Zack Chambers calls himself a cook, not a chef. He is currently in his last week at Olivar, a tiny Spanish restaurant on Capitol Hill. Very shortly, he is making the transition to Tavolata, Ethan Stowell's Italian restaurant in Belltown. He talks about his experience at the CIA (Cooking Institute of America) and what going there has meant for his career. This is the first of a three-part interview that will explore Chambers' background and his taste, as well as where he's headed. Part three will conclude with a recipe.
photo by Adriana Grant
Chambers: I am a cook in Seattle. I'm putting myself into it wholeheartedly, not just using it as a job. I am trying to get into places that will expand my skill set on what I know, and obviously, what I don't know. Ultimately, for me, right now, I am a cook, I am not going to dance around that. Of course I want to be more, but it is what it is. I am more vested right now at Olivar, but my mind is going downtown to Tavolata.
I've been cooking since I was 18 years old, so pushing past ten years now. I just kind of did it as a job. The first job I ever wanted was to be in a kitchen. I didn't care what it was. I set my sights on being a dishwasher. I wanted to be involved with food some way. I did kitchens as a job, it was income, it was fun. The people that you meet in these places are just amazingly eclectic, awesome people. But I didn't really take it seriously until I moved down to Seattle. I worked at The Deluxe, I worked at these oddball places, and I ended up in Crave one day and I was like, these people actually care about food. I started pouring myself into it: confit, proper knife cuts, braises. And I thought, this is fantastic. I decided about two years later that I really wanted to get well-rounded and applied for the CIA and got enrolled. That was about three, four years ago now. It was a really great experience. It's a fantastic institution. It's really good for a young cook. For someone like myself with a decent amount of experience, there were moments when I thought, 'What am I doing here, why am I spending my money on this?' But that place opened so many doors for me. It introduced me to so many people. It allowed me to work in New York City. It allowed me to work in Rome. It gave my resume a really nice full picture to it. It was a great experience when all was said and done. I excelled there, my instructors were awesome, I learned a ton, and I have absolutely no regrets.
What are your culinary inspirations?
Honest, true, good food. My inspiration day-to-day comes in browsing and seeing what's out there, seeing what's the brightest freshest, most beautiful thing. And that could be anything from a piece of fish to peas or fava beans right now. I like straightforward delicious homespun rustic unctuous food.
Is there an ingredient or dish that you're particularly into these days?
I love fresh pastas and risottos. Those are my fallback. When I am making them I am constantly paying attention to the look and the feel of it, obviously tasting the whole way through. Those are my babies.
Check back tomorrow for more of our conversation with Chambers, including his advice on where to go for super-cheap eats, and where to go for a rich, pricey meal in Seattle.