2015 Seattle Rising Star Chef Travis Kukull of Mollusk

2015 Seattle Rising Star Chef Travis Kukull of Mollusk
November 2015

Travis Kukull’s earliest memory of food is in his dreams. Sort of. As a kid in a family on a tight budget in Shoreline, Washington, Kukull remembers his father baking bread for the week. He and his brother would stumble out of a deep sleep, eat a slice of fresh-baked bread with butter, and go back to bed. Kukull and his brother also hosted dinner parties (for $10 a head) when their parents were out of town, which encouraged Kukull to enroll in a gourmet food program in high school and later culinary school. But before finishing he transferred to the University of Washington. 

While earning his degree, Kukull worked at Mona’s Bistro & Lounge and Mandalay Café. Clearly with a bit of the wanderer in him, Kukull moved to Maui, working at Pacific’O, then to Haines, Alaska, working as sous chef at the Hotel Halsingland, picking up beer brewing and mushroom foraging skills along the way.

Working in Brooklyn at Stone Park Café, Kukull learned a new level of focus and execution, which he brought with him to Seattle restaurants Elemental, followed by Solo Bar, and Tilikum Place Cafe after that. It was during a visit to a home brew store that Kukull met Epic Ales brewer Cody Morris, with whom he opened Gastropod and now Mollusk, where his no-limits, no-lables style of cooking will give the Seattle dining scene a Kukull-style jolt of creativity.  

Interview with Seattle Rising Star Chef Travis Kukull of Mollusk

Sean Kenniff: Where do you look for inspiration for your menu?
Travis Kukull:
I spend a lot time in the morning wondering around markets. Ideas just hit you, and you have to make it work. I like simple and delicious food but done in a slightly different way. I try to learn something new every day. I'm constantly thinking about it new ideas for dishes and then give them a try. Be experimental. Have the guts to try something you've never tried before. It may not be perfect, but keep trying.

SK: Is there anyone you think of as a mentor?
Multiple people. I've worked at so many restaurants with so many different styles. Eric McWilliams from Vandelay Cafe. He had a great attitude, respect, and a positive mindset. He pushed me to eat, drink, and think constantly. Josh Rinker in New York was more relentless than anyone I've ever met. If there was four feet of snow in front of the restaurant, he'd shovel it all before brunch service. Ba Colbert from Tilikum Place Cafe. His restaurant was just a small neighborhood place, not trying to be super trendy. His strength was in creating flavor combinations.

SK: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
Trying to make all the complicated food in this small space. I really want to be a good boss and employer, but I sometimes I lose track of what's going on in my employees' lives. I try the best that I can. One of the more important things to me is staff. We have a staff of four to six [at Gastropod (now closed)], 38 seats, 100 covers, 3 turns.

SK: How do you describe your style?
I don't want to put limits or labels on myself. Things go in and out of style.

SK: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Running Mollusk and stepping back from this space [Gastropod] and letting a new chef with a creative mind make this something new. Maybe one day, I'll open a Vietnamese-French bakery in Haines, Alaska; it's a four-hour ferry ride northeast of Juno. That's where I met my wife. I cooked a five course beer dinner for 260 people up there.

SK: What are you most proud of what's your greatest accomplishment?
I'm most proud of being able to offer extremely high-end food and product at a reasonable price. My greatest accomplishment is my dog Daria, a Chesapeake Bay retriever.


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