chris keff2.jpg
Photo by Leslie Kelly
Chris Keff spends a lot more time in the dining room at the new Flying Fish.
Accolades and awards hang on

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Chris Keff Is Loving Her New Flying Fish

chris keff2.jpg
Photo by Leslie Kelly
Chris Keff spends a lot more time in the dining room at the new Flying Fish.
Accolades and awards hang on the tangerine and persimmon-colored walls of seasoned chef Chris Keff's new Flying Fish. After more than 15 years in Belltown, she's ecstatic in her new digs, which were designed by Phillip Christofides, the same architect who created the space on First Avenue. These days, Chris spends more time in the front of the house than the kitchen.

SW: What does this new place mean to you?

Chris: It's invigorating. This is more of who I am now. When I built the first one, I wanted to hang little fish lights from the ceiling. Fortunately, the architect talked me out of it. When we opened that 15 years ago, people said 'there's nothing like this in Seattle,' and Phillip, who designed the first one, also did this space and I think he did it again. He did a beautiful job of reinterpreting us. We've stayed friends over the years. He knows me and knows the restaurant. We wanted it to feel comfortable and welcoming, but we also wanted it to be contemporary.

SW: It sounds like a collaborative effort. Was there anything you had to give up?

Chris: No, it's pretty much all here. The funny thing was the garage doors, the ones we had at the old Fish, we thought we would have them in the same place again. But this storefront is part of the structure of the building and it would have been extremely expensive to make any modifications. So, I asked Phillip, what if we put them behind the bar? And they look great. So we've really got it all.

SW: How would you describe the space?

Chris: It's open and has a lot of light. But it still feels warm. The lines are very clean and there are a couple of good shots of color. It's funny because I don't know the real names of the colors we used, we just started giving them food names. Lime, tangerine, persimmon, tomato.

SW: What about the kitchen? Is it your dream kitchen?

Chris: I don't know if I have a dream kitchen, but I like it very much. The line is exactly the same as Flying Fish, but three feet longer, so we could add one more piece of equipment. The back is very open. There's a big prep area everyone works around. I wanted a big prep area because we're started On The Fly in a couple of weeks, lunches and dinner to go and even some tchotchkes.

SW: How has the menu changed?

Chris: Lunch is completely different. It's more geared to eat the way I eat now, which is a little bit or a lot, depending on how hungry I am. I don't like to go into a place and have to order a bunch of food if I'm not that hungry. So, it's a lot of mix and match. People really seem to like that. At dinner, I'm really loving the watermelon and pork belly salad. You braise the pork belly in hoisin and chili. The curried lamb ribs are something my chef de cuisine put on. They're so good. We change things up all the time, but some things can never drop off.

SW: The buttermilk fried chicken's still on the menu. Fried chicken is so hot right now.

Chris: Is it? We had that buttermilk fried chicken on for 15 years and I thought well, I'll take it off when we move. But that didn't work.

SW: There was an uproar?

Chris: Oh yes, particularly from the former mayor Norm Rice and his wife. But he's a very gracious chewer outer. It's good chicken. We cook it to order, so you have to wait for 20 minutes for it. It's deep-fried and finished in the oven.

SW: What's your role these days?

Chris: I'm really more the owner than the chef. I'm in the dining room at least four nights a week and five days. It's important for diners to see that I'm watching over things. I look at what the kitchen's doing and as long as it makes sense to me, I say great job. It took me years to get a sense of who I was as a cook. The guys who work for me are young, but they're amazing. I want to influence them and still let them have their quirkiness so they're not just cooking my food.

Check back for part two of this week's Grillaxin for more conversation with Chris Keff.

 
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