Features Seattle Rising Stars and why they Shine
The Seattle Rising Stars & Why They Shine
January 2009

We tasted food, pastry, cocktails, and wine pairings from over 50 talented chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers across Seattle, and only 14 of them earned the title of Rising Star. So what makes them shine? Creativity, ambition, exquisite presentation, and, most importantly, a delicious product win each up-and-coming culinary star the Rising Star Award. What’s more, each Rising Star has attributes that make us believe they will be the future leaders of the country’s culinary scene. Here’s an introduction to the 2009 Seattle award winners: who they are, why they shine, and how they’re shaping the future of American food.

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CHEF: Mark Fuller, Spring Hill
Like so many in Seattle, Mark says his aim is to create his interpretation of Northwest Cuisine, and to him, the Northwest is all about seafood. Mark spent seven years working for Tom Douglas, where he learned a love for and a way with seafood. So the stars of his menu are regional fish and shellfish, and they get the royal treatment at his West Seattle restaurant. King clam is gently cured in lemon and served with salty, savory parmesan, and razor clams are the base of a juicy sausage served with boldly pickled oysters. Where less fish-focused chefs would turn to bacon, Fuller turns to smoked clams and oysters, as in a dish of halibut topped with a smoky clam panzanella. This devotion and simple innovation pays off, making Spring Hill one of the best spots for creative, delectable seafood.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Razor Clam Sausage with Three Pickled Oysters
- Wood-Grilled Spot Prawns, Creamy Grits, Poached Egg, Shrimp Gravy, and Wild Mushrooms

CHEF: Stuart Lane, Café Juanita

Chef Holly Smith is known to make some of the most amazing pasta in Seattle. But after Chef de Cuisine Stuart Lane overhauled the pasta program over the last two years, even Smith says he took it “to a whole new level.” Café Juanita’s first chef de cuisine worked hard to earn his post: training in Italy, joining the team as an under-sous, and taking increasing responsibility and, finally, the reins. Today Holly remains involved in every facet of her restaurant, but Stuart manages the menu and his exciting compositions have only made it stronger. We were enamored of a complex, layered dish of rabbit livers with caramelized onions, anchovies, and currants that was hit with a bit of lime juice at the end to add an extra tang. When the delicate, thumbnail-sized rabbit agnolotti arrived, bursting with braised rabbit flavor, and perfectly textured, we were in love. We have great expectations for this young talent who is running one of the country’s best Italian restaurants.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Venetian Rabbit Livers with Caramelized Onions, Anchovy, and Currants
- Rabbit Agnolotti Dal Plin with Sage Butter

CHEF: Vuong Loc, Portage and Pig ‘n Whistle
Vuong is a mix of the Old World, the Midwest, and the Northwest. It’s an unlikely amalgam, but one that works well in his two very different, but equally charming restaurants, Portage and Pig ‘n Whistle. His Midwest upbringing is evident in his use of fish from the Great Lakes region (addictive little fried smelts with preserved lemon aioli make an excellent bar snack at Pig ‘n Whistle); the Northwest comes through in his use of the area’s best ingredients. But part of his heart belongs to the Old World, and he executes European techniques with grace and style. Vuong’s menu at Portage has been known to feature liver and onions, ballotines, and—when we visited—two dishes that utilized caul fat with impressive success. In one, a lamb chop’s flavor was locked in by a coat of rich, juicy parsley-chicken mousse (bound to the chop with caul fat) that added a vibrant color and flavor to the dish.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Pan-Roasted White Fish with Beets, Beet Tops, Black Truffle Vinaigrette, and Salmon Caviar
- Lamb Chop Stuffed with Parsley Mousse, Brussels Sprouts, and Honey-Glazed Lardons

