Becky is a local chef with a flair for incorporating local ingredients and a knack for spreading her impassioned culinary panache. She runs Seasonal Cornucopia, a website that helps chefs, restaurateurs, home cooks, and gardeners find out whatís in season in the Puget Sound region, providing tips and information on everything from seafood to salad greens to edible flowers. Additionally, Becky teaches cooking classes and hosts dinner parties/chef demonstrations through Seattle-based Cornucopia, as well as at courses hosted by PCC markets. Becky has cooked for several renowned Seattle restaurants, including La Spiga, La Medusa, and The Herbfarm in Woodinville. You can find her writing and recipes in The Washington Seasonal and Local Cookbook, Edible Seattle, and at her blog, Chef Reinvented (http://www.chefreinvented.blogspot.com/).
Here are some of Beckyís thoughts on good food in our great region:
1.When did you know that you wanted to cook for a living? What motivated you? Was there one tipping point or did it come on gradually?
Iíve always loved to cook. When I was a kid Iíd watch cooking shows on tv and try to recreate the recipes for my family. A particular disaster was ďsauteed mushrooms on toast points.Ē I plopped some canned mushrooms on untoasted wonder bread. I think I even neglected to drain them, or, um, sautť them. I actually thought Iíd become a doctor but then changed courses, went to cooking school out here in Seattle and I knew the first day of school that I was hooked.
2.What inspires you in your cooking?
I love exposing people to new foods and flavors. The happiness I see on their faces when they eat something unfamiliar or something they thought they hated and now love is very inspiring. Iím especially fond of converting eggplant and kale haters (And, oh, thereís many of you out there ripe for conversion).
3.Describe your website, Seasonal Cornucopia. What was the motivation behind it? Did you have any shining muses that helped it along?
Seasonal Cornucopia is an online tool that helps people learn about local foods, their seasons and where to get the foods from. I was motivated to work on it because, 4 years ago, when I put it online, we didnít have that sort of thing and I would have to rely on my memory or old menus to remember exactly when certain foods came in and out of season. Not the easy things, like tomatoes or apples, but foods like hedgehog mushrooms, kolhrabi, mizuna. I had many muses. My biggest muse was the Herbfarm restaurant where I cooked. We lived and breathed seasonality there. Second was Quillisascut Farm School, where dinnertime conversations pointed to the need for such a website. I had a lot of help from many talented people, from foragers to chefs, farmers and fishermen.
4.Why did you choose Seattle as the place to launch your career as a chef?
I knew I wanted to live out here after a particularly idyllic visit to see a friend. We walked along in the Madrona neighborhood, looking out at the mountains and we ate figs, pears and apples off the streets. There were piles of fruit just dropping on the sidewalks. After living in Washington, D.C. for many years, Seattle seemed like the Garden of Eden. The passionate food culture out here continues to inspire me. Iím never alone when I wax poetic about good food here.
5.In your mind, what distinguishes the food and cooking culture of the Puget Sound region?
Every region has their distinctive regional take on the food. Here we have a lot of influence from Native American cultures, from salmon to salal, to a million other native/foraged ingredients. In more recent history, the large influx of Vietnamese immigrants to our city has really changed our food scene and as a lover of Vietnamese food, I feel very fortunate for that. In general though, it seems like the people of the Puget Sound region really appreciate fresh food, especially seafood and local produce and the dramatic growth of the farmerís markets here is just fabulous. Also, we are developing quite an artisan cheese culture hereÖsome really great cheeses right now, some favorites: Estrella, River Valley, Black Sheep Creamery, Port Madison, Quillisascut, Beecherís and Monteillet.
6.What foods/ingredients do you most like to source locally?
Seafood, for obvious reasons: we have such a wonderful selection in this area and I donít see the necessity of flying it in from all over the world when I can get wonderful oysters, clams, Washington and Alaskan salmon and black cod here. Tomatoes are an ingredient that I am always dissatisfied with if they come from out of state or out-of season. I wait, sometimes impatiently, for the first tomatoes of the season and then I overindulge on them.
7.Other than the actual fundamentals of cooking, what lessons and messages do you try to pass on to cooking students? What do you most want them, and the rest of us, to understand about cooking?
People are often so intimidated by the prospect of cooking. I try to make food as approachable as possible. Sometimes people get intimidated by chefs, but truly, weíre all just learning ourselves and home cooks have taught me more about cooking than many professional chefs. The hardest lesson in cooking is the most simple: pick the very best ingredients and then, frankly, donít ruin them. Let them speak for themselves. Simplicity is often the best direction when you start with excellent products.
8.What local ingredient are you most looking forward to being in season in the next 2-3 months? What will you do with it?
Local, organic, corn. Iíve been playing with making corn sauces and fresh corn tortillas, pickled corn dishes. Just love it. Itís vegetable candy.
9.If you could cook for anyone in the world, whom would it be? What would you make?
I have three answers:
1. my partner April: her favorite meal in the world, braised short ribs and winter squash puree, the first meal I made her when I was trying to woo her. I guess it worked.
2. my grandmother: sheís 97 and my biggest fan: Iíd make her the things she taught me, fresh pickled cucumber salad, perfect roasted chicken, matzo ball soup.
3. M.F.K Fisher: Iím just a big fan of her writing. Iíd serve her oysters on the half, seafood simply prepared, local cheeses, jams, a perfect peach set on a plate, with a big napkin, some fine local wine.