Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spur Chefs Win Innovation Award from Seattle Weekly Today

We know it's a long article to post by blog, but we just had to share verbatim what Jason Sheehan wrote of the Innovation Award Spur's Brian McCracken and Dana Tough are being presented with: "Ten years ago, it seemed as if almost all young cooks worth their whites had listed on their resumes some time spent in the Napa Valley kitchen of Thomas Keller's French Laundry. Keller was the rock star, the wild-eyed rebel, the man who was going to single-handedly save the American culinary scene from stagnation and hippie pretension. So if you were an up-and-coming sous with something to prove, you absolutely had to make the pilgrimage to the Laundry, do your time, and come out the other side a changed person.

Today, things are a generation removed. The point people of the American avant-garde are now running kitchens of their own, and the new breed all must draw a straight line of inspiration from themselves to one of the latest culinary modernists: Grant Achatz, Wylie Dufresne, Ferran Adrià—the grand master—at El Bulli.

Which is why this year's Innovation Award winners are so unusual. Sure, Brian McCracken and Dana Tough can name-drop with the best of them. They can quote from the El Bulli cookbooks and talk about Achatz's wild presentations and how Keller was an inspiration to them both. But the kitchens they came up in? They're just about as far removed from the worlds of molecular gastronomy and culinary modernism as one can get without updating the passport, booking plane tickets, and flying off to some little town in Italy where no one has even heard of a fluid gel, let alone eaten one.

Before opening Belltown's Spur Gastropub in July 2008, Tough worked on the line for Maria Hines at Tilth in Wallingford—one of the restaurants at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement. He'd done time at Tulio, opened the Waterfront Seafood Grill, and worked the hot side at Earth & Ocean in the W Hotel, which was where he'd met Hines (he left with her to open Tilth years back). Earth & Ocean was also the kitchen where Tough first ran into his future partner, McCracken.

For his part, McCracken had worked at Mona's in Greenlake. He'd run a catering company after leaving Earth & Ocean, and stood stage at a bunch of different houses around the East Coast (in New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C.). Neither man really had anything in his background which would've led them in the direction of foams, fluids, and dusts.

Well, except for one thing.

"Brian and I, when we were at the W, we played with a lot of the ingredients we use now," Tough explains. "In that kitchen, certain cooks were responsible for doing the amuse-bouches every day." And it was there, working on that most throwaway of courses, that Tough and McCracken first started playing with the tools and techniques of molecular gastronomy.

For Tough, play seems to be the operative word in all his descriptions of how he found himself half in command of one of Seattle's most cutting-edge kitchens—playing with food, with ingredients, with the way diners experience flavor, texture, and dinner as a whole. "Delicious, focused, and playful" is how he describes the menu at Spur. "Playing with ingredients" is how he describes what he does all day.

McCracken approaches the plate a bit differently. He speaks like a scientist, talks of research and study, trial and error, and the fine-tuning of the palate. For him, the urge toward a new modernity in American cuisine ought to be entered with an eye on best practices. If a piece of meat tastes best grilled, then grill it, by all means. But if there's a compelling reason to break out the thermal circulator or the chemistry set? He isn't going to hesitate.

"We have a simple burger on our menu," he explains. "And it's just...a burger." Because through all the history of culinary innovation, no one has yet come up with a better way to handle a hunk of ground beef than to slap it on a smoky grill, flip it once