Interview with William Preisch and Joel Stocks, Executive Chefs of Holdfast Dining
The following interview was made possible by the NW Tastemaker, a culinary travel publication forthcoming from Northwest Travel Magazine. To read more interviews with the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest, visit Northwest Travel Magazine and TableTalkNorthwest.com.
William Preisch and Joel Stocks, Executive Chefs of Holdfast Dining
William Preisch and Joel Stocks, Executive Chefs of Holdfast Dining
Chef William Preisch burst onto the Portland culinary scene in 2013, with his bimonthly pop-up, Holdfast Dining. The concept was simple yet revolutionary: Serve aggressively innovative, fine-dining dishes inspired by foraged ingredients in a laid-back atmosphere. Laid-back as in, the dining room only had 10 seats, and Chef Preisch will not only your executive chef, but your waiter.
Chef Preisch teamed up with long-time friend Chef Joel Stocks in 2014, and together, they transformed Holdfast from a pop-up into a brick-and-mortar, with a new location inside of the Fausse Piste urban winery. Together, chefs Preisch and Stocks have experience cooking in some of the world's top restaurants, including Alinea, Dill, The French Laundry, The Herbfarm, Manresa, Mirazur, Relae, Ubuntu, and The Willow's Inn.
1. How do you describe Northwest cuisine?
There is a stereotype of “Northwest Cuisine” that has been present for a long time that is fairly out of date. What we are referring to is putting wild berries on a piece of line-caught chinook, and sautéing some foraged mushrooms. Those are all ingredients that have been labeled as defining Northwest cuisine for a long time, but instead we think “Northwest Cuisine” is more of an ideology, along the lines of California cuisine. Basically you take very seriously where you are sourcing everything from; you have connections at the farmer's markets; and you know who is raising your cattle and poultry. From there, you treat all of your great products caringly, and try not to get in the way of them. You don't over-manipulate, or throw a bunch of strong flavors at them. Instead you just cook them simply, almost “homey”, and let the ingredients speak for themselves. That's really the core aspect of Northwest cuisine.
2. Who are six of your favorite purveyors that you regularly work with? Why do they stand out?
Starting with farmers, three that we love working with are Groundwork Organics, Viridian Farms, and Square Peg Farms. Groundworks has always been great for their huge variety of produce throughout the year. They also often have things ready just a week or two before everyone else so you get a slight edge on new seasonal produce. Leslie and Manuel from Viridian Farms hands down have some of the most interesting vegetables to choose from. They are basically the reason why every single booth at the farmers market has padron peppers when they are in season now. Some of the Spanish influenced things that they grow you just can't find anywhere else. Chris and Amy from Square Peg are some of the nicest farmers at the market. Running into them at the market is always fun and their produce is always great to work with.
For our specialty products like high quality fish, mushrooms, and truffles we use Foods In Season a lot. Based out of Camas Washington, they started out just as a mushroom company but now have all sorts of high quality things to choose from.
We use honey a ton. It's actually featured on two of the only dishes we repeat on our menu frequently; the cornbread madeleine, and our frozen yogurt and honey. Nobody takes honey as seriously as Ryan and Damian from Bee Local, and the fact that they are good friends makes it a pretty easy decision for us to use their honey as much as we can. Along those same lines, Ben from Jacobsen Sea Salt is the only guy you can get locally harvested sea salt from, so we support him as often as possible. He started out of Kitchencru which is where we started doing Holdfast, so it feels great being able to keep it all in the family.
3. When you go out for a nice meal, what are two or three of your favorite spots?
First and foremost, Tanuki is our favorite spot in town. You have to go there knowing that you are going to a bar, to eat really good food, but also to drink a lot and have a good time. If we weren't usually serving dinners on the nights they are open, we would be there a whole lot more frequently. Another spot that we love but have a hard time getting to because of our hours is Langbaan. Earl is probably the most humble chef in town, and we also both live super close. A few months ago they did a dinner on Monday, so we were able to get in, which was great.
4. Who are two other Northwest chefs that you admire?
We go a long way back with Eduardo Jordan from Bar Sajor in Seattle, but he's also someone we have the highest respect for in general. He's worked at powerhouse restaurants all throughout the country and could go wherever he wants. To have someone like that land in the Northwest is great for everyone that lives here. He is a great example of someone who embraces the Northwest cuisine ideology we explained before.
Sunny Jin from Jory out at the Alison Inn is another guy who has the credentials to be at any restaurant in the country, or the world for that matter. You don't hear a lot about Jory since it's not right here in Portland, but if you are ever out in wine country, it is definitely worth a stop. Being located out in the valley, among the farmers, he's been able to build a network, so he's working with amazing stuff, some of it better than what we can even get in the city.
5. In your opinion, is there an area of Northwest cooking that doesn't receive enough attention?
We do a lot of coastal foraging, and that is something not a lot of people know about. Afar Magazine did a pretty big piece following us around as we went out to the coast and harvested, but aside from that, you don't really hear it talked about a ton. Along those same lines, but in a more negative light, you don't really hear about all of the awesome seafood along our coastlines that we don't actually ever get to use. It's nearly impossible to source gooseneck barnacles in town, but when we are out on trips for ourselves, we are able to feast on them. Eating at a restaurant in Spain, there were gooseneck barnacles on the menu from the Oregon coast. I was shocked! I was like, “why do they get to have them half a world away when I can't get them living two hours away?!” There are other things like wolf eel, and varieties of fish that aren't cod, halibut, or salmon, that are difficult to source because the fisherman just don't have a big enough market here to make it worth their while. They choose to go with the fish that are in the most demand, and that absolutely makes sense. But we aren't interested in the normal, we want the weird stuff.
6. Looking toward the future, what about Northwest cuisine most excites you?
Our answer to the previous question kind of bleeds into this one. We would love to have the opportunity to utilize more of the unusual products you can find along our coastlines. It's really as simple as making that connection with a fisherman and saying “we want your by-catch”. That would be really exciting, to have a fish delivery come in the door and not even be able to identify what it is at first. But that's because we are kind of weird ourselves. On a more normal level, what we are most excited to do is just get in to our new kitchen and start cooking. We made a big move this winter to a new space and can't wait to start hosting dinners again.