Seattle chef Jason Stratton shares how he went from studying avant-garde poetry in Spain to cooking incredible Piedmontese dishes.
Yeah, so I'm a total, I think that, I'm kind of a dork. [LAUGH] I'm kind of a bookworm. [MUSIC] I think people, when they talk about my food, bring up the austerity of it sometimes. Crumbs. You know a lot of what writing upon, a lot of what creating a dish is is about this idea of editing. You may love this line and you just have to realize that maybe it's not the place for this sentence or this phrase or this ingredient. I really think about what's essential. [MUSIC] I thought I was gonna be a poet, whatever that means. And I ended up being a chef instead. The two things aren't as dissimilar as you might think. [MUSIC] I am Jason Stratton, I'm the chef and partner at Spiasse here in Seattle. We are known for Piemontese cuisine, so Northwestern Italy. Famous for our [UNKNOWN]. We also have Artusi, which is our companion restaurant next door. It's a little more casual. We draw influence from all over italy. More of a cocktail focus. You look at [UNKNOWN] cuisine and I think it was a natural fit for me because it tends to be very For example the [INAUDIBLE] of butter and sage. People have said to me it's the dish that I want to eat before I die. [LAUGH] To me I'm like oh, thank you, but it's also crazy because in essence its four ingredients it's flour, egg yolks, butter and sage. As simple as that dish is, There are so many things that could go wrong with it. Is it raining outside, is it humid, how is the pasta dough going to change depending on what's going on. There's kind of a nakedness about the dish that you have to be even more aware of what you put into it. [MUSIC] I grew up in North Seattle on Aurora Avenue in a trailer park. [MUSIC] It was rough. The idea of hunger was definitely there. [MUSIC] We might eat beans and rice for three days out of the week, four days out of the week, but it was a good pot of beans and rice. And my mom, you could see that Cooking for her family was really important. And that was something that we all felt. And I think that that in a big way translated into me wanting to feed other people. My art teacher in high school actually had a friend who had a restaurant. Which was Luger Monde. And we was looking for a dishwasher. And, you know, as a 16 year old, going into work and seeing chanterelles and sweet breads and venison and all those foods that I had never been exposed to. And within the first couple of weeks he had me butchering rabbits and ducks. And it was kind of one of those points in your life when you feel like, in retrospect, that your life changes. [MUSIC] So, I went to the Evergreen State College in Olympia. Studied poetry, art history, cultural history, literature. Was able to do some pretty intensive research projects. Wrote a book of avant garde Poetry in Spain and then translated it. Would drive up on the weekends from Olympia so it's about an hour drive to come up here to work at [UNKNOWN] in all my free time from studying. I was all set to go to grad school. Had the opportunity to work with Holly Smith over at Cafe Wanita, which is really where I got the Italian bug. Just started thinking about missing the physicality of being in the kitchen, of being on my feet. I love working in a team. I love the social aspect of what a restaurant is. I started thinking about it and I'm like, it would be like leaving my family. If I get a degree in poetry or writing or whatever I'm going to be teaching 101 English for the rest of my life to people, and do I really care that much about showing people how to write a thesis statement? I don't know. It felt like a very natural choice to decline some of the acceptance letters that I had been Been getting. After I left Cafe Juanita, opened Spinase with a friend of mine, just kind of as a consultant, was helping him just sort of as a sous chef, wrote the wine list, did a little bit of everything here. When I heard that he was looking to move on, I came back to Spinase to take over as chef. [MUSIC] The foundation for my food education was figuring out why food came to be the way that it was. [MUSIC] Apicius is a reference point that I use. Apicius was an ancient Roman philosopher who Is credited for creating a series of ancient Roman recipes. One of the things that pops up a lot is the sauce and it's just called salsa ithicius. So it's pine nuts, lovage, honey, garum, which is an ancient Roman fish sauce which was very important, pepper. When I first read it, I was like, this sounds just bonkers. You know, I really wonder what this will taste like. And so we made it. You know, we just dress a little shaved, raw mushrooms. Right now, we're doing some avocado with it. That salsa piques was sort of a aha moment for me. It was such a interesting link to the history of Italian cuisine. You know It's centuries ago, but you taste it and it tastes very modern. [MUSIC] Cooking for people is a very intimate thing. And you can learn a lot about somebody by what do you eat? That's one of my favorite interview questions, is what do you make for yourself at home? What would you cook for somebody that you love? I always think simple. I appreciate the honesty of a plate of food being simply a plate of food. [BLANK_AUDIO] Teaching people to appreciate the beauty of a range of browns as opposed to thinking about Oh my God, I need color on this plate, what am I going to do, you know, presentation needs to be pumped up. A plate of pasta is always going to be a plate of pasta, you know, vegetables when they cook for a long time and develop all these delicious rich flavors are going to be army green [LAUGH] and I think there is beauty in what that is. [MUSIC]