Zephyr Paquette is the chef the Elliott Bay Café, Tamara Murphy's cozy, wholesome, and delicious café in the basement of what had been (since 1973) The Elliott Bay Book Company. The much beloved bookstore is reopening in its Capitol Hill location this Thursday, but EBC is staying put, with a second, smaller café in the works for the new bookshop. This is the first of a three-part interview that will explore Paquette's background and what's happening at EBC; part three will conclude with one of her recipes.
Photo by Adriana Grant
Paquette:I'm not school-trained. I've been very lucky to go into a number of different restaurants here and around the country and be able to walk in and say, 'How do you do this here? I want to know how you do what you're doing.' Seattle's been my biggest growing spot. Tamara [Murphy] gave me my first job at .ing, which was a little hole-in-the-wall next to Area 51. That was eight years ago. I was at Café Flora for three years and that was great. I got picked up to do one of these reality TV shows, Making It Big. It was way back, four, five years. After Flora, I went to Dandelion, it was in Ballard. It was like the dream, Carol's dream. Carol Nockold. We had a really great relationship. She really helped me for a jumping off point. We were at the farmers markets, Saturdays, Sundays. I was there for six months when she went to the doctor; she had Lou Gehrig's disease, it took her very fast. After she passed away, I took a two-year hiatus, doing freelance jobs. And then I came down here and talked to Tamra for a long time, I was hanging out with her, and helping out, finishing with the rebuilding, I was finally able to get my feet back on the ground again, get together with the farmers I knew then, and reconnect with them. It's been phenomenal. The staff we have here, they pick up a lot. They're a fun little family.
What are your culinary inspirations?
What are your culinary inspirations?
The farm food. I think our menu is very ingredient-driven. Somebody will call me up and say, 'I'm bringing a pig in.' I know where it's coming through. We've got 283 pounds of fresh pig in there right now. A lot of it's going to Voracious. It comes and I'm like, 'OK, you guys, what do you want to do?' And we make it. Or I'll call up Linda at Ninety Farms, and I'll say let's do it, and she brings a lamb. Or Mad Hatcher Poultry has a really great batch of rabbits that they've just processed and I'll say, "I'll take five.' And they bring it in and I say, 'OK, you guys, what do you want to do with the rabbits?' And then I can say, 'Let's do confit. That was a really beautiful sandwich. It's really easy preparation.' We get to talk about how different flavor profiles go together.
Last week I got some oxtails, and was funny, it turned into a Facebook thing. My sweetheart is one of the admins on Facebook, and didn't realize that whenever she put something on that page, that it pops up as an admin, so it looks like I'm writing it. So oxtails, 'Waffles or pasta, waffles or pasta?' And I left it like that. And everybody wrote in, 'Oh please, make the waffles again, oh please.' We did two separate batches of savory waffles. We had just gotten a fresh batch of all kinds of fresh mushrooms from Jeremy, so it was braised mushrooms. We had an offer that it was beef short ribs or braised mushrooms, and we had all these people coming in saying, 'Can I get half and half?' It was a garlic waffle, and we finished it with pickled fennel. We did a pulled pork one with a little slaw on top. And so we had the oxtails. And then she typed up risotto. And I called her up and said, 'Do you know what you just did? You just messed up... I have green garlic and asparagus waiting for risotto and you just said I am making oxtail risotto. What are you doing?' She said I didn't even know. So we did a green onion strata. So it threw everything out of the water, but it's going like crazy. It's like a 24-hour braised oxtails and a new spring onion bread pudding, and we took the tails, and dropped it all down and made a demiglaze and that was like the syrup, and pickled fennel. And brand new, from Full Circle Farms, kale raab, that we let go just a touch too long, so it's starting to flower. So it's really pretty and the flowers have more of that bitter sharp flavor. It's so great.
Is there an ingredient or dish that you're particularly into these days? If so, what?
My favorite herb is marjoram. But no, because I go with the seasons. It's part of how the life seasons move. I am old enough that I am experiencing life in a different way right now. I am encountering death and birth, at the very ends. The people I know are 90-something-years-old and they are dear and they are gone. And they talk about how much they enjoyed their full life, and so I am actually understanding the seasons more, because I am touching it. I just put raised beds in my back yard. I'm putting two in my front yard. Our whole house is full of food in the ground. I'm inspired by what comes up first. Every year we plant peas. And when the peas come up, I sit and I take out M.F.K Fisher's Alphabet for Gourmets, and I'll read P Is for Peas. We'll do all this stuff, we'll go through the seasons, I'll watch it. I'll watch it grow. Is it ready, is it ready yet? Are they ready yet and they're not. And whether its snaps or sugars, snows, and we'll pick 'em, and prepare them. But before we eat them, I always read this. And we usually have a big party over at the house because it's the first crop that shows up in Washington soil at my place, and we enjoy it.
Check back tomorrow for more of our conversation with Zephyr, including what's happening with the new Elliot Bay Café, and her recommendations for $5 and $100 meals.