Some of the most compelling conversations we have in the restaurant seem to happen after the shift ends. Topics range from to the best three star Michelin rated dinner we’ve experienced to the best dive joint in Seattle to hit late at night. The variety of venues, personalities, flavors and ingredients from around the world and Pacific Northwest are all inspirations for conversation.
In that vein, we wanted to take a look at everything that made us fall in love with food, drink, and the hospitality industry. We sat down with Chef Varin Keokitvon and Beverage Director Amanda Reed to learn what inspires and drives their passion to create and share experiences.
What do you love about each others food or drink?
Chef Varin: “For me Amanda’s drinks are unique, balanced, and very well thought out. I would never have imagined that tequila, port, and vermouth would be such a great combination. She has an extensive knowledge of beer, wine, and spirits and has already taught me a ton about the subject!”
Reed: “Varin’s food is absolutely beautiful. He has such a thoughtful approach and often uses ingredients that he has a connection to. For example, he is filleting a fish he caught this morning and deciding how he wants to use it, as we speak. Varin’s experiences are an integral part of his process. Sometimes a regional dish he cooked while living in Spain or by a Laotian dish he ate growing up inspired him. He has an incredibly broad range of ingredients he likes to use and really interesting ways of infusing them. I am always blown away by the look and taste of the food he creates.”
What’s your most memorable food experience?
Chef Varin: “In 2011, in Tarragona/Catalunya/Spain, I had the chance to experience a calcotada (green onion) festival and cookout. Calcot — an overwintered green onion somewhere between the scallion and a leek — are planted in trenches and buried halfway up with soil so that a larger portion of the onion stays white. After they are pulled from the earth and knocked together to remove dirt, they are burned on coals from a fire of the previous year’s grape vines. Then they are wrapped in a newspaper to steam, then peeled and dipped in Romesco sauce. Of course, they are served with a porron of wine.
We ate those calcots outside on a bitter cold February day, but the charred, smoky, soft, sweet, oniony flavors brought a sense of warmth and comfort (or was that the wine?). For onion lovers around the globe, it is a wonderful experience. From wearing a bib while eating them, to licking your oniony carbon stained fingers, and tipping a porron of wine trying to get it into your mouth is just life changing!”
Reed: “One of the most memorable meals I ever had was on the side of some off-beat road in Hanoi, Vietnam. It was a pork and shrimp, lemongrass dish served on a little oven with a side of what I think was vermicelli noodles and fish sauce. I don’t even remember exactly what it was and why it was so good. I had been traveling that part of the world for months and eating all kinds of great food, but this particular dish really stood out.”
What part of the evolving Heartwood Provisions has excited you the most?
Chef Varin: “Learning so much about the extensive variety of cool beverages out there and how to create cocktail pairings with them has been wonderful. In the past year we toiled with a number of different food and cocktail combinations. We quickly discovered that while higher proof alcohols may compliment the food in some ways, they also overpower it in others. Amazingly, Amanda finds unique ways to lower the proof of the cocktails without sacrificing complexity or richness, and it has worked really well with the food. Cocktail and food pairings are not a new concept, but I think the way we are doing them is. It is very unique and fun.”
Reed: “Definitely the creative partnership Chef Varin and I have built over the last year. This concept of pairing cocktails and food could have been a complete disaster if we didn’t get along so well or respect each other’s talent. We have gotten to a point where we teach and influence each other. It’s such a stimulating and collaborative process.”
If you had to pick your favorite fall ingredient, what would it be?
Chef Varin: “That is very tough! I would say the first bit of wild mushrooms (lobster, chanterelles, boletes) popping up from under the humus on the forest floor.”
Reed: “I really like making drinks using ingredients made from apples and pears. These tree fruits flourish here in Washington and their flavors are so mixable.”
Outside of food & drink, how do you think your experiences working in your respective areas reflect on the tone and atmosphere of Heartwood Provisions?
Chef Varin: “Inspiration can be drawn from so many sources: The seasons, a piece of art, soil, color, warmth, cold, texture, experiences, places, emotions, people… It’s endless. Sometimes I’m inspired by what I like to do on my free time. I love going out to a damp forest to forage for mushrooms, fishing on a raging riverbank, digging razor clams in the cold night of winter. Being a lifelong learner inspires me to be open-minded, learn as much I can, and pass on what I’ve learned to others, whether it’s my staff, friends, or my guests. I think those experiences help set the tone when you come to visit us at Heartwood. We’re trying to convey many of the same experiences that inspire us, the excitement we’re feeling, and the passion we feel for great food and drink.”
Reed: “Traveling is one of my biggest passions. New perspectives excite me and can often times lead to new ideas. Music is another passion, just listening to whatever type my mood asks for makes me happy and fuels my creativity. Yoga and dog walks are how I relax and clear my head, which can lead to my most imaginative moods.”