Seasoned front-of-the-house guy Patric Gabre-Kidan's got a winning smile and a smart-ass sense of humor. Who else would spin a five-year plan that involves moving Book Bindery to Venus? What a card!
His impressive culinary career includes many interesting chapters. He worked for Tim Kelley at the Painted Table way back when. He was a pastry chef for Tom Douglas. When he moved to the front of the house, he partnered with Ethan Stowell. These days, he's the GM of one of Seattle's most talked-about new restaurants. (Read part one of this week's Grillaxin Q&A for an interview with Book Bindery's chef Shaun McCrain.)
SW: What was the very first piece of the puzzle that fell into place for the Book Bindery to exist?
Gabre-Kidan: I'd have to credit owners Mike and Sumi Almquist for that. The original idea was to have a small tasting bar for Almquist Family winery, which (like lots of things) morphed into something a little bigger in scale, and when the construction dust settled, they were left with a restaurant. Mike and Sumi asked me if I would be interested in getting the restaurant built and taking the reins on this project . . . My addiction is building.
Please tell us about your culinary background. Do you remember the moment you realized you wanted to be a cook/chef?
I've been a pastry chef here and there. Painted Table, Tulio, Aquavit, Tom Douglas. I guess I got into it when I was super-young. I remember my first attempt at French toast when I was 5. Simply toast with syrup. I knew something was wrong, and I kept at it until I mastered it at the age of 10. With that under my belt, I went on to other items, and never stopped until I started building restaurants instead of cooking in them.
How do you handle a guest whom you cannot make happy?
If we have gone through all of the corrective measures possible and they are still unhappy, there is nothing I can do. After an impossible unhappy guest, I usually spend a lot of time reassuring my staff that we did our best and to not be too hard on themselves. Diners can be strange.
What's your proudest moment so far?
I'm most proud of all of the places that I have helped to create and been part of. If I'm not creating, I'm dying.
Your most embarrassing?
I can't think of anything off-hand that I am terribly embarrassed about. I've certainly had my fair share of dumb shit done, but I walk upright and proud to show off all the my dunce badges on my sleeve.
Have you had to go to the ER after a kitchen mishap?
I was so agitated after getting into a screaming match one day with David LeClaire (that's right, David, I'm calling you out!) I nearly cut my whole finger off. I filleted my middle finger (how appropriate) from the tip almost to the knuckle.
What's your comfort food? Are we over the whole mac-and-cheese thing?
My comfort food is a cheeseburger. I think we are making some headway on the M&C front, but we'll never see it completely gone. We are addicted to fossil fuels first and macaroni and cheese second.
Where do you like to dine out in Seattle?
Naam for Thai, Serious Pie for pizza, Bad Albert's for burgers, Tacos El Asadero for Mexican, Café Lago for Italian, Spring Hill for contemporary West Seattle cuisine, Comet Dog for hot dogs, Lola for brunch, the Pho Bac on Rainier and Jackson, Paseo for sandwiches, and Bamboo Garden for "Mystery Food."
If you were coming into Book Bindery for the first time, what would you order?
The Cavatelli. It has so many subtle flavors that harmoniously meld together. Mushrooms, sylvetta, Parm, foie, smoke, pickled. It's rad.
Collards or turnip greens? Why?
Collards. I like how tender they become and the leafy flavor. It's kinda hard to find great collards, but when you do nothing beats it.
Do you have a big-picture plan? Where do you want the restaurant to be in five years?
I'd like it to be in the same place . . . but if I had to move it, I'd move it to Venus. No one says much about Venus (other than the razor), and I'm sure it feels neglected.
Check back for part three of this week's Grillaxin for a recipe from the Book Bindery crew.