by Whitney Ricketts - 22 Reviews - 51 List
Seattle is blessed with a wealth of cooking talent, beloved by the local and national press. Here is a lineup of who we think will be formative on the local food community in the next five years--the next Maria Hines or Matt Dillon or Tom Douglas. These hardworking cooks are under the radar, slaving away in the buzzed-about restaurants, or just now chef-ing their own spot. Keep your eyes open for these names.
Updated: October 20, 2009
MICHAEL SANDERS: Gracious and smiley, Michael Sanders speaks with a Southern drawl and remembers everyone's name. Instrumental in Spinasse's success, where he served as sous chef from opening to the end of June, Sanders is known for his workhorse ethic and amiable attitude. Of hiring him for The Corson Building's team, Matt Dillon says, "He fits the exact same mold as Emily (Crawford) and I. [Cooking's] a lifestyle thing for him, rather than just a job; it was about his energy and work ethic and his desire for finding the best product, never feeling settled." Sanders will move to Sitka when it expands this fall.
MONICA DIMAS: Only 24 years old, and with a track record that includes opening and running Pike Street Fish Fry, line cooking at Spinasse, and now Monsoon, Monica Dimas is a lithe and inventive cook. She is now in charge of Monsoon's infamous brunch, helming the menu of dim sum and Asian-influenced breakfast-y plates. Dimas grew up in Yakima, and her family hails from Mexico. She plans to host a dinner series this summer based around her heritage--simple, rustic dishes paired with local craft brews.
BRIAN CARTENUTO: He's the new guy in town, the guy with pink polo shirts and hair gel, breaking the rugged hipster chef mold and erring towards schmaltzy. Cartenuto works the room in his Wallingford restaurant every evening in his chef whites, cracking jokes, asking about the meal, going table-to-table to confirm diners' satisfaction. Hailing from Florida, by way of cooking school in South Carolina, Cartenuto was plucked off a cruise ship by Trevor Greenwood, Cantinetta's owner. His rustic Italian food packs the house every night (even on a Tuesday, the wait is usually 30 minutes).
MEI-LIN KONG: The veteran on the list, Mei-Lin Kong, has worked at Kisaku, The Herbfarm, Harvest Vine and now Spring Hill. Mark Fuller, writing via iPhone from Aspen's Food and Wine Classic, says Kong is "always positive, always wants more from herself and everyone around her." Fuller went on to say, "Mei-Lin has the most determination and drive to succeed than any person I have ever met; she can do anything." A recent stop into Spring Hill caught Kong's desserts on the menu: a beautiful lemon custard-y thing, with encircling ladyfingers. "Mark asked me to make lemon bars, so I made something better," said Kong.
ELIOT GUTHRIE is Linda Derschang's knight in shining armor, a 23-year-old powerhouse of comfort food. Guthrie has helmed Smith, the taxidermy-filled pub on 15th, for the past year, to critical and popular acclaim. Derschang is now moving Guthrie to her plagued Oddfellows, which has struggled with kitchen turnover and food quality since its opening in December. Guthrie will continue to run both kitchens from the much larger Oddfellows kitchen. Derschang says the rotating door hasn't hurt them too much, noting "Hiring a chef can be a lot like dating; you have to try out a few sometimes before you find a great relationship." In Guthrie, she seems to have found Mr. Right.
JASON STRATTON: Taking the reigns from the departing Justin Neidermeyer, Jason Stratton has already transformed Spinasse's vision from a Northern Italian pasta powerhouse to an inventive noshery with an ever-changing menu. Stratton's first changes included switching up the previously neglected non-pasta side of the menu and starting a Spinasse Twitter account with updates on the day's specials. Stratton left his position as sous chef at Poppy to helm Spinasse. Jerry Traunfeld speaks fondly of his protege: "Jason is one of the most inspired, creative cooks I've ever worked with. He has a terrific sensibility of food--an intuitive understanding of cooking, together with an impressive knowledge of ingredients and techniques."