Past and present merge to shape today’s Seattle cuisine


by Michael Costa

Seattle cuisine to an outsider may evoke images of cedar-plank salmon, oysters, mussels, apples, foraged mushrooms, and wild berries. While all those ingredients still have a home on Seattle menus, today’s chefs are putting their personal stamp on those staples to help create a broader definition of what it means to eat in the Emerald City.

“Seattle menus are becoming more progressive. It’s still food-centric and farmer-driven, focused on purity of ingredients, regional sourcing, and not manipulating the food too much so the area’s bounty can be highlighted. But what has changed over the past decade is a lot of younger chefs bringing their inspiration and excitement to the Seattle food scene, creating more diversity compared to the past,” says Edouardo Jordan, chef/owner of Salare, JuneBaby and Lucinda Grain Bar in Seattle, and a 2018 James Beard Award winner as Best Chef: Northwest. 

Jordan has called Seattle home for 13 years, and is originally from St. Petersburg, Florida. He’s an example of the kind of chef pushing the longstanding boundaries of what is considered Seattle cuisine, which today can incorporate Asian, Filipino, Indian, Latin, and Caribbean flavors, to name a few. New chefs arrive with global influences, and the population boom since the 1990s due to Amazon, Microsoft, and Starbucks headquartered in Seattle attracts workers from around the world, who in turn, bring their own tastes to the city. 

At Jordan’s JuneBaby — a Southern-inspired restaurant earning national accolades from the New York Times, Esquire, Food & Wine, and the James Beard Foundation — the Seattle staple of salmon is reconfigured into the Southern concept.

Chef Smiling Salare Mirror2
Chef Edouardo Jordan

“For years I’ve avoided putting fillet of salmon on my menu just because every restaurant in the city has it. I have my own take, where I make beautiful salmon rillettes, salted and slowly cooked in the oven and stuffed into a squash blossom. Then we batter and deep fry it, served with a caper remoulade. That remoulade changes depending on the season, so we can forage for fiddleheads or green elderberries, for example, and turn that into remoulade,” Jordan explains. “That dish is about as Seattle as you can possibly get, with foraged items showcasing seafood, and utilizing ingredients that are in season. About 70% of the ingredients at JuneBaby come from the Pacific Northwest even though it’s a full-blown Southern restaurant.” 

Another chef making waves in Seattle is Eric Rivera (who will also be presenting at the ACF’s ChefConnect: Seattle March 1-3) with his tasting menu concept Addo in the city’s Ballard neighborhood; Lechoncito, a nod to Rivera’s Puerto Rican heritage; and his traveling multi-day pop-up concept, Silva. 

Rivera grew up in Olympia, Washington, about 60 miles south of downtown Seattle, so he’s deeply familiar with the area’s staple ingredients, and like Jordan, is an ambassador for increasing diversity in city’s dining scene. Rivera worked for more than three years at Chicago’s legendary Alinea restaurant, and returned to his hometown fueled with fresh ideas to incorporate into Addo. 

“My parents are from Puerto Rico and my dad was stationed in the Army here. Growing up in Washington there’s not much representation of Puerto Rican culture and cuisine, so it’s been interesting to figure out how those two worlds can come together,” he says. “There’s not many places that have the variety of ingredients we have readily available in the wild, especially our seafood and produce. Our ingredients are diverse because we have many different climates in Washington where they can grow.”

Oxtail at JuneBaby

Rivera’s Addo uses those ingredients to supply an always-evolving tasting menu that can feature up to 60 new dishes a week, and themed menus covering about 40 different experiences a month. For example, in December, a single week’s offering included Rivera’s take on ramen, chicken fried steak, Puerto Rican comfort food, a Star Wars-themed menu, and a Nightmare Before Christmas brunch.  

“Having multiple experiences allows us to be fluid conceptually, so we’re not locked into a singular concept, like Italian food. We can turn on a dime, so it allows us to attract new guests and keep existing customers excited,” notes Rivera.

Long before Jordan and Rivera helped redefine Seattle dining, Kathy Casey was one of Seattle’s first celebrity chefs, spreading the gospel of Northwest cuisine from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s through her cookbooks, a widely syndicated 1986 Craig Claiborne feature in the New York Times, and appearances on Good Morning America, Larry King Live and PBS. She jokingly refers to herself and Seattle culinary pioneer Tom Douglas as the “grandma and grandpa of Seattle cuisine.” 

Today, Casey’s culinary reach extends beyond Seattle through her Food Studios/Liquid Kitchen consulting in Ballard, developing cocktail programs for global cruise lines and hotel brands. Closer to home she has three venues at Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport: Dish D’Lish, Rel’Lish Burger Lounge, and Lucky Louis Fish Shack. She remains a keen observer of what makes Seattle an attractive destination for chefs.

“Seattle is inspiring chefs to come here because of the abundance of versatile ingredients we have year-round,” Casey says. “I would describe Northwest cuisine as fresh and bright, and at its core are the farmers and growers who are just as important in shaping Seattle’s cuisine as the chefs. That ongoing farmer/chef relationship is a common culinary thread linking Seattle’s past to the present.”

ACFlogo_tag_CMYK_lowresChefConnect: Seattle is coming March 1-3! If you’re a chef exploring new ideas and flavors, a student looking to gain experience or a foodservice professional keeping abreast of the latest and greatest, we’ve got educational and networking opportunities for you. Register before Feb. 3 to save up to 40%!