2015 Seattle Rising Star Hotel Chef Joe Ritchie of Goldfinch Tavern at Four Seasons Seattle

2015 Seattle Rising Star Hotel Chef Joe Ritchie of Goldfinch Tavern at Four Seasons Seattle
November 2015

Raised in Washington State’s Snoqualmie Valley, Joe Ritchie's first food job was picking wild blueberries for ten cents a pound. At an early age, Ritchie was aware of the connection between the farms, dairies, and rivers around him to the food the ate.

Ritchie eventually stepped into a professional kitchen in high school, but only to fuel a snowboarding habit. Whether seeking direction, discipline or both (or something else entirely), he later joined the army infantry, and upon his return, enrolled in the Scottsdale Culinary Institute.

With energy and talent to burn, he took on an internship at Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbfarm. He then moved west to take over as executive chef at Grouse Mountain Grill in Colorado, and returned home a few years later as executive chef of Cave B Inn. Ritchie was reunited with Traunfeld at Poppy, and while working there kept a garden, berry patch, and chickens at his home in Vashon. Inspired by that experience, Ritchie took to two-Michelin starred Cyrus before coming back to reopen Ray’s Boathouse.

It was at Mkt. where Ritchie began to make his mark, developing a style that fused his connection to ingredients with graceful simplicity. He's sharing this style now at Goldfinch Tavern at the Four Seasons, only on a much larger scale, making the hotel a center for more than tourism, but a focal point for fine dining in Seattle and a model for hotel food and beverage.            

Interview with Seattle Rising Star Hotel Chef Joe Ritchie of Goldfinch Tavern at Four Seasons Seattle

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start?
Joe Ritchie:
I started cooking as a way to pay for ski passes so I could snowboard, but I grew up surrounded by food. My mom always cooked from scratch and I was surrounded by lots of farms in Snoqualmie Valley.

SK: Have you had a mentor in your career?
I learned a lot from Jerry Traunfeld at The Herbfarm. I really learned how to use herbs. I worked with the gardeners there and there where 70 different herb plants on the deck. It can really transform a dish, and Jerry was all about flavor first. In general, I learned a lot about how to run a restaurant as a whole.

SK: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
We have a tight-knit community, but everybody is so busy. I won't see somebody for what seems like a week when it's actually been a year. I'm married with a family now, so I don't go out and party much.

SK: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
The biggest day-to-day challenge is that I can't be here all the time. When I was at mkt., it was a smaller restaurant and I was able to see and manage everything, but here's that's impossible. There are so many moving parts. We do the restaurant, banquets, room service, and just about everything in the hotel. I have to trust that everyone is doing their best. Overall, when you open a new restaurant, there's a lot of buzz in the beginning, but you have to be in it for the long run and maintain that level of creativity. I have to take one or two days to try new things and look for interesting foods and ingredients.

SK: How was the process transitioning from mkt. to Goldfinch Tavern and the hotel operation?
It was a long, slow process getting everything situated. We started talking in December, and got more serious in January [2015]. I started working on my own time, and talking with Ethan. Construction delays bought us a couple more weeks. I started with a core menu and that permeated the whole property. As the kitchen gets more confident, we'll be able to do more. We're trying to do more family style, like at other Ethan Stowell restaurants.

SK: How do you describe your style?
It's simple but sophisticated, approachable, but not too dumb.

SK: What's your five year plan?
Ethan would punch me in the face if I didn't stay here for five years. On a personal level, my wife and I are starting our family, and so I'd like to be better for them. I grew up as the middle child with three sisters and I loved growing up with a lot of siblings, so I'm looking forward to growing my family. 

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