Seattle's Best Up-and-Coming Talent
I'm looking for Seattle's best up-and-coming culinary talent -- chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists and sommeliers, to be precise. Any suggestions?
Well, Mark Fuller at Springhill in West Seattle was head chef under Tom Douglas for years at Dahlia Lounge so I'm not sure if he's technically considered "up-and-coming." However he's doing some really cool stuff at the recently opened Springhill, so worth checking out.
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There seem to be an awful lot of Seattle culinarians who, after reaching a certain degree of success or after working at their few personal favorite restaurants, depart for bigger, more cosmopolitan cities: New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Vegas. I went to SF for a few years where I ran into FOUR cooks I knew from SEA, came back, left again. I'm currently working with three guys I worked with at Campagne, two of them had gone to Vegas and the other back to the East coast before leaving the country (we are all in the Himalayas now). I'm a native, so I will probably go back again at some point, but the reality is that there just aren't very many good pastry chef jobs, so until I'm ready to open my own place, there's not much point in my being in SEA besides seeing my family.
What i'm saying is that Seattle does have some very good restaurants and very good chefs, but if you're young and ambitious, chances are you'll go elsewhere to prove yourself or otherwise get your star to rise a little higher. Some do come back with that experience, some of us just keep wandering the globe looking for new and interesting opportunities.
There is a 'grass is always greener' aspect for sure. But also, Seattle is sort of in denial that it is actually a city, so many people want to be a small town - hence the inability to get mass transit built. (But voter debacles are another story).
There has been plenty of money around and people willing to spend it (thank you, Microsoft), but still most people are not that adventurous. Remember how poorly received Mistral was when it first opened? I remember reading some reviews that indicated that people weren't quite ready for a restaurant without a menu. Tasting menus have gotten a little more popular in Seattle in the last few years, and William did get the business going pretty well after a few years, but I think it is still a small minority that supports restaurants like that.
The cities cited above simply have more restaurants, more fancy restaurants, more daring restaurants. More mediocre and crappy restaurants too, of course. More famous chefs than Tom Douglas, and better wages, maybe even with health insurance - most Seattle restaurants are too small to offer much in the way of benefits. My friends who were in Vegas worked for Joel Robuchon. That can't happen in Seattle. Johnny Zhu, who was mentioned by bluedog went to Chicago and worked at Alinea (or am I confusing him with someone else? He went somewhere for a while). Can't get that experience in SEA. As for coming back, well the smug attitude in SF and the ridiculousness of commuting from Berkeley made it less attractive after awhile. Butthe produce is amazing, so I may go back yet again (went to college in N CA, escaping the rain and dreariness, so the area is special to me in other ways).
Most chefs/cooks want to explore and learn and use all the cool toys we read about in Food Arts and Art Culinaire, and the possibilities for that kind of experimentation have mostly been in other, larger cities so far. I think Seattle does have a lot of potential, and with all of the growth going on right now, it could be a much more interesting city in a few years.