delicious. Beet and horseradish–cured local halibut with tayberry coulis, a garlic caramel compressed loin of beef. All of the dishes also come with interesting produce in various iterations, like a salad of celery leaves, sunflower shoots, and salsify chips. How do you come up with such interesting combinations? I’m a big reader. I like to take a lot of techniques I discover and manipulate them. For instance, I was reading about someone making a strawberry glacé. Since apricots are in season right now, I thought: How can we do an apricot one? Or how can I make a savory ice cream, or cook something down? I’m a big fan of red licorice, so I’ll cook it down and make a sauce with it. I won’t shy away from getting candy or cereal involved. We’ve crusted things with Captain Crunch before. Sometimes we get caught up in these fancy, fine-dining dinners and we forget it’s fun. And that’s what it’s all about, especially in the case of FareStart, where you’re doing something for the community.
What’s your experience working with FareStart, and what do you hope the students will learn from you?
I did Guest Chef dinner last year for the first time on my own, but I’ve also worked it under other chefs. It was a blast. I really love them because I’m a firm believer in teaching kitchens. That’s how we grow and change, by showing and doing. I’ve gone in many times and spoken to culinary classes, but at FareStart you’re actually doing it. You’re putting your hands in the food and putting out a product rather than just talking. That’s why I always bring extra ingredients with me to FareStart. Last year, I brought some beautiful huckleberry tomatoes. The students were like “What do these taste like?” Well, put them in your mouth. Smell them, feel them. The number one thing I want them to understand is that if this business isn’t fun, then it’s just work. I want them to realize that not every kitchen is about being stodgy and uncomfortable.
Chef Hefford-Anderson's dinner at FareStart is on August 31 at 5:30 pm. Dinner is $29.95. Click here for more information and to make a reservation.