Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Interview with Ethan Stowell, Chef and Owner of Ethan Stowell Restaurants

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.


Photo by Geoffrey Smith
Ethan Stowell, Chef and Owner of Ethan Stowell Restaurants

In just a few short years, Ethan Stowell of Ethan Stowell Restaurants has created quite an empire, comprised of nearly a dozen restaurants, a specialty food line and a partnership with the Seattle Mariner’s. Taking advantage of his creativity and ability to formulate and open new concepts at break-neck speed, this Jedi-Master of restaurant openings shows no sign of slowing down.

How do you describe Northwest cuisine?
Northwest cuisine is very local, natural and fresh. That's basically what I try to do: take a simple cuisine and incorporate Northwest ingredients. Everything is natural. What I think separates the Northwest from other areas is the huge abundance of natural products.  We don’t need to resort to alternatives.

Seattle is a smaller city, and we have a little bit more natural product around us. We're not like L.A., where everything has been developed. Here, you can just go out and pick chanterelles, morels and cremini mushrooms, or you can go to the beach to pick your own oysters, if you want to. Also, there are all these purveyors around who will gather these ingredients and deliver them to you.

Who are your favorite purveyors that you regularly work with? Why do they stand out? 

Forage & Found Edibles do our greens and mushrooms.
Corti Gourmet is the place to go for foie gras and chicken from eastern Washington. They're also raising beef under their own label.
Taylor Shellfish Farms is one of the country's largest shellfish companies and the only company that I know of that delivers product that same day that it's harvested from its natural environment.
Emerald City Seafood— He's a small guy who was smart enough to realize that lots of great seafood goes through Seattle. He buys high-quality products from larger companies and sells them to small businesses like ours.

When you go out for a nice meal, what are two or three of your favorite spots?

Well, you want to support friends. I love to visit Maria Hines of Tilth; Jerry Traunfeld of Poppy (my wife's favorite restaurant, even over my own!); Josh Henderson of Westward; and Shiro's Sushi.

Who are two other Northwest chefs that you admire? Why?
In addition to the above, Matt Dillon of Sitka & Spruce, for his use of Northwest produce; Heather Earnhardt of Wandering Goose; Tamara Murphy of Terra Plata; and the Tom Douglas Restaurants for a good burger. Outside of Seattle, I focus on Portland, and I like Ned Ludd, Ava Gene’s, Woodsman Tavern, Nostrana and Olympic Provisions.

In your opinion, is there an area of Northwest cooking that doesn't receive enough attention?

The thing about Northwest cuisine is that it's a cultural thing. The goal of chefs is not how to make food the coolest, just how to make it taste pretty good and use what we have around here to help people connect with their food and their neighborhood. None of the best chefs here are doing anything that's like, “We're going to blow people's minds.” I mean, we're saying that, but what we're really saying is “Come in for a good meal. We're going to be nice to you and we're going to enjoy our job. We're not going to give you anything that's going to suck, and you can feel good for supporting our business, because our business supports the neighborhood and the community." The northwest just has a good vibe to it. It's really full circle.

In terms of our restaurant model, we go in and open a restaurant in a neighborhood because we like restaurants in neighborhoods. We like people and familiar faces. You get more regulars. We go in, offer a gift certificate or two to the local school or an arts organization that we like. People see that and they see that our restaurant is doing something good. That's how the whole thing works.

In Seattle, your dining dollars go pretty far. Not just the value in the restaurant but for the community. It's a good, positive vibe. There are some people in there—newcomers—who haven't really bought in to this and who think they're super cool. But that's not it. People may think we're super cool, but we're not. We're just doing our work and making sure that our customer's leave happy. That's why I think Northwest cuisine is more than just describing what's on the plate.

Looking toward the future, what about Northwest cuisine most excites you? What are you most excited to do in the kitchen?

What's most exciting to me is that fact that we're just getting so many customers—specifically in Seattle—who are really enjoying the lifestyle of eating out often. Seattle has a positive financial outlook for the future, and that makes our job easier. We're looking forward to getting to know more people and seeing more people meet one another. I think I'm speaking of Seattle in particular, because I don't think Portland has the same economic infrastructure, but in Seattle, a lot of people are going out to eat a lot. They're getting a good value for their dollar. In terms of the most sustainable aspect, this has led to more restaurants being more casual and people coming in and expecting to be treated with respect. Accordingly, people treat the restaurant and its staff with respect, and everyone enjoys a good meal for a good value.

Ethan Stowell Restaurants
ethanstowellrestaurants.com

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