John Howie’s lack of buzz

A thought has been bouncing around my head since a book signing at John Howie’s Sport Restaurant in lower Queen Anne; why is it that this chef, who has four very high-profile restaurants in the Seattle area, have absolutely no buzz?

I will admit, it’s been years since I’ve been to any of John Howie‘s restaurants, so I can’t fairly comment on the food or experience. But something must be working. He has four restaurants; SeaStar in Bellevue, SeaStar Seattle, Sport Restaurant in lower Queen Anne, and the recently opened John Howie Steak at the Bravern in Bellevue. And these aren’t little neighborhood bistros. These are massive 20,000 square foot dining palaces, so he obviously has a formula that works. But with the opening of John Howie Steak, I wouldn’t have been tipped off to it, if it weren’t for the TV commercials. Commercials for local restaurants! Weird, but effective; it has me talking.

For me though, Chef Howie’s newly opened place still didn’t resonate with anticipation. Maybe it has something to do with a big part of fooders being in Seattle while he carved his niche in Bellevue, but from my perch, he doesn’t resonate to the local food community in the way that Tom Douglas, Ethan Stowell, Matt Dillon, or Tamara Murphy all have. When those folks open new places, the information is absorbed and shared ad nauseum. They become a part of conversation.

But this is not the case with any of Chef Howie’s spots. I think, if anything, it cuts to the differences between Seattle and Bellevue. The food culture (and culture in general) is different between Seattle and the Eastside. The divide that Lake Washington creates, drives a stake in similarities between the two areas. In fact, most Seattleites often think that the Eastside is a whole other state. Maybe this has something to do with why I know nothing about John Howie or any of his places. If I lived in Bellevue, would I follow his restaurants like I do Tom Douglas? I don’t know.

But lots of people have said really good things about his restaurants, that they are indeed some of the finest on the Eastside, that they’ve won handfuls of awards; so maybe I should visit them again, sometime soon. However, that would require me to cross that bridge. Which for most Seattleites is often a trek not taken.

Cool food book: Phaidon’s Coco

In the world of cooking, I’m always amazed at the ability of the chef. The culinary artists that can take ingredients, technique, and personal style to create something amazing and delicious. Their ability to elevate the food they work with is a big reason why I love food so much. We live in a chef culture where television networks create stars out of these folks; they become a part of pop culture, not just food culture. In some cases this is a good thing. Food fans will travel far and wide to experience their cooking. They’ll devour their food and their cookbooks. All of this I think is very cool. That is why I am completely taken with this food book; Coco. If you love food and chef culture, you will too.

The premise of the book is this; take 10 of the world’s true ‘masters’ in food, and have them pick 100 chefs that are emerging chefs worldwide. Coco: 10 World-Leading Maters choose 100 Contemporary Chefs comes to us from the folks at Phaidon. You may know them from their cookbooks like Silver Spoon, Pork & Sons, or 1080 Recipes, but their entire product line is excellent. I first discovered Coco on a recent trip to New York and stumbled upon Phaidon’s store in SoHo. This day happened to be their grand opening and much impulse shopping commenced. Coco was there and when I leafed through it, I instantly fell in love with the premise.

Here is a rundown of the 10 masters featured in the book:

  • Ferran Adria
  • Mario Batali
  • Shannon Bennett
  • Alain Ducasse
  • Fergus Henderson
  • Yoshihiro Murata
  • Gordon Ramsey
  • René Redzepi
  • Alice Waters
  • Jacky Yu

The format of Coco is to spend some time with each of the 100 selected chefs. There is a brief bio, some recipes, and one of the masters will espouse on their choice. What’s interesting is to find the theme that binds the choices of the masters. I love learning about food and the people that make it, so I enjoyed the write-ups. For instance, you could delve into what Mario Batali values; a sense of niches, an appreciation of history, and high standards.

What I like about Coco is that you can pick it up to leaf through a few pages at your leisure. It’s a weighty book that clocks in at over 400 pages (!), but flip through it, open it up randomly and read about a chef you’ve never heard of before. It also has the ability to be a good resource; traveling to the Bay Area? There are about five chefs doing their thing there. New Orleans? Always a great eating city and they have two representatives. Locally, Seattle is proudly represented by Kevin Davis and his Steelhead Diner. I’m a fan of the place and so is Chef Batali. You’ll find all sorts of interesting chefs and restaurants around the world, so when globetrotting strikes your palate will be ready.

One of the interesting tweaks about food lovers is that we acquire and accrue cookbooks voraciously. Chances are we never ‘read’ the entire thing. Most of the time they are used to impress our fellow food friends. But they always serve to inspire us. They give us ideas. Point us in a direction we may not have considered. And Coco is all of these things.

The many facets of Thierry Rautureau

Over the past few months, we’ve attended some cool new events hosted by one of Seattle’s most distinguished chefs. Among these events, Thierry Rautureau opened the doors of Rover’s to host cooking classes and a series of very cool local chefs’ events. What I love about this is that Thierry isn’t resting on his laurels, instead he is finding new ways to reach his legions of local fans and develop ones along the way. Rover’s is one of the very best restaurants in Seattle, this is due to Thierry’s vision and execution, and the excellence of his team. Throughout these new endeavors, The Chef in the Hat is extending his brand to more people and deepening the Rover’s experience.

First off, Thierry Rautureau is an unbelievably fun and amicable guy. If you’ve ever seen his TV appearances or caught the radio show you know. He owns the room, but he is super-friendly and his demeanor draws you in. This makes for an event type atmosphere at any junction. I do love how friendly he is, that he’ll go out of his way to small talk and converse with any of his guests or with new people he meets. Even doling out advice when appropriate. Basically, the dude is great.

But as we step into a new economy it’s interesting to see how restaurants adapt and reinvent themselves. For Thierry, he is opening up the doors to Rover’s. Among his events, he hosts Culinary & Wine Classes at Rover’s, partners with local chefs at Chefs Table events, and he creates new reasons for folks to go to Rover’s. The eaters of Seattle are better for it.

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