2015 Seattle Rising Star Chef Marie Rutherford of The Whale Wins

2015 Seattle Rising Star Chef Marie Rutherford of The Whale Wins
November 2015

After earning her Art Degree, Marie Rutherford began working in museums to postpone the inevitable grad school process. But sitting in a basement filing didn’t quite fulfill her creative yearnings. Looking for alternate outlook, she thought about cooking, something she’d done to support herself in college. Although it was never a focal point, in that moment, it became a new possibility for expression. So Rutherford took the leap, beginning what she would soon find out was her intended career path, in the kitchen of a cruise ship.

Rutherford not only found she could handle the seven day work week (always a boon for a future chef), but also that she enjoyed it. And what's more, she was good at it. The kitchens she proceeded to work in became Rutherford’s own culinary school—a trial by fire, literally. Back on dry land, her first stop was Le Gourmand, a now shuttered farm-to-table restaurant with a classic French bent. But her most influential post would come next, working with Renee Erickson at Boat Street Café for three years. Rutherford worked her way up from line cook to sous chef, before finally moving on to become chef at The Whale Wins. At the helm of Erickson's powerhouse restaurant, Rutherford's voice comes across loud and clear, and Seattle's all aboard for the journey.

Interview with Seattle Rising Star Chef Marie Rutherford of The Whale Wins

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start?
Marie Rutherford:
During high school, at an old resort property that was turned into a catering venue, mainly for weddings. There were gardens, and they roasted all their meats outside. The owner was an adult who trusted us to do a good and job, and so you wanted to do good job. After high school I got a degree in art history from Evergreen State College. The program allowed you to leave campus immediately and study abroad, and that's what I wanted to do: travel. I started cooking professionally because I wasn't ready to go to grad school and work in museums. I realized I wasn't that type of person. I decided I was going to do the hardest thing I could find. So I got on a cruise ship and was gone for a year. It was my culinary school. I worked in “specialty restaurants,” breaking down animals and making pasta in a kitchen of three people. It was concentrated effort. Had they only known I knew nothing ... We traveled all over the world.

SK: Later in your career, you spent some time in France. Tell me about that.
I moved to France [through the WWOOF program] and worked on farms to learn cheesemaking, but my French was shitty. Through working at a farmers market I met a gentleman who had an Auberge, with a wood-fired oven for bread and a restaurant. The mother ran the Inn and they had a pig farm. That's where I learned charcuterie intensively. The couple was really happy to have someone who was really interested in helping. Their three sons weren't. He was a great teacher. I learned wood-fire oven cooking there.

SK: When you started at The Whale Wins, how was that transition to wood-fire oven cooking?
Knowing those old school ways definitely helped. It was strange to go from a traditional kitchen to the wood-fire oven here. Everything has to be put together systematically because of limited space in the oven. It was almost like I had to learn how to cook again, teaching myself how to create something using wood-burning heat. You’ve got to come in early and heat your wood. 

SK: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
We're an all women team of three. It's easy if you like it, but if it's not your thing it's difficult. Renee really trust us and gave us a lot of space to work with. If we were to have abused that trust we would not have gotten anywhere.

SK: What is your five year plan?
I really want to be well rested and happy and rich! I love this company so much. I've been here for eight years, but I hope to still be involved. I'd like to travel, go to Sri Lanka through eco-tourism. I like anywhere with coasts and seafood. That's very much in tune with what I am curious about. I have so much support and space here, but it'll always be Renee's food. I'd like to have my own restaurant.

SK: What part of the world is inspiring you right now?
I've been into Georgian food, the country, lately. There's lots of fruit and herbs and red wine mixed with vegetables and legumes. I've started making dishes inspired by that ... fairy tale foods.

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