An Interview with Chef Seth Caswell

February 15, 2010

This past January, local Seattle chef, Seth Caswell, finally opened the doors of his new local and seasonal restaurant, Emmer & Rye. Seth took a moment out of his crazy-busy schedule to answer a couple questions about his new cooking venture, his favorite local purveyors and what inspires him in the kitchen.

Congratulations on the opening of your new restaurant Seth! How would you describe your style of food?
The restaurant tagline is “seasonally inspired, locally derived” and I think this says it all.  I am meticulously sourcing my ingredients and when the local or organic product is not available, I will may sure to better understand the ingredient’s provenance before preparing it.

You are actively involved in the local food scene, and currently the president of Seattle’s Chef’s Collaborative; besides incorporating local purveyors throughout your menu, what other factors played a big role when planning your restaurant?
A major factor when writing the menu for emmer&rye was the price point on food and beverage.  Too often “local” and “sustainable” cuisine are written off as expensive, unaffordable by most of the public.  So considering today’s economic crisis, I made efforts to keep my prices affordable.  A table of 4 can try virtually every menu item and get out for around $25/pp for the food.  Variety and value are considered important elements of today’s restaurant.

When did you start cooking? What can you suggest for someone just starting out who wants to learn how to cook?
I was always in the food service industry in some capacity.  In high school I was working at my family deli baking bagels and making ice cream for a local scoop shop.  In college I lucked out with a roommate who didn’t like cooking. Well I didn’t like cleaning so we had a perfect relationship.  After college, to support my ski-bum lifestyle I got a jobin a great hotel in Taos, NM. I quickly realized I loved the kitchen work and eventually attended a pastry school to learn about baking and pastry arts.  I am mostly self-taught on the savory side of the kitchen.  I encourage budding food professionals to work in several different restaurants before spending money on culinary school.  Also, the diploma does not make one a chef, those chops need to be earned.  At each job, offer to begin at the bottom of the kitchen hierarchy in order to work up to higher positions.  This is the best way to learn all aspects of the commercial kitchen.

We all know chefs don’t eat gourmet every night. What is your ultimate comfort food or quick meal?
I love sushi.  And hot dogs.  Neither I prepare at home.  My wife cooks for me on my days off and I do eat out a lot when not working.

What local farms, foragers or gardens are you currently sourcing from?
Numerous sources: produce: Full Circle, Nash, Tonnemaker, Willies, Pepitone, Bluebird Grain Farms.  Meat/fish: many unnamed farms for pork and beef (Names and faces, but not farm names), Skagit River Ranch, Lucky Pig Farms, Ninety Farm, Tobotan Creek, Loki, Taylor Shellfish.  Cheese: Estrella, Mt Townsend, Willapa Hills Foraged & Found

How do you get inspired in the kitchen?
I visit the farmers market and talk to farmers about what is coming up and what is best and freshest.  Knowing what is available at certain times of the year allows me to anticipate changes and implement them on my menus.

What cooking tool can you not live without? What tools would you suggest every home cook invest in?
I love kitchen tongs.  I can lift heavy objects or finesse baby vegetable with the same set.  Currently, I have a tiny pair of tongs that are my favorite.  I feel at home, the tongs are relegated to the BBQ only and this should not be the case.

What food or restaurant trends do you see for 2010? Do you think cupcakes or everything bacon will stick around?
I have seen vegan foods increasing in popularity (again), but I am not certain it is a bonefide trend.  Cupcakes will fade and bacon will just get bacon-ier.

Arugula was chosen as a must-have green for the White House garden. What is your must-have ingredient in your fridge/garden?
I love Estrella’s cheese, especially the Weebles, a smoked provolone style cheese.

Most people say that you never stop learning when it comes to cooking, do you agree with that? What it something you recently learned even after all of your experience?
I learn each and every day that I am in the kitchen. Sometimes it is about an ingredient or technique, sometime because I tried something different to measure the results. I rely on my staff to teach me new methods for cooking. Recently, I surveyed each of the kitchen staff to see how they made hollandaise.  In the end, I synthesized three of the methods to make my new batch of hollandaise.

Above Photo Courtesy of Tom Collicot



Brad's picture

Alright that confirms my suspicions, bacon will remain popular....

Thanks for sharing the intersting interview. Lookng forward to more.

Melissa Peterman's picture

You're welcome Brad, yes there are many more chef
Q & A to come!

Chef Q & A with Alex Pitts | Recipes for Everyone's picture

[...] An Interview with Chef Seth Caswell [...]

Donata's picture

I'm coming your way to test your talents!

Shellenbarger's picture

After college, to support my ski-bum lifestyle I got a great hotel in . <a href="">Shellenbarger</a>