Chester Gerl.jpg
Chester Gerl was no stranger to the Pike Place Market restaurant scene when he landed the job of Executive Chef at Matt's in the Market

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Grillaxin' with Chester Gerl, Part One

Chester Gerl.jpg
Chester Gerl was no stranger to the Pike Place Market restaurant scene when he landed the job of Executive Chef at Matt's in the Market. In fact it all started with what he calls a "market friendship."

In 2001, Gerl was working as the Chef at Place Pigalle when he met Matt's founder and namesake Matt Janke and his friend, Dan Bugge, who is now the restaurant's owner. Relationships developed, and nine years later, Gerl heads up a kitchen in an ideal location.

"My location is by far the best," says Gerl. "Not only do we have the market, but we have an open kitchen where we can see the weather outside. That's important to me. I don't like being locked away in some back room."

What were your culinary inspirations?

My grandfather was a baker for 30 years, so my grandparents were always gardening and baking. My grandfather made a fruitcake every year, which he was making up until his 90th birthday, and it got progressively worse as he got older.

Will you be making his fruitcake this year for Christmas?

Ha, no. But I can get you the recipe if you like.

Is there an ingredient or dish that you're particularly into these days? If so, what?

Pork every way. We get a whole pig every week and we need to find a way to use every part of it.

What do you think this says about your cooking style/interests?

I love the concept of whole animals and using local products as much as possible.

Where do you get your pigs from?

Right now they're coming from a guy named Jim Foster in Chehalis. He raises them and makes his own feed. It's a cool program that was introduced to us by Charlie from Zoe's Meats. I think there are about five of us in town who are getting pigs each week. We use everything -- ribs for stocks, fresh hams, shoulders, we make guanciale and head cheese, use the trotters.

There's a growing appreciation for using all parts of the animal. Are Matt's customers receptive to all the parts?

Yes. We've found that those dishes sell well with night time diners during the week; those people seem to seek that stuff out. But we're also using that same pig for barbecue sandwiches for lunch, when none of our customers are asking "Is this organic or naturally rasied pork?"

How many dishes do you get from one pig?

Let's see. All back fat, fat, and belly parts -- the trim -- are turned into grind for our housemade chorizo, which goes with our clams. We make pulled pork from fresh ham, pork shoulder confit goes with our tortellini at night, then I make pork belly pate, head cheese, and cured meat for meat and cheese plates. The loin we'll use for a special one night. We get up to ten dishes from one pig, depending on weight, which is usually between 130 to 180 pounds. But I'd say around 150 people get fed from that one pig.

You're making a pizza. What's on it?

Housemade chorizo, sweet onion jam, quezo quotija, fresh herbs

You're making an omelet. What's in it?

Dungeness crab, terragon, gruyere

Favorite Seattle restaurant (besides your own)?

El Quetzal on Beacon Hill. That's the place I'll seek out on my days off for lunch. They're pollo machin quesadilla is amazing. But the best meals I've had in Seattle have been at The Harvest Vine and Lark.

So, I notice that you seem to have a real fondness for Spanish and Mexican cuisine. How did that develop?

Absolutely. It came mostly through travel and my experience with Latin workers in the restaurants. I traveled in Spain for two weeks a year and a half ago, and spent over a month in Oaxaca. I also grew up in Southern California, so I've definitely been influenced by all that stuff.

Spain is my favorite country that I've ever traveled in. Mexico is amazing too, and it's closer and easier to get to. Mexican culture is one of the best: it's so rich, and there's an incredible appreciation of food. I'm definitely drawn to those kinds of cultures.

There's also a huge Spanish influence on Mexican cuisine.

Yes, definitely. Mexican cuisine is one of the first true fusion foods. They found tandoor ovens in Oaxaca, so trade was going both ways, east and west. You'll find Mediterranean flat breads on the eastern coast of Mexico, as well as olives in dishes. I love that crossover.

Check back tomorrow for more Gerl, including his thoughts on green roofs and green walls (did you know there was such a thing?), and his Christmas dinner plans.

 
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