Once upon a time, hotel chefs used processed food, and a rebellious handful of chefs working on the fringes of society turned away from such industrialized food sources to seek out smaller farms and suppliers.
A few of the more eccentric chefs could be expected to putter around in their gardens producing a few herbs for garnishes and accents.
Brian Scheehser, executive chef at the new Trellis Restaurant and Heathman Hotel, has gradually turned those stereotypes inside out. On the one hand, he's a mainstream hotel chef who has worked in big kitchens for most of his career. An alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America, he apprenticed at Chicago's L'Escargot, where he remained for more than a decade before manning the stoves at Chicago's Hotel Nikko and the Chicago Sheraton. When he donned the toque at the Sorrento Hotel in Seattle, he stayed for more than 13 years and established himself as a fixture in the firmament of Seattle's culinary stars, making appearances at all the chef-driven fundraisers including Share Our Strength's annual Taste of the Nation, Star Chefs March of Dimes and benefits for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the American Liver Foundation.
And somehow, he found time to become a gardener with a capital G. At the South 47 Farm on Northeast 124th Street between Woodinville and Redmond, he has carved out a three-acre organic garden that could rival many of the small-scale farms that supply local farmers markets. And he is not just dabbling in the dirt; he owns a vintage 1948 Ferguson tractor and keeps it in good working order tilling the extensive rows that produce a significant part of the produce he will serve at Trellis. This spring, in addition to almost an acre of corn and extensive plantings of broccoli, cauliflower and beans, he planted 1,000 asparagus plants, 1,000 Everest Strawberry plants, and 39 varieties of tomatoes.
"I planted heirloom tomatoes because I wanted a wide variety of interesting types," says Scheehser. "But these are not oddball varieties; they're pretty mainstream, approachable tomatoes. Everything in the garden was planted with the Trellis menu in mind."
When he was executive chef at The Hunt Club in the Sorrento, Scheehser made room on the menu for produce raised in these same beds, but the proximity of the new restaurant in Kirkland will make it that much easier. "When I was working downtown," he explains, "I could run out to the garden, but it took some time. Now, I'm just 10 minutes from the back door of the kitchen." And Scheehser is offering, among other garden-fresh delights, a two-hour salad, harvested just two hours before service every day.
"I started gardening seriously in 2001," says Scheehser. "And I wanted to grow more than I could grow in my own backyard. I live in Ballard, but I didn't get enough heat to grow things like eggplants or tomatoes, so I started gardening here." Standing between the rows of lettuce and the perennial beds where he grows the asparagus as well as artichokes, Scheehser points out 18 dwarf fruit trees growing behind a row of winter rye, originally planted as a cover crop and now left to go to seed. "If you watch," he says, "you'll see finches landing on the rye. They like to eat the grains." Rows of flowers are interspersed with the vegetables, too. "I'm growing the flowers for the dining room and the lobby, but they're also here because a garden is more than a production center. Part of what a garden is for is feeding the heart; there's a part for the soul."
Greg Atkinson is author of "West Coast Cooking." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Barry Wong is a Seattle-based freelance photographer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Grilled Salmon Salad with Red Pepper Relish and Tomato Vinaigrette
For the Red Pepper Relish
3 large sweet red peppers, seeded and diced
1 large sweet onion, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
For the tomato vinaigrette
4 large ripe tomatoes
¼ yellow sweet onion
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup champagne vinegar
1 clove garlic
1 large sprig tarragon
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper to taste
For the salmon and salad greens
6 four-ounce filets of wild king salmon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Oil for the grill
12 cups mixed lettuces, washed, spun-dry, chilled
Tarragon sprigs, for garnish
1. To make the red pepper relish. Toss the diced red pepper and onion in a bowl with the kosher salt; let stand for 20 minutes; drain and rinse. In a stainless-steel pot over medium-high heat, bring the apple cider vinegar to a boil with the brown sugar and mustard seeds. Stir in the red pepper and onion and cook until the mixture is beginning to dry out. Take the relish off the heat and let it cool to room temperature.
2. To make the tomato vinaigrette. Roughly chop the tomatoes and onion and puree them in a blender along with the olive oil, champagne vinegar, garlic, tarragon, salt and pepper.
3. Cook the salmon. Preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Season the salmon filets with salt and pepper, rub the grill with oil and cook the salmon flesh-side down until golden-brown, about five minutes. Turn and grill skin-side down until just cooked through, about 3 minutes more.
4. Distribute the greens evenly between six dinner plates and plant the grilled salmon on top of the greens. Drizzle the tomato vinaigrette over the greens and the salmon. Garnish each serving with a generous scoop of the red-pepper relish and fresh tarragon sprigs.
— Recipe compliments of Brian Scheehser, Trellis Restaurant, Kirkland
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company