Continuing Caviarblog’s series of interviews with some of the great chefs out there today, we are fortunate enough to have an interview with Chef Jason Franey of Canlis in Seattle. I sat down with Chef Jason to ask about his background in the industry, the Seattle food scene, and of course caviar. In case you missed it, we did a blog on the Chef’s tasting menu that you should check out as well. We’ll be breaking this up into two parts, so make sure to check back in tomorrow for Part 2.
Matt: How did you get started in the industry?
Jason: I started cooking when I was 15 years old. By the time I was 16, I knew I wanted to be a chef. I told my mom I wanted to be a chef and she supported it, but I couldn’t get a full time job anywhere until I was 18. I didn’t want to go to college, I just wanted to start cooking. I’m from West Palm Beach, FL so I started working in Palm Beach. That’s where all the high end restaurants were at that time. When I was 20 or 21, I started working at the Breakers where I built my initial foundation on cooking.
Matt: Can you talk a bit about your stint at the Breakers?
Jason: It’s a huge hotel. They had banquets for up to 4,000. They had fine dining. They had a high-end seafood bar. So I started at a seafood bar doing like 350 covers and I found out my passion was for fine dining. So I transferred to L’Escalier. It’s not there now but at the time L’Escalier was fine dining, very French brigade with Chefs de Partie and the Sous Chefs, so that was my introduction to the French style.
Matt: Where did you go next?
Jason: When I was 24, I had the opportunity to go to San Francisco. So I moved to San Francisco and started working at Campton Place under Laurent Manrique at the time. About eight months later, he left to take over Aqua. At that point a lot of us left the kitchen because Laurent left, but I came back before the new chef started. That chef was Daniel Humm. We worked there for three years and I was the Executive Sous Chef. Daniel was awarded four stars by the SF Chronicle and won Best New Chef from Food and Wine Magazine. Then Daniel got the job at Eleven Madison Park in New York and asked me to go with him. So I spent three years there as the Executive Sous Chef. It was great. We changed the whole thing and it wasn’t easy. In the first year, we got three stars from the NY Times.
Matt: How did you end up here in Seattle at Canlis?
Jason: I had spent 6 years with Daniel. We talked and decided it was time for me to become an Executive Chef. We started looking all over the place. I had interviews with Michael Minna. I had interviews in random places like Georgia. The GM at Eleven Madison Park, Will Guidara, had gone to school with Brian Canlis and told me the Canlis family was looking for a Chef. I had no idea about Seattle or the restaurant scene in Seattle. It was off my radar because I had been in SF and NY and there wasn’t a lot of focus on Seattle. I came out here, did a tasting, and saw the venue which is just beautiful. So I interviewed with the family and next thing you know, I was in Seattle. You have a vision of what you’re going to do sometimes and you’re thinking what your next move is, but you can end up someplace totally different. It is the best though. I love this restaurant and they are very supportive of what I do.
Matt: Canlis has a storied history. Can you share a bit and tell us how that influences you?
Jason: The brothers Mark and Brian are the third generation. Peter Canlis first opened the restaurant in 1950 and then in 1977 Chris and Alice Canlis started the second generation of Canlis. In 2003, Mark and Brian took over and began to revamp the place, change the menu, and make it more contemporary. You have to remember though that this is a 60 year old restaurant. We have to cater to people that have been dining here for 30 years in addition to the foodies that want new stuff. We’ve coined a phrase that we use to describe our style here: “Comfort Geek”.
To here Jason discuss caviar and find out what he means by “Comfort Geek”, check back tomorrow.