Friday, November 11, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Chef Bruce Naftaly

When he moved to Seattle to study voice, Bruce Naftaly was an idealistic Berkeley music major with an interest in French cooking and a need to pay the bills. He landed at (the now-defunct but revered) Rosellini's Other Place, later cooked at the Alexis Hotel and learned he was better at cooking than singing. In 1985, Naftaly opened Le Gourmand, offering seasonal, three-course prix-fixe meals in Ballard. There, he made it his radical mission to use only the freshest local ingredients, proudly naming his purveyors on his menu. Twenty years later, he's earned the right to say, "Hey, trendy chefs everywhere! I told you so!"

Q: Ballard's become a restaurant hot spot, but when you settled there in 1985 it was a restaurant wasteland. What were you thinking?

A: Even though it was an obscure location, it was easy to get to. The rent was low and my material needs were few: There was a derelict shack I could turn into an apartment and a little junkyard I could turn into a garden. I figured, if you value the starving-artist model — OK, so I wasn't going to be a starving artist — you can survive if you have to.

Q: You're running a 30-seat restaurant and petite lounge, teaching cooking classes, foraging nettles, grinding your own mustards, pickling nasturtium buds and growing poppies for the seeds that garnish your housemade crackers. You also go to Eastern Washington to pick tomatoes for canning while raising a child with your wife/pastry-chef. Isn't that a bit extreme?

A: "It's all about personal expression. The more things you don't do yourself, the more you buy ready-made, decreases the personal value for me. I could shop and find great products, but then they wouldn't be mine. Besides, those red poppies come with their own dispenser. When they dry, the pods become a natural seed shaker. They're beautiful and practical.

Q: You're living the romantic restaurant ideal, so spill the haricots vert: Is it half as romantic as it looks?

A: It's not easy. It's exhausting and exasperating, and you're running from the minute you get up until you go to sleep. It's good that we're married and doing this together, but Sara and I have to find more time for ourselves. There's a lot of repetitive activity, like slicing mushrooms or onions, though there are times when I find myself doing this and thinking: 'I couldn't be happier!' So, I'd have to say yes, otherwise we wouldn't do it.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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