Chef Tyler Has Some Major Chops

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Salish Lodge chef Tyler Hefford-Anderson has a resume that includes some big awards from a hard-to-pronounce fancy-food organization in France. Dang! Yet he has managed to keep his feet on the ground and his hands in the dirt. In addition to cooking at this destination dining landmark, he loves to grow things. Read part one of this week's Grillaxin for more.

SW: You were selected as one of the best young chefs in the country by Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. What is that?

The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs is the world's oldest organization of food and wine enthusiasts. It was started in 1248 in Paris and has outposts of members throughout the world, including here in the United States. Every year, they do a competition that pits jeune commis or "young cooks" together from 10 different regions throughout the country, giving them a "black box" of around 14 different ingredients. You are then given 30 minutes to produce a three-course menu for four people. I went to the national competition in Miami in 2004. The Food Network filmed me here, at home, and at the competition as well.

It was an awesome experience that I would do again in a heartbeat. The definition of young for the jeune commis is under 27, though, so I passed that milestone about three years ago.

I have been involved with the Chaîne for several years now. A number of the members at the Rainier Club where I worked at the time were members and encouraged me to participate. Interestingly, one of the other sous chefs I was working with at the time competed in the 2003 jeune commis and won the national competition, garnering him a trip to Singapore where he took third in the world--a ranking that, at the time, no other American had attained. I was involved in his training and chose to compete myself the next year.

What's the biggest difference between cooking at a private dining room like the Rainier Club and at a restaurant?

Amusingly enough, the biggest difference is the press. As not everyone is permitted to dine at a private club, very few media entities are involved in reviewing or talking about the awesome food and cool ideas you may be producing. With a public restaurant, everyone gets a slice. Everyone is welcome, and welcome to share his or her opinions and thoughts. Sometimes that can be a wonderful thing, and other times it can be a bit tough. I like to hear people's thoughts and opinions of my food and myself. At a public restaurant you are far more "out there," bearing yourself and your ideas for the world to see.

What are your favorite things to grow?

My answer changes every year. My sons and I had great success with haricots verts this past summer. We grew 12 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes. Our butter lettuce was killer over the summer, there's nothing like cutting your salad for dinner on a warm summer night and taking it right to the picnic table. Asparagus and asparagus ferns are an annual favorite. I wait every year for my lemon verbena and my pineapple sage to be ready to harvest. My son Finley and I have made sun tea several times with herbs from the late summer garden. Our kale went nuts this year. We ate more kale than I would care to admit.

A colleague of mine, Bill Taylor, the executive chef at Talaris Conference Center in the U District, gave me a great recipe for a fresh kale salad with Parmesan my wife and boys loved. We made it several times. I guess my favorite things to grow are the things I know will bring joy to those around me. Watching my two little boys crawl around between the tomatoes with my 14-year-old daughter helping them look for ripe ones still makes me smile. Pulling things from the little herb garden we worked on here at the lodge and telling guests "This came from right here below the window you are looking out of" is why I am in the business.

Who's your go-to obscure farmer for the farm-to-table fare?

If I told you, I'd have to kill you. Full Circle and I have a great relationship and did an awesome event with us this last year. Rockridge Orchards does some fantastic things I have always enjoyed playing with. Jason Salvo at Local Roots Farm grew some incredible lettuces for me. Mr. B's Honey from Redmond is always on our shelves. I also have a very small obscure farmer and forager from here in Snoqualmie who asked I not mention his name. We have been using a lot of fun little product from him that he harvests in the morning and we use on our catch of the day at night.

What kind of food do you cook at home?

I wish I could say I cook a lot at home, but that wouldn't be true. I spend so much time here at the lodge that I do very little cooking at home. My wife is an excellent cook, however. She makes chicken pot pie from scratch like nobody's business. She is kind enough to keep me well fed throughout the week. I do try to cook for her on my few weekends. Then it's her choice, sky's the limit. Whatever she wants me to make. In the past she has been fond of halibut sandwiches with capers and roasted red onion remoulade, cilantro slaw, and tomato relish on toasted organic wheat bread. Fun things like that, based on whatever we can get from our CSA or farmers market.

Who were your cooking idols when you were younger?

As I started cooking when I was about 14, and took on a professional role at 16, the chef I studied under was my biggest and most influential idol. Bill Morris took me under his wing at The Rainier Club and allowed me not only the structure to learn, but also the ability to fail and make mistakes from which I was able to learn and grow. As a young man I also had several opportunities to work with Barbara Figueroa. She was very inspirational in my love of Northwest cuisine.

My culinary instructor in high school, Paul Richter, was big to me too. He taught at the vocational school I attended during my high-school career. He taught me not to take cooking, life, or myself too seriously, and to enjoy life and those around me. Of course, my parents were big influences. They both are good cooks, but are awesome diners. As a kid we really didn't take many vacation trips. Instead we would stay here in Seattle and eat out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We would find nice restaurants and holes in the wall, ethnic cuisine and traditional American. Anything we thought sounded good. That played a major role in shaping my outlook on food and cooking.

There has been a lot of news about food costs going up. How do you deal with that issue?

Even when rising food prices don't make the news, we are always acutely aware of the cost of goods. We frequently do a "gut check" to see if we are buying what we should be at the cost we should be. While at the lodge we do strive to purchase the highest-quality ingredients, there is always that thought in the back of your mind about "Can we buy this item a little cheaper so I can spend a little more on something else?"

We constantly have to be vigilant that we are bringing in products that will please our guests and please our budget at the same time. I also always try to take the farmers and small producers we work with into account. While I would love to save money, they too have farms to pay for and families to feed. They need a fair and reasonable cut.

What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten? Are you picky?

Not in the slightest. I'll eat anything. I've had brains, eyes, baby goat testicles (one of my favorites), pig tails, cocks' combs, chicken feet, you name it. Once at the Rainier Club we even had a very wealthy businessman from Japan staying with us after an African safari. If I remember correctly, he had us cook his lion, giraffe, and zebra for him. Those were interesting and unusual. My kids are very adventurous eaters as well. They eat the same things my wife and I do. They love sushi, funky little Asian restaurants, all of those things.

What kitchen task gives you the most pleasure?

I think creating for my guests would be top of the list. I love the rush that comes for putting together a cool-tasting menu with fun, new ingredients that I know will excite the diner. I have a habit of adding and changing courses at the last moment to showcase or highlight some fun new idea, or something I may have been talking about with a diner. That probably doesn't give my kitchen or wait staff a whole lot of pleasure, though!

Have you ever worked the dish pit? Or swept the floors . . . like Thomas Keller . . .

Oh goodness, yes! More often than you might think. Early in my career, it was instilled in me we are all part of a team. No job is beneath anyone on my team. There have been many nights I have had to jump in a help the dishwashers do dishes, take out the garbage, mop the floors, etc. I tend to be the one that stays super-late to help out and get the job accomplished. I have had nights where water wouldn't stop coming up from a floor drain and I had to squeegee water with my pant legs rolled up until the emergency plumber could get there at 4 a.m. I have gotten calls from other properties I used to work at that the dish machine was broken and a major party was going on. At the end of my shift at one property around 10, I drove to the other to find out that the machine wasn't broken, it just wasn't being used right. After my all-day shift, I stayed and did the dishes by myself until 5 a.m. That is the business. We are the team, the ones that get it done no matter what the time. We do whatever needs to be done, whenever we need to do it to please our guests.

What's the best cookbook or food book you've read lately?

I just finished In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. That was a good read. I am working my way through Harold McGee's Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes. It has some awesome tips and tricks that I didn't know. For ideas, I am looking at the pictures in Coco: 10 World-Leading Masters Choose 100 Contemporary Chefs, published by Phaidon. Santa Claus brought this one for me for Christmas, and I have yet to read it completely. I like this book because every time I open it I come across a new chef doing something completely new. Different styles and different cuisines from all over the world. Very inspiring.

If you were coming into the Salish to dine, what would you order?

I love to put myself in the chef's hands. I wish more people did this. "Omakase" style dining. You get such cool, fun things that are usually fresh and are inspiring the chef at the moment. I have no problem walking into a great restaurant and asking the chef "Please just cook for me." (That and the S'more!)

Check back for part three of this week's Grillaxin for a recipe from chef Tyler.

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