Renee Erickson has earned local and national accolades for her Seattle restaurants over the last couple of years and this fall penned her first cookbook which we promptly chose as a Best Cookbook of October and recently a Best Cookbook of 2014.
A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus--named for three of her restaurants: Boat Street Cafe, The Whale Wins, and The Walrus and the Carpenter--is a collection of seasonal menus with personal stories, lots of extras (how-to make a nice cheese plate, favorite holiday wines, intros to local purveyors and family, etc.,), and absolutely gorgeous photographs. It's a cookbook you want to own yourself and also give to your favorite people.
Like the restaurants that inspired it, A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus is relaxed, friendly, and strikingly elegant. I met up with Erickson a little while ago at The Whale Wins to talk about cooking, restaurants, and what's next.
Seira Wilson: You own four restaurants and a food truck now, was it easier/less stressful to open the third and fourth restaurant vs. the first?
Renee Erickson: My life’s changed so dramatically since we opened Boat Street, even four years ago when we opened Walrus, that was the big push. I think more mentally and emotionally because the business itself is packed with stress.
It was hard to not be at Boat Street all the time, that was the biggest challenge, it was hard to let other people make decisions and be creative and do stuff, but at the end of the day it’s your name and reputation and so that was challenging.
Then you get really emotionally attached to your guests and you miss them and want to see them and for a long time it was hard, I felt like I was disappointing everyone a little bit because I couldn’t be everywhere. But I think you just kind of get used to it over time.
Opening two was hard, opening this one [Whale Wins] was much harder--it’s easy to split your time between two places, but having a third was..for all of us, Jeremy (my business partner), Chad and I, we all were like "whoa" [laughs]. We opened up thinking we could do things the same as the other two but we couldn't so we've been building our infrastructure. With two [restaurants] one of us could be there all the time, but now we need to have people available to do all the things we did and help manage the behind the scenes stuff.
SW: What's a typical day for you? Do you go to certain restaurants on certain days or..?
RE: Historically I sort of had a schedule, but now with the book...and with Whale and Walrus there have been lots of photo shoots, stuff for magazines, and that takes priority over my schedule and kind of dictates where I am right now. It's good, it's exciting, it's always different. Now it's more that I feel like I'm letting my staff down if I'm not there enough. We did a photo shoot for Art Culinaire, that was super exciting and stressful because it's sort of a fancy food magazine that I was like, "really? you want me in it?" because the one that's out right now is all full of Thomas Keller, so I was really nervous and spent two long days getting everything ready and right but it was great, everything turned out really well.
SW: When does that come out?
RE: April, their 114th issue, it’s all about oysters, so we did a lot of cool dishes.
SW: It's been so amazing, Bon Appetit Best Restaurant...
RE: I know, two years in a row, it sort of blew my mind. I'm definitely surprised by it all. I've sort of been doing the same thing all along, but I think the timing, all the food mania, is now.
SW: Where do you go, or what do you make at home, at the end of a long night when you’re starving?
RE: If I go out after a long night it's Delancey. At home, sardines--canned sardines. Historically, probably cheese and crackers--whatever cheese is in the fridge, glass of wine. Or really plain pasta--something simple. If it’s in the summer, tomato and basil, or whatever’s around. Anchovies and chilies. Love canned sardines.
SW: Do you have a favorite recipe from A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus?
RE: That’s hard--it’s like your favorite kid or something. It was so much fun. Things I eat the most? The clams, something I crave and want to eat all the time [Manila Clams from the Sunday at Home chapter]. I love rice pudding, this one’s crazy delicious [Honeyed Rice Pudding Pots from the Lummi Island Spot Prawn Dinner chapter]. Doesn’t photograph well but… And probably the Messy Spot Prawns. Sort of last meal food would be the Spot Prawns and...the Côte de Bœuf with Anchovy Butter, which I love.
SW: Was there anything you had to leave out, the hard cut?
RE: I feel like this was just scratching the surface of what I love, but when we made the outline for the book it was just super easy. I thought about it for so long that eventually when I sat down with Jess and we thought about it organized by season then it became really obvious which recipes, or events, or menus had been important enough to not let anything else compete with them. So that part was really satisfying, to have it come together as a full plan. It felt really satisfying and comfortable to know it came together easily, without a lot of torture over whether to include this or that.
SW: Do you want to write another cookbook?
RE: Yeah, I would want to do another one. I think I’d probably like to do more seafood focused, a lot of oyster stuff, I think would be really fun. Seafood and maybe more preserving stuff because we spend a lot of time doing that too. Not together, but...you know [laughs].
Photos from The Whale Wins
|Renee Erickson with A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus|
|Renee with parents Jim and Shirlee|