Monday, August 24, 2015

Interview with Stephanie Kimmel, Executive Chef of Marché

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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.

Stephanie Kimmel, Executive Chef of Marché and Owner of Marché Provisions, Marché Museum Cafe, and Route 5 NW Wine Bar


A pioneer of seasonal, sustainable, and local cuisine in the Pacific Northwest, Chef Stephanie Kimmel opened her first restaurant, Excelsior Café, in Eugene, Oregon, in 1972. With just nine tables, it blended Eugene's free-wheelin' philosophy with just a touch of class, thanks to Chef Kimmel's knowledge of French cooking techniques. But it was Chef Kimmel's simple obsession with exceptionally delicious things that really made the difference, and Excelsior Café is credited for a number of Oregon firsts: It was the first Oregon restaurant to serve Oregon-made wines; bake traditional French baguettes; and serve espresso from a bona fide espresso machine.

In 1998, Chef Kimmel opened Marché, Eugene's preeminent fine-dining restaurant. Her kitchen ethos remains the same: Prepare seasonal dishes with a nod toward classic, French cuisine, and even if no two nights' menus are the same, make sure that all of the dishes come bearing exceptional flavors. In addition to Marché, Chef Kimmel owns Marché Provisions, Marché Museum Cafe, and Route 5 NW Wine Bar.

1. How do you describe Northwest cuisine?

Today's Northwest cuisine is ingredient-driven and sensitive to seasonal ebb and flow, with a simplicity and sense of place made possible by the growing abundance of super-local ingredients from the ocean, forests, farms, ranches, orchards, dairies and vineyards of our region. Historically, there has always been a pride in our amazing natural resources. I'm thinking of the chowder houses and crab shacks on the coast; berry festivals and seasonal truck farms in the Willamette Valley; the orchard fruit of southern Oregon and eastern Washington; and the melons, cattle and grains east of the Cascades. Ironically though, past restaurants tended to import their ingredients from all over, regardless of season, and the techniques used in the kitchen were either "fancy" and continental, or ultra casual diner-style. There really wasn't an identifiable Northwest cuisine. Fortunately, all that has changed over the last thirty-to-forty years—at first slowly, then picking up speed in the last decade or two—bringing us to the explosion of awareness of our local bounty that we see today.

2. Who are six of your favorite purveyors that you regularly work with?   

 Groundwork Organics, for their commitment to providing a year-round supply of exquisite and carefully harvested vegetables, including many heirloom varieties, both to the back door of the restaurant and regional farmer's markets.

Long's Meat Market is a real old-fashioned butcher shop, brokering a full range of sustainably raised meat and poultry from the region, including Knee Deep Farm, Tails & Trotters, Laughing Stock Farm, and Anderson Ranch.

Mycological Natural Products, for foraged truffles and wild mushrooms, both fresh and dried.

Our wonderful local fishermen from Brandywine Fisheries, who bring us black cod and Dungeness crab in the winter, and albacore, halibut and salmon from spring to late fall.

Juniper Grove Farm (Redmond), Ancient Heritage Creamery (Madras and newly in Portland), and Rogue Creamery (Central Point) are amazing producers of authentic, traditional cheeses with gorgeous texture and flavor.

Jacobsen Salt Company— I'm just excited that Ben Jacobsen had the vision to launch this project harvesting salt from the cold waters of the Pacific and drying it naturally. He's producing a fabulous finishing sal, on a par with the great salts of the world. I also admire the related products they are coming up with, from a huge variety of salts flavored with iconic Oregon ingredients (pinot noir, Stumptown coffee, white truffle) to caramels and licorice.

Oregon Olive Mill— It's so fun to see this classically Mediterranean ingredient flourishing in Oregon! We've loved the opportunity to serve it to our guests in Route 5 and to have it on the shelves in Provisions.    

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

In Eugene, our go-to is Thai food at Sabai or Mexican street-food at Plaza Latina. In Ashland, I always enjoy Amuse, as well as New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro in nearby Talent (they have an outstanding wine list). In Portland, some of my favorites are Castagna, Ava Gene's, Bar Avignon and Little Bird.

4. Who are two other Northwest chefs that you admire? Why?

I love Cathy Whims of Nostrana in Portland, for her deep knowledge of the authentic flavors and techniques of Italy. I also greatly admire John Sundstrom of Lark in Seattle for his connection to the resources of that sub-region and the care that goes into the execution of the plates at his restaurant. They share an entreprenurial spirit that lends vitality and longevity to their expanding enterprises.

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

I think there is a huge opportunity to explore the areas outside of over-exposed Portland and Seattle—to look at the unique ingredients, artisan producers, wineries and chefs that are flourishing there. There is so much to be learned, to be tasted and to be explored in every corner of this region: a truly northwest terroir.

6. Looking toward the future, what are you most excited to do in the kitchen?     

As consumers demand access to and want to support more local food, I see the use of Northwest products spreading from the restaurants that identify specifically as farm-to-table to casual spots, such as ethnic restaurants and direct-to-consumer groceries and markets. At Marché, we will remain focused on our core mission of celebrating local ingredients at their peak in the market. We will always be on the lookout for talented new farmers and producers. And we will make sure we continue to train and mentor our staff so that our passion and enthusiasm is carried on into the future.

Marché
296 East Fifth Avenue
Eugene, Oregon 97401
www.marcherestaurant.com

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