CHEFS: Brian McCracken & Dana Tough, Spur

The stylish, comfortable Spur Gastropub is the unexpected home to some of Seattle’s most exciting food made by two ambitious up-and-comers, Co-Chefs Brian McCracken and Dana Tough. We’ve heard them affectionately called “those two crazy kids” because they’re two of the few in Seattle incorporating the newest cooking techniques into their menu. But they’re doing so in an effortless manner—one that will make a believer of some of the skeptics out there, we think. Like almost everyone else in town, they draw inspiration from their local farmers, but they take that inspiration in a playful direction. A mound of fresh pasta with local mushrooms and herbs is topped with a duck egg cooked sous vide and flavorful parmesan foam. The soft and dense egg becomes a highlight of the dish, instead of simply a sauce. Beef carpaccio comes topped with encapsulated, deep-fried balls of béarnaise sauce. Wrap the carpaccio around the ball and pop it in your mouth for a warm, luscious, amusing bite.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Beef Carpaccio, Tarragon, Mustard Leaf, and Fried Bearnaise
- House-Made Tagliatelle with Oyster Mushrooms and Pine Nuts, Sous Vide Duck Egg, and Parmigiano Foam

CHEF: Colin Patterson, Sutra

To call Colin Patterson’s food vegetarian just doesn’t do it justice. To begin with, this bright-eyed chef brings a whole body approach to his culinary philosophy that’s rooted in his study and practice of yoga. And his communal-tables-only restaurant quite literally brings the community together to share his four course prix fixe menu. On the outside, Colin’s dishes are beautifully presented, wildly eclectic (picking up influences from Japan to India), and utterly scrumptious; on the inside, the chef selects and pairs ingredients to “work with the body” and promote health from the inside out. And this yogi/chef is crafty, too. His forbidden black rice roll was at once crisp and chewy, earthy and smoky, filling and light; his “pasta” of celeriac ravioli was made from thinly sliced celery root pressed and baked until al dente and stuffed with a house-made cashew nut “cheese.” It’s not often that vegetarian, much less vegan (which many of his dishes are), food reaches such heights.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Forbidden Black Rice and Yellow Beet Rolls with Grilled Eggplant Mousse and Kaiware Sprouts
- Celeriac Ravioli Stuffed with Chanterelle Mushrooms and Cashew Cheese and Truffle Oil

CHEF: Jason Wilson, Crush
Jason is serving some of the most elegant, refined food in Seattle. His restaurant, Crush, is what he calls “a from-scratch” restaurant, a phrase that refers not only to the bread, butter, and pasta they make in-house, but to the build-out and design done by him and his wife. Jason has meticulously crafted each element, and makes for a proud, gregarious host. While Crush operates at the highest level, with modern flavors and techniques and the best ingredients from around the world, it simultaneously manages to be a welcoming, friendly space. Beyond his delicate dishes (tendrils of tagliatelle wrapped around tangerine segments and butter-poached lobster was one standout), Jason is an active member of the community who speaks warmly about his fellow Seattle chefs—and reads their blogs! Ambitious by nature, Jason still runs a catering outlet with his wife, and says that in five years he aims to be the Seattle restaurant to check out. 

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Indian Summer Tomato Salad: Heirloom Tomatoes, Fresh Ricotta, Berkshire Prosciutto Chip, Nicoise Olive Powder, Basil, and Arugula
- White Truffle Tagliatelle with Butter Poached Lobster Tail, Garden Sorrel, Lobster Coral, and Tangerines

HOTEL CHEF: Adam Stevenson, Earth & Ocean at W Seattle
Adam is a talented chef whose multi-faceted ventures have kept Earth & Ocean at the forefront of Seattle food, and made the W one of the best food hotels in the city. His passion is European, Old World, old-style cooking using classic techniques: think salamis, crepenettes, and more. He focuses on the fundamentals with stocks and broths, what he calls "the backbone ingredients," and builds on them to create dishes that range from rustic to excitingly creative. One tangible—and impressive—contribution to the restaurant and the hotel is his charcuterie work. Adam has anywhere from six to nine varieties of cured meats, patés, sausages, rillettes, and smoked items going at any given time. His various menus in the hotel each have a charcuterie plate on them, from room service to the bar to the restaurant. This penchant for artisan craftsmanship lends itself well to the rest of his menu too by way of house-made bacon, galantines, and terrines.

