Thanks to inventive chefs, first-rate local produce, adventurous diners, and a bold entrepreneurial spirit, Seattle has become one of the culinary capitals of the nation. Fearless young chefs have stepped in and raised the bar. Nowadays, fresh and often foraged produce, local seafood, and imaginative techniques make the quality of local cuisine even higher. Seattle's dining scene has been
stoked like a wildfire by culinary rock stars who compete on shows like Iron Chef, Top Chef, and regularly dominate "best of" lists. Seattle chefs have won big in the prestigious James Beard competition, with Matt Dillon of Sitka & Spruce taking the "Best Chef Northwest" title in 2012 and empire-builder Tom Douglas named the national "Best Restaurateur." And the Fare Start culinary training program, which runs a restaurant and a popular "guest chef" series, was honored as the foundation’s 2011 "Humanitarian of the Year." The city is particularly strong on New American, French, and Asian cuisines. Chefs continuously fine-tune what can best be called Pacific Northwest cuisine, which features fresh, local ingredients, including anything from nettles and mushrooms foraged in nearby forests; colorful berries, apples, and cherries grown by Washington State farmers; and outstanding seafood from the cold northern waters of the Pacific Ocean, like wild salmon, halibut, oysters, Dungeness crab, and geoduck. Seattle boasts quite a few outstanding bakeries, too, whose breads and desserts you'll see touted on many menus.
Seattle is also seeing a resurgence in American comfort food, often with a gourmet twist, as well as gastropub fare, which can mean anything from divine burgers on locally baked ciabatta rolls to grilled foie gras with brioche toast. But innovation still reigns supreme: local salmon cooked sous vide and accompanied with pickled kimchi or fresh-picked peas can be just as common as aspic spiked with sake and reindeer meat. Many menus feature fusion cuisine or pages of small-plate offerings, and even high-end chefs are dabbling in casual ventures like pop-up eateries or gourmet food trucks. Many if not most of the top chefs own their businesses as well, and in recent years they’ve spread their talents around, operating two or three complementary ventures (or, in Ethan Stowell’s case, a half-dozen and counting, while Tom Douglas has 13 with at least four more in the works.) The trend toward informality and simplicity particularly plays out when it comes to dessert; most neighborhoods boast branches of at least one of the city’s popular, independently owned cupcake, doughnut, or ice cream shops. Regardless of the format or focus, one thing's for sure: chefs are highlighting their inventions with the top-notch ingredients that make Pacific Northwest cooking famous.