Blind Pig Bistro chef Matt Fortner has cooked all around town from the erstwhile Marjorie in Belltown to making the rounds at Ethan Stowell's restaurants. Today, Fortner spreads his wings after over two years at Ethan Stowell's How to Cook a Wolf, working with good friend and fellow Stowell alum Charles Walpole at Blind Pig, where dinner service will soon expand to 7 days a week starting March 18. In its small lime green kitchen, Fortner cooks alongside Walpole exploring new ingredients, using saffron and pimenton to their hearts' content, and cooking with one rule in mind—doing whatever they want.
Fortner: Rene [Gutierrez] and Charles started up on November 3rd and I joined the week after Christmas.
Why did you decide to leave How to Cook a Wolf and go work with Charles [Walpole]?
Uh, how can I put this? Ethan [Stowell] asked me to start another job in his company, helping him open up his line of fast food he's been wanting to do. And when I refused, I basically wasn't welcomed anymore. So the decision to leave Wolf was not mine. I enjoyed working at the Wolf; I was there working two and a half years.
You said he wants to do fast food?
Well, he's starting a pizza place. He wants to do a hamburger place. He wants to do a fried chicken joint. Cooking this long in my life, I don't want to go in that direction. It's like, what have I been doing the past 13 years?
Is that common for chefs in a bigger company or restaurant group to be reassigned to other jobs, or from one restaurant to another?
Maybe so. I'm not sure he runs with any kind of process. Maybe impulse.
So what is the biggest difference between working as a chef for a larger company versus cooking at a newly formed neighborhood restaurant?
I think the biggest difference is that your employers actually have your best interest in mind instead of just company first. You're actually like a human being and not just a piece on the puzzle or chessboard, or whatever.
I'm not going to be at the Blind Pig forever, but it's a great place to be right now. Charles and I have been working together since 2001. My wife has worked with Charles before. It's good to work with friends. Eventually, I'll land somewhere. I'm not quite sure.
What's the idea or concept behind your menu items?
The great thing about here is that you don't have somebody standing over your shoulder trying to tell you what to put on your menus, but not really ever come by. You're not limiting yourself to Italian food. Charles has made mole here. There are some Mexican ingredients. There's a little bit of Japanese ingredients there.
And what dish on that chalkboard [menu] is your little mark?
Today, my little mark is the fried pig head with gribiche. Charles pretty much writes the menu.
You also have chalkboards on the walls of your bathroom. What's the wackiest thing that's been up there and have you had to erase anything?
There have been a few penises that had to be erased.
Now that you have the freedom to cook what you want, what kind of food do you enjoy cooking?
I like Italian food, seafood, Mediterranean. Charles got some North African ingredients. That's the great thing about here is that I get to work with ingredients that I've probably never worked with. Being so limited and narrow minded at Wolf and Tavolata, you know, [where you're] not supposed to use saffron or pimenton because it's not Italian.
If you can pick a few other spots around Eastlake to dine, where would you go?
There's surprisingly not a whole lot of restaurants around here. There's Cicchetti and Serafina, but I've never been there. I wouldn't say we stand alone over here, but I think we're a contender as one of the better places in the neighborhood.