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Rabbit and Truffle Galantine, Frisee, and Pickled Grapes
- Wild Day Boat Scallops with Citrus-Braised Endive, Radishes, Smoked Bacon, and Garlic Puree

In a city serious about sustainability, Maria stands out as walking the walk, talking the talk, and taking it to the next level. We found that in Seattle, eating local isn’t a point of pride, it’s a given. So to push herself further, when she was finally ready to open her own place, Maria looked to Oregon Tilth (what she considers to be the most rigorous organic certification board in the country). Tilth, a word that references the earth, is one of only two restaurants in the country certified organic by the board, and Maria’s commitment extends beyond the plate to kitchen practices, and even the materials from which the tables, chairs, and porch of the restaurant are built. She also keeps a thorough blog with recipes, info, events, and links that’s not just a great resource for sustainability, but also for Seattle dining. Oh, and her food? Delicious, creative, exacting, and without doubt some of the best in town. 

The Dishes that Clinched It:
- Sous Vide Wild Alaskan Halibut, Cranberry Beans, Lacinato Kale, and Preserved Lemon
- Mini Duck Burgers, Fingerling Chips, Onion Jam, and Brioche Buns

RESTAURATEUR: Ethan Stowell, Union, Tavolata, and How to Cook a Wolf
Since the opening of Union five years ago, Ethan Stowell has arguably done more than anyone to shape the character of Seattle dining. You know a city’s dining scene is growing when the middle ground (the upscale-casual spots) expands, and that’s just where Ethan has made his mark. Union is a high-quality American bistro in the heart of downtown, but it’s Tavolata (Belltown) and How to Cook a Wolf (Queen Anne) that Ethan says are nearest to his culinary soul. His food philosophy is “keep it simple and make it better than people can make at home.” He says he’s been aggressive about opening new restaurants so he can keep his talented cooks in Seattle. So he’s a good chef and a good boss—two elements crucial to his style of restaurateur. Between the three restaurants he currently has 75 employees; a fourth restaurant is imminent (first quarter of 2009); and a fifth, a prosciutto bar, is planned for later in 2009. Ethan, Seattle thanks you!

The Dishes That Clinched It:
- Grilled Mackerel with Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes, Oven-Dried Tomatoes, and Artichoke Puree
- Pan-Roasted Durade, Roasted Fennel, Taggiasca Olives, and Green Olive Vinaigrette

RESTAURANT CONCEPT AWARD: Joshua Henderson, Skillet Street Food
Our Restaurant Concept Award winner isn’t actually a restaurant, but you wouldn’t know it based on the food. Arborio risotto with local chanterelle mushrooms and crisp fried sage; local pumpkin soup with pancetta and pepitas; a chopped salad of greens from Full Circle Farms topped with a tangle of julienned raw beets and green goddess dressing—these aren’t dishes you’d expect to find coming out of an Airstream trailer. But that’s the beauty—and the award-winning concept—of Skillet Street Food. It’s creative, restaurant-quality food served on-the-go at shockingly affordable prices (the majority of the menu is under $10). Yes, it’s ideal for a recession. But beyond that, this Skillet chef is spreading the gospel of top-notch local, seasonal food in an innovative way, and for that, he deserves recognition. Josh has plans to expand via a walk-up counter and a second truck—so, Seattleites, look for one in a neighborhood near you!

The Dishes That Clinched It:
- Carnaroli Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, Crisp Sage, Parmigiano Reggiano, and 1st Press Olive Oil
- Kobe Beef Burger, Bacon-Onion Jam, and Camembert

PASTRY CHEF: Dana Cree, Poppy
We first tried Dana’s desserts at the modern fine dining restaurant Veil (now closed). When we re-visited her at Poppy, she had done something that few chefs or pastry chefs have (but most would benefit from): gone through a rigorous round of self-editing. In making the jump from fine dining to a less experimental, busier setting, Dana toned down and reconstructed her desserts, but still maintained the highest standards for techniques and flavor combinations that—simply stated—impressed the hell out of us. They may be packaged in more familiar forms, but they still pack a serious punch. The Fall incarnation of her bittersweet chocolate terrine (“the little black dress of my repertoire,” she calls it) had dark-toasted sesame seeds lending a bitter nuttiness, spiced gingerbread pudding (a technique adapted from the Alinea kitchen), and candied cashews perked up by cumin and garam masala. Certainly one of the boldest pastry flavor combos we came across in the city, and one of the most delectable.  Dana is not only one of the best young pastry chefs in Seattle, but one of the best young pastry chefs in the country.

The Desserts that Clinched It:
- Herbed Cider Sorbet with Pine Nut CrackerJack
- Bittersweet Chocolate Terrine with Gingerbread, Hazelnuts, and Sesame

PASTRY CHEF: Matt Kelley, Rover’s
When we first met Matt Kelley (at Bin 36 in Chicago) we said to ourselves, "This guy’s got a way with flavor; we’re excited to see where he goes." The big steps he’s taken since include a series of stages (including two with Will Goldfarb and Pichet Ong) and, of course, his move to Seattle, where he seems to have settled quite nicely into the creative-yet-classic atmosphere of Rover’s. Perfect example: his goat cheese Bavarian dessert, in which goat cheese Bavarian cream is rolled in a rosemary-walnut cookie crust and served with quenelles of red beet foam (served cold, to approximate sorbet) and lemon coulis. Matt has always played with sweet and savory (and combining the two flavors in distinctive ways), but here he reached new heights of flavor, texture, and satisfaction—not to mention fun and creative presentation. The dessert walks the sweet-savory line in the most fulfilling of ways—it’s a nod to the cheese course, but substantial enough to make an excellent end to a meal.

The Desserts that Clinched It:
- Goat Cheese Bavarian with Red Beet Foam, Lemon Coulis, and Candied Walnut
- Chocolate Ganache with Coconut Meringue in a Chocolate Tunnel, Spiced Chocolate Cake, Lime Gelee, and Lime Dust

SOMMELIER: Nelson Daquip, Canlis
The Canlis website proudly boasts that Nelson has been the most rapidly promoted employee in the restaurant’s history, moving from server assistant to wine director in only four years. That about sums up his ambition—oh, he’s planning on sitting for his Master Sommelier exam in early 2009, too. In the dining room, he’s a gracious, youthful, informative presence, presiding over a 96-page list with 2200 labels. Outside the restaurant, he’s active in the winemaking field. He completed Canlis’s “Vinternship” program, and in 2006 managed the production of the Peter Canlis Syrah from Walla Walla’s Buty Winery. For Seattle’s sake, we hope he stays around, but he did mention a future goal of returning to his native Hawaii and working to bring serious wine culture and education to the islands. If we know one thing about Nelson, it’s that he reaches his goals. He is a wine force to be reckoned with.

MIXOLOGIST: Jim Romdall, Vessel
Jim will be the first person to tell you that before two years ago, he barely knew anything about cocktails. But thank goodness for the day this man picked up a shaker because he’s born to mix! The drinks he served us at Vessel were all different in character—not to mention exciting and tasty: The Maverick was light and refreshing; the Obama Nation was deeply flavored, fruity with a hint of bitterness and nuts; the Globo Rojo, with tequila that had been macerated with strawberries for three weeks, was subtle, smooth, and delightful. Even a classic Corpse Reviver was given a twist—or rather, a shake in a prototype of the Perlini Carbonation Chamber, which flash-carbonizes small amounts of liquid. After meeting Jim we felt revived…and excited about the future of this dynamic cocktail craftsman.

The Drinks that Clinched It:
- Obama Nation
- Carbonated Corpse Reviver