Woo-freaking-hoo! Jason Franey is the best new chef in the Northwest, according to an online reader's poll conducted by Food & Wine magazine, an honor that was announced last week. His bosses, the brothers Canlis--Mark and Brian--deserve a slice of the spotlight for the clever campaign they mounted to draw attention to their main man in the kitchen. It's all part of the compelling narrative of Seattle's iconic restaurant, an evolutionary tale of trying to find a new audience while not pissing off loyal regulars.
SW: Congrats on this Food & Wine thing! Looking at your impressive resume, it's difficult to think of you as a "new" chef. Tell us about your history in the kitchen?
Franey: I first began cooking at 15 and later worked at The Breakers Hotel. On the way to Hawaii, during a long layover in San Francisco, I took a job at Campton Place working for then-chef Laurent Manrique. I never finished the rest of the flight.
A year later, Daniel Humm took over as executive chef, and quickly made me his executive sous chef. When Campton Place received four stars from the San Francisco Chronicle, it attracted big-city restaurateur Danny Meyer, who lured Chef Humm to Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan. Charged with remaking Eleven Madison into a flagship restaurant, Humm insisted Mr. Meyer bring me as well.
Together, we ushered in a new era of fine dining within Danny Meyer's hospitality empire. After six years of working under Daniel Humm, I left the post of executive sous chef to become the executive chef of Seattle's landmark Canlis Restaurant. Having helped transform Eleven Madison Park and placed it on the forefront of Manhattan's dining scene, I set a new course: keep Canlis, 60 years young, at the forefront of fine dining in Seattle.
What are the three things you're most proud of since you started at Canlis?
Most of all I'm proud to have crafted a menu that both reflects my personal style and honors the classics of Canlis. When a 75-year-old guest catches me on the way out the door to tell me that the food at Canlis is better than it's ever been, and then the next evening I hear the same thing from a young journalist from New York, then I feel successful.
Also, I feel honored to have won the Food & Wine People's Choice Best New Chef Northwest. The support of thousands of individuals in our community was overwhelming.
What are some of your favorite Northwest ingredients?
I love Miner's Lettuce because of its beautiful color, delicate texture and big citrus flavor.
Gleason Ranch beef. I've not tasted grass-fed beef this delicious anywhere else in the world.
Washington apples and cherries. That may sound cliché, but I find that the most classic native ingredients are often under-appreciated.
Check back for part two of this week's Grillaxin Q&A for more with Jason Franey.