When he's not working the room at Canlis, cooking up social media campaigns, or nabbing a slew of restaurant honors, including the 2011 Voracious Innovation Award, Mark Canlis is at home bravely parenting not one, not two, but three! children with his wife Anne Marie.
Anne Marie Canlis The Canlis Kids: Clementine, 11 months; William Peter, 6; and Lucy, 3.
Here, Canlis shares favorite spots to eat with his children, gives his take on family dining in Seattle, and reminisces about playing hide and seek in the halls of Canlis as a kid.Did you eat at Canlis a lot during your childhood? What was it like to grow up with access to the restaurant's kitchen?
Yup. All the time. We often ate with the staff before service and joined them on the long table in the private room where I'd watch the Japanese ladies add spicy peppers to everything and the men of the kitchen banter about this or that. It was always a jovial time. Lots of camaraderie. Many of the staff had known us since birth, so it was like dining with thirty aunts and uncles. When I worked in the kitchen as a young teenager, I ate with the stewards and dish crew on boxes of unpeeled potatoes...mostly because it was quiet, and felt so good to finally sit down on something.
When we were really young, and mom would need to work with dad, she'd drop us off in the office and we'd order Canlis salad and teriyaki and hide under the desks. Each brother had his own desk. Though I don't remember it, there was a very democratic way of determining who got "the bunker" and who got the lesser desks. Then, we'd shoot rubber bands at each other, play hide and seek, and eventually, fall asleep until being scooped up and plopped in the station wagon and carted home. It was the best.
How do your kid's diets differ from when both of you were growing up?
I think we're more aware of what we're eating and where it comes from. Many of the family recipes are the same, but how it's sourced is a whole new ballgame. I seem to remember more frozen pizzas back then...
When you're not at work, where do you take your kids to eat in Seattle if you're in the mood for casual food? La Carta [de Oaxaca] . either in Ballard, or now that they are on Queen Anne, we just walk up there (to Mezcaleria Oaxaca, the subject of Hanna Raskin's review this week).
Where does your family eat out on special occasions?
Since the restaurant is often open on holidays, we spend a lot of time there. On Christmas Eve we bring our children in to listen to the 4 p.m. staff meeting and to participate in the gift giving to the staff. Then my parents dine with the grandkids while Brian and I run the restaurant. Any other special family meals and occasions are most often shared together at our family beach house on Whidbey Island. (Though we are planning a fortieth birthday for our brother, Matt, in one of Canlis' private rooms...he's from Scotland and doesn't get to dine out much.)
Do many young diners eat at Canlis?
Yes, we get families dining together and those that do have typically trained their children well. Look, kids aren't born knowing how to sit at the table for three hours. They learn it (we're still working with ours...) and you can tell the families that practice, those that do it at home. It's really special to see young diners dressed up and participating in family celebrations and we welcome them. As kids we dined with our parents on special occasions, but we never got out of the car, even if the valets had already opened the door, without hearing a stern reminder about our manners.
Compared to other cities, do you think Seattelites are more or less into the idea of eating in restaurants alongside families with kids?
Depends. When we lived in Manhattan, nobody really knew what kids were. I mean, I'm joking...but only sort of. When I lived in the South, it was normal, and very pleasant in many ways. Of course, the dining there is typically more casual. Here it varies, some families do, but most it seems do not.
Where do you shop for food?
We live on Queen Anne and love our Thursday Farmer's Market. It is only from June - October but we are there every week! The kids know the vendors and look forward to seeing how the produce changes throughout the summer. We buy all our fresh fruit and vegetables there and join our neighbors for a picnic of strawberries, juicy peaches and Veraci pepperoni pizza. It is such an important piece of our summer rhythm.
Do you try to educate your kids about eating local? If so, how do you make that narrative interesting?
We do, but we keep it simple, short, and age appropriate. Just helping them notice where things are grown or made and reminding them why we buy our meat at a family butcher like AJ's Market instead some place larger. We have three vegetable gardens--for now, they will learn way more in the dirt than from us in a grocery store.