Duke’s Seafood & Chowder is iconic Seattle, but they’re more than just a great place for seafood. The restaurants are committed to sourcing sustainably, and Executive Chef Bill Ranniger is excited to share his deep knowledge at an upcoming guest chef dinner 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. He also promises to treat guests to a true Duke’s experience: shrimp, salmon, halibut, scallops—and marionberry pie.
You have an incredibly seafood-focused dinner, which is perhaps to be expected. What inspired this menu?
I look at this as an opportunity to teach the students how to source seafood sustainably and why that’s important. We [at Duke’s] buy in a different way than most restaurants. We’ve gone to Alaska about 20 times in the last 10 years, and we buy straight from the fishermen. We know those people, so when I cook with the FareStart students, I can tell them fish stories. It gives me something to educate them about—and to talk to guests about. But it’s also a chance to let the students work all the stations. The menu includes sauté, pantry, grill. When I think of a menu, it’s about all the things you need to do to pull off the trio of salads, appetizer, and entrée. I’m also including the very first menu item I added to Duke’s when I started 40 years ago; our Alaskan halibut stuffed with crab and shrimp, served with grilled cheese polenta and a beurre blanc sauce accented with pesto.
Speaking of the menu, what’s the Duke’s “Chop Chop” salad?
It’s our most popular entrée salad with grilled Alaskan scallops and Mexican prawns (marinated in garlic and seared) served over Napa cabbage, romaine lettuce, feta cheese, and cashews with an organic basil-citrus vinaigrette. We’ll actually be doing three salads, each with seafood on top. A baby spinach salad will come with Copper River coho salmon, while wild field greens will get graced with some Dundy crab. They’re artistic little plates with lots of different textures and flavor profiles.
What’s your experience with FareStart?
I’ve done five events, and they’ve been great. I’m lucky because we have six restaurants, so I can pull other chefs to come with me and help educate the students about seafood. The first time I did one, I didn’t know what to expect, how interacting with the students would be. It’s really neat to see how they work together as a FareStart team. We’re just so happy that we can be a part of it, and we’ve hired students at our restaurants in the past. Plus, the guests are all there to give back too. It’s really kind of a love fest.
What is the most important thing you want students to learn from you?
We talk about quality. I want them to understand that if we overcook a piece of salmon, we’ll throw it away and start again. No one is going to get in trouble, but I make them work hard. It’s the whole “If you teach a man to fish…” proverb. But we’re going to have fun too!
OK, so about that marionberry pie?
We only have three hours to prep and talk, so I’m bringing the pies with me, but they’re going to make a blueberry reduction sauce to go on top. It will be served with Lopez Island Creamery vanilla ice cream.