Chef Josh Green has dived local waters for crabs and foraged for mushrooms in nearby woods but recently, as the new head chef of Serafina and Cicchetti, he dives head first into the abundance of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. After more than two decades in business, Serafina, and its sister restaurant, Cicchetti, hired Green to keep its dishes new and fresh. Four months into his post, Green is feeling inspired, and looking forward to hosting more wine dinners, and a series of cooking and wine tasting classes at the restaurant. But for Green, the road ahead presents a more difficult palate to please: a daughter who refuses to eat cooked vegetables.
Photo by Tiffany Ran
Serafina has been the longstanding neighborhood mainstay. As the head chef, how do you approach the task of refreshing the menu and keeping things current?
I was hired four months ago to help do just that. I'm a local boy. I grew up on Vashon Island. I went to school at Seattle Central, went to work at Ponti [Seafood Grill], went to the Virginia Inn and helped redo their menu. I have a lot of local connections and a lot of local flavors that I've used throughout my culinary tenure. I'm adapting those to the Italian cooking and Mediterranean cooking over here, and utilizing those local farms. One thing I did when I was hired on was I solidified the crew of really talented chefs that I had and got us focused on what we're doing at each restaurant. We're really just focusing on being more region specific for both restaurants, keeping Italy on the forefront at Serafina for sure, and keeping Mediterranean as a whole for Cicchetti with Italy a little removed from the picture. We're trying to find some really nice spice blends that kind of go with North African cooking or some Middle Eastern flavors.
With Serafina, it wasn't as much a refresh as much as it was a refocus. Everything that we have at Serafina was working on fronts, but just trying to focus the talents that we have. I'm focused on starting up a charcuterie program and using our pasta chef, who is absolutely amazing, utilizing her skills to make more handmade pastas. Tonight, we made some squid ink pasta, we made some handmade tortellini. At Cicchetti, my chef de cuisine, Nate [Simmons] has done a really outstanding job in the four years that the restaurant has been open -- solidifying what customers can expect from the food here, small plates, precision, flavors, really solid techniques.
Since you didn't specialize on Italian or Mediterranean cuisine before, how do you proceed with your research on these regional cuisines?
Really going with the string approach -- grabbing at the resources I have, utilizing our purveyors, and utilizing the staff we have here. [Cicchetti chef] Tarik [Abdullaa] is really passionate about spices and the different blends, like what makes Israeli za'atar different from regular za'atar. Just finding those little niches in the resources I have.
I'm a book worm, I love cookbooks. I go to garage sales and bookstores for that very specific purpose. For me, the older and more retro the book, the more fun. I found this really great book at a yard sale that was the "Four Seasons of Italian Cooking," a hard bound book, looks like it was made in the 70s. Some of the recipes aren't as fine-tuned, but it can lend to inspirations for really good dishes.
Do you plan to cycle the menu to focus on various regions of Italy?
Yes, and using the seasons to kind of guide that. Right now, we're focusing on Piedmont and Umbria. Although Umbria is kind of southern, it has some very similar characteristics in its cuisine. It's heartier and there are more braised items.
There are so many variants in Italian cuisine. As it starts warming up, we'll start moving back down south to Tuscany, and start utilizing more of the fresh produce that are grown in abundance.
I see you have some food tattoos on your arms. Care to explain their significance?
It's a sand dab, and this is the start of a food tattoo sleeve gained from inspiration I have around here. I actually met with the producers of Top Chef down in San Francisco, and ate at Judy Roger's Zuni Café. I ate a sand dab there, and just loved it. I found a local tattoo artist while I was down there and was just excited to put it on me. There's a lobster on the inner arm, which is actually one of the first parts of the food sleeve. I absolutely love lobster. I have a big set of herbs here (lower arm) as they drive a lot of the flavors in what I love to do. I have a huge herb garden in my house, and I'm working on putting together an herb garden on our patio here so we can use it. The only thing that slowed it down is the birth of my daughter. It's like, "Hm, $40 for a tattoo or does she get ski lessons or swim lessons?" She wins out most of the time, but when I can square out enough money, I'll add to it.
Wait, hold up. Were you auditioning for Top Chef when you met with those producers? Did you audition for the current Seattle season?
I did. I sent in a tape. There was a 10 minute window, and I made a video of myself breaking down a geoduck and making a dish with it. I wasn't picked, but that's alright. I'm a chef every day in my life and now, for a two lovely restaurants. So I get the daily gratification of when customers leave, having a big smile on their face.
As a father and a chef, are you more invested in raising your child to know and appreciate food?
Yea, absolutely. To be a picky eater, I mean, kids are kids. It's funny, my daughter is a picky eater in the sense that she doesn't like any cooked vegetable. I can take any raw vegetable and she will eat it until the cows come home. Like mashed potatoes, she doesn't like mashed potatoes! What kid hates mashed potatoes? And I know how to make a good mashed potatoe.
What I really try to get her involved in is things that introduce her to what I really appreciate with food, the connection to what it is that is bringing us life, and really gaining that true appreciation for what it is we put in our body. I take a lot of trips out to farms with her and really tried to get her solidified with what goes on at a farm and the people who help grow the food. I try to put a more realistic spin on it rather than through the frozen peas in the grocery aisle.
I'm an avid forager and I'm an avid fisherman myself. During the summer, I like to scuba dive for crabs on Vashon Island. I think that really helps ground me to the fact that when I get into scuba gear and go down and spear for ling cod, I really appreciate just where our food comes from, how beautiful the environment is, and how important it is to maintain that for my daughter and perhaps for her children someday.