Won Best New Chef at: Willows Inn, Lummi Island, WA
Born: 1986; Olympia, WA.
Education: Scottsdale Culinary; Scottsdale, AZ.
How he got into cooking: “When I was still in high school, my parents stayed at The Phoenician hotel in Scottsdale. I didn’t get to go, but they brought back a video of their stay. I was so impressed, I called the chef and asked for a job. He told me to come down when I finished school. So six months later, I just showed up. He remembered me, and I started the next day.”
Latest obsession: The smokehouse at Willows Inn. “It’s right off the kitchen, in the parking lot. We smoke fish in it every day. People from the dining room can see chefs run out to the smokehouse, grab fish and then a few minutes later, it’s on the plate in front of them. We smoke salmon, black cod, steelhead and also venison and pork. For breakfast, we smoke bacon and pancetta, too.”
Favorite tool: A pocket knife. “I’ve always got it. I use it for foraging, to clip herbs, to open boxes, tighten a screw. And I can use it to protect myself—Lummi Island is dangerous, ha ha!”
Memorable meal: L’Arpège, Paris. “I ate there recently. I had slices of truffles the size of softballs, including the scallop millefeuille—the signature dish. The truffles were so good; you don’t see them like that in the US. I’d been wanting to eat there for 10 years.”
Cheap eat: Fried calamari. “There’s no place to get it on Lummi Island, but if I see it somewhere where it might be good, I order it. It needs to be crispy, and it needs to be fresh: fresh squid, freshly fried.”
After-hours hangout: Beach Store Café, Lummi Island. “It’s the only hangout on Lummi. It’s a restaurant with a bar that stays open until midnight. It has Manny’s, a pale ale that’s made in Seattle that is only sold in kegs, not bottles. It has a really good salmon burger, too.”
Fantasy splurge: El Bulli. “I never got to eat there. I’d go back in time and eat there the last day they were open. I don’t think they held anything back.”
Favorite cookbooks: The Herb Farm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld and Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli.
Favorite app: Camera. “I take pictures of food and ingredients all the time.”
Fantasy next restaurant: “I would love to have a place that served just preserved goods, canned goods, things that you make in-house, like pickles and cured meats.”
What he’d be if he weren’t a chef: “I’d love to do something with mushrooms. I’d go to school and learn about mycology.”
Favorite thing about Lummi Island: “It’s nearly uninhabited, it’s majestic and unspoiled, it’s the quintessential Northwest. There are mountains that come out of the water, bald eagles, orca whales, wild salmon. It’s peaceful. You don’t go pick up the dry cleaning on your way to work. Restaurants can be so hectic, but not here.”
Favorite website: “Fat of the Land is a foraging blog based out of Seattle. The writer, Langdon Cook, might be foraging for something that I haven’t noticed yet.”
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.