chris keff1.jpg
Photo by Leslie Kelly
Flying Fish's Chris Keff thinks it's good for cooks to work in different kitchens.
Chris Keff feels invigorated at her new


Veteran Chef Keff Suggests Travel To Season Young Cooks

chris keff1.jpg
Photo by Leslie Kelly
Flying Fish's Chris Keff thinks it's good for cooks to work in different kitchens.
Chris Keff feels invigorated at her new Flying Fish in South Lake Union. Her long cooking career has included stints in many kitchens on both coasts, but she says she really started to soar when the original Flying Fish made its debut 15 years ago. Read part one for more.

SW: What were the hardest lessons you had to learn as a young cook?

Chris: The hardest thing was having the confidence to cook the way I wanted to cook rather than the way I thought I was supposed to cook in certain situations. Often that was determined by the type of restaurant it was and what the owner wanted. Other times it was about who I thought I had to impress. It really wasn't until I opened Flying Fish that I really came into my own. I remember writing the first menu. I wrote it in about 20 minutes. I just sat down and wrote everything I like to eat. Usually, I would agonize over the menu. But it just came right out.

SW: So what advice would you give someone starting out?

Chris: You absolutely need technique. That's the first thing and after a few years, when you've got technique, you then need exposure to a lot of different things, different chefs and how they do it, different cuisines. I think moving around from kitchen to kitchen is a good idea. I know people might not think so, but I do. I think travel is also very important, too, so you can see food in its proper context. If you don't really understand it, you're going to come up with something really stupid.

SW: There's such great access to so many incredible ingredients, isn't there a tendency for some chefs to pile on?

Chris: When Zach (Foster, the chef de cuisine at Flying Fish) was first coming up into the chef role, I would come by and say 'there's too many countries on that plate. Cut it down to two or three at the most.'

SW: You practically invented Northwest fusion. Where does that movement stand these days?

Chris: I think it's done. People still like those flavors. We still use those flavors. But what I see happening in other restaurants is more European. A lot of people are using whole animals. The food is ingredient driven. The philosophy about the origins of the food seems to be driving the culinary point of view. It's like any other movement. There are some who do it well, they have the technique. Then, for others, if they can name the farmer, that's enough. But that's not enough.

SW: What kind of relationship do you have with farmers and growers?

Chris: We know our oyster producers and we've know Raul, the guy who brings us our Penn Cove mussels. We buy from small farmers in season. We go to markets. I'll go to the Pike Place Market today and buy 100 pounds of tomatoes from Alvarez Farms. They're just starting a wholesale market up in Mount Vernon.

SW: What do you cook at home?

Chris: I love making soups and stews, anything you can make in one pot.

SW: How many cookbooks do you have?

Chris: About 500.

SW: What's your latest favorite?

Chris: It's called Turquoise, written by a husband and wife from Australia, but he's of Turkish heritage. It's Turkish food. I started cooking a lot of pilaf after reading it. There are definitely spices associated with Turkish cooking, cinnamon, cardamom, but a lot of times, they don't use a lot of spice. It's pretty light. It's nice because with the seafood dishes, you can really taste the seafood.

SW: What's next for you?

Chris: This is it!

Check back for part three of this week's Grillaxin for a recipe from Chris Keff.

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