Interview with Kristin Johnson, Chef and Owner of Martilla's Kitchen Catering
--> 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.
Kristin Johnson, Chef and Owner of Martilla's Kitchen Catering
Kristin Johnson, Chef and Owner of Martilla's Kitchen Catering
Based in Prosser, Washington, in the Yakima Valley, Kristin Johnson is a chef poised to maker her mark on Northwest cuisine. Born in Alaska, Chef Johnson developed a love of fresh seafood and local produce, and her family's homemade foods, such as her grandmother's vanilla ice cream, also define her dishes. To make her version of roasted chicken, she slathers the bird with roasted garlic and adds a secret rub; when it appears on the plate, the garlic has caramelized and the rich spices seem to embody the dusty style of Eastern Washington.
Chef Johnson attended Western Oregon University, where she worked at L’Attitude Point One, and through 2014, she headed the kitchen at MOJAVE at Desert Wind Winery. Currently, she offers catering services to the Prosser wine region through her business, Martilla's Kitchen.
1. How do you describe Northwest cuisine?
Northwest Cuisine is inspirational and abundant. The Northwest cuisine I enjoy most comes from local farmers and purveyors that offer a refreshing take on traditional French or American cuisine due to what grows in this area. The fare is created organically by simply looking at the ingredients that thrive in the Northwest. And that is how I learned to cook. My family used what we already had growing in the garden combined with what we had in the pantry; and I was better for it. It taught me how to cook, eat and enjoy the food and experience of dining from a young age.
2. Who are six of your favorite purveyors that you regularly work with? Why do they stand out? (feel free to mention your epic spot prawn sourcing!)
1: Bug Girl’s Garden. Prosser, WA. Stacey Gingras is an upbeat owner/farmer with an attention to detail in organic farming and unique heirloom produce that has motivated many of my menus. Her ability to find and produce the greatest ingredients (more Chiles and Tomatoes than you can even fathom) is what makes her farm my favorite to source and visit.
2: Chukar Cherries. Prosser, WA. I love the variety of cherries and products they offer. I grew up in Alaska, and while on a family vacation to Seattle, I remember visiting Chukar Cherries at the Pike Place Market and falling in love. When I moved to Prosser, and had the opportunity to work with them directly and create dinners based around their goods, it was like achieving an accidental goal. I love going into their gift shop to simply browse, snack and brainstorm.
3: JandM Gourmet. Selah, WA. Amazing WA grown mushrooms. A small time mushroom producer. They have a wide variety of Oyster Mushrooms that I find to be elegant and delicate yet full of flavor. The mild pink oysters (yes PINK!) have an amazing nutty quality that add the perfect touch to a salmon dish or cream sauce.
4: SALINITY. Grants Pass, OR. Jody and Laine, owner/operators are a delight to work with. They have a passion for flavor and salt! Their Coconut Lime is one of my absolute favorite items they offer. It inspired many Southwest dishes including Coconut-Lime Seared Scallops and Coconut-Lime Encrusted Salmon. Their fun flavor profiles are a great accompaniment to any dish. They are perfect to “spice up” any dish, sweet or savory.
5: Heavenly Hills Harvest. Sunnyside, WA. Owner/Farmer Merritt Mitchell takes an organic approach to everything agricultural. Her almost free form style farming allows the tastiest produce to thrive by attracting good bugs to flourish and protect the plants. Her farm is completely sustainable and a joy to visit. You can snack while taking a leisurely tour through the rows.
6: Father Michael’s Coffee Roastery. Goldendale, WA. Some of the tastiest coffee I’ve ever had! Roasted to perfection and made with love. Working with Father Michael directly, I was able to create dishes around their specialty roasts that were robust and earthy. His knack for the perfectly toasted coffee bean is impeccable. For anyone driving through Goldendale you can also stop by their bakery…you can’t go wrong with any of their pastries! Of course, to be enjoyed with coffee.
3. When you go out for a nice meal, what are two or three of your favorite spots?
When I’m in Prosser, WA – Wine O’ Clock – great wood fired flatbread pizzas. The Bacon + Pear is my favorite! Plus they produce their own wines under the Bunnell Family Cellars label. And their herb garden is my favorite place to sit on a Sunday afternoon in Springtime.
Richland, WA – Fiction at J. Bookwalter Winery– excellent Wagyu Ribeye. It melts in your mouth, and the Truffle Compound Butter is to-die-for. Don’t forget to start your meal with the Bacon Wrapped Dates…perfect for sharing and getting your appetite really going.
Yakima, WA – Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and Ice House – Cool atmosphere. Great local food/wine/beer/spirits choices. I thoroughly enjoyed their Spring Rolls with Mango!
4. Who are two other Northwest chefs that you admire? Why?
Ann Batson - Corvallis, OR –When I was first getting my start, Ann taught me the skills I needed to appreciate and understand wine at young age; with very little experience she gave me an opportunity. As a former caterer, turned wine manager she was able to demonstrate the importance of food and wine pairings. Recently she has reinvented her culinary self and opened up shop downtown Corvallis! Ann’s Soup Box – It’s great for a quick/to-g0 style dining. Unique flavor combos made from local, fresh produce.
Chef Janette Starley Conz/Sinclair – Dallas, OR – Another amazing woman who inspired and shaped my culinary style. Janette allowed me to work another job and go to school full time when I was trying to get my foot in the culinary door down in Oregon. She owned restaurant L’attitude Point One. The kitchen was open, so diners could watch us work, which I felt like opened the experience up for those who came. Chef Sinclair taught me the importance of sourcing local, fresh produce. We had mushroom and truffle foragers that came by weekly with chanterelles that could inspire a cookbook! It was a L’attitude that I realized the bounty of the Northwest and how important it is to cook with local food.
5. In your opinion, is there an area of Northwest cooking that doesn't receive enough attention?
I would be ecstatic to see the Yakima Valley, WA get a little bit more attention. People focus on Walla Walla when they think about dining on this (East) side of the mountains. And they should, Walla Walla is a fantastic place to go. However, there are Chef/Family/Winery owned restaurants popping up all over the Yakima and they deserve to be recognized. Prosser has a couple of great eateries, as well as Richland, Sunnyside and Yakima. Many farms and local producers have facilities in the Valley, and it’s due to the abundance of sun and great soils. Which makes it ideal for cuisine here. The closer to the source the better. And of course I might be a little partial…
6. Looking toward the future, what are you most excited to do in the kitchen?
The most exciting thing about Northwest cuisine is how organic it is to create recipes. I can go to a winter farmers market and still gather fresh produce, winter squash and hearty greens that motivate my next meal. I am looking forward to a great year creating unique recipes by partnering with local producers. I can’t wait to expose my style of cooking and dining with everyone. Food is meant to be enjoyed and shared with family and friends or whilst making new ones. Civilization begins at every table.