Thursday, November 5, 2009

Always in season

A few days after my arrival in Seattle, Pam treated me to Sunday brunch at one of her favorite neighborhood haunts, A Caprice Kitchen. We enjoyed a fabulous meal, but I was enamored with more than just the charming ambiance and the inventive vittles. When I turned over the menu, there was a note from the chef stating her commitment to seasonal, local foods and a listing of each ingredient next to the farm, bakery, or dairy it came from. A woman after my own heart. I had to know more. I left a cookmark with our waitress and was just elated when chef Anne Catherine called to invite me for a chat.

Ollie and I returned on Tuesday morning as Anne was getting things set up to accept deliveries from a number of local farms. Unpretentious and welcoming, she offered me a seat and a glass of local cider and in between periodically signing for deliveries shared a bit about how she came to run this small, all-local (with the exception of perhaps the salt and breakfast tea) eatery. Her background in cooking comes from a lifelong passion for food, years of working on ships as a chef, later attending the highly-esteemed Le Cordon Bleu cooking institute. She hadn't intended to open a restaurant when she came to Seattle, she admitted, but was looking for a space with a commercial kitchen to teach cooking classes and host regular, seasonal group meals. It just kind of happened.

As we continued talking, I admitted to my fascination with the direct link between the kitchen and local producers. I had even sought out a few of the farms listed on the menu at the Ballard farmers' market after leaving the restaurant, and a few of the vendors mentioned that some of their customers had discovered the products via Anne's menus. (She seemed genuinely excited to hear this.) When I asked how she selected producers, I learned that the locavore had established relationships with growers at the farmers' markets over many months, first doing her personal shopping there and then later sourcing ingredients for the professional kitchen. Because of her fierce devotion to local ingredients -- "Why would I use blood oranges from California when apples and pears are in season right here?" -- she's developing a reputation among local producers who are now seeking her out to feature their local veggies, wines, and more. While she tries out a new supplier now and then, Anne's loyalty to the farms who supply her all year long are the backbone of her operation. As these partnerships have flourished, she strives to work with what the farms have available. Because of her steady support farmers often ask if there's anything she would like them to grow. "No," she insists, "Grow what you want and I will cook it." Much like CSA members are given a box of "whatever the farm has" each week, the Caprice Kitchen may well be the truest iteration of an RSA I have encountered.

Chef Anne Catherine may be one of the few people I have met in my life who loves food as much as I do -- she relishes opportunities to experiment with fresh ingredients, cook up a storm, and share it with people. Even on her rare days off she can be found foraging for wild mushrooms or visiting farms. (She had just gone searching for chantrelles the day before I stopped in. Oh, if only I had known I would have tried to talk her into taking me along: I'm dying to go mushrooming!) The business, even now as the restaurant is about to celebrate its one-year anniversary on Thanksgiving, is more about reconnecting people with delicious, in-season food and supporting local growers than turning a profit. (The operation does make enough to cover its costs, so I'm hopeful it will be around for a long time.) I would be lying if I didn't confess that a small part of me kind of wants to linger in Seattle a bit longer to see what will be on the menu next week....

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Ibti. I think when you're done with your trek, and after you've written a bestseller about it and been featured in the New York Times and on Oprah and on The Daily Show, you should consider turning your experiences into educational bike tours.

    Because now I really want to go to Caprice Kitchen, and not just because the chef and I have the same name! :)

    Happy Travels! Hope to see you when you come back this way.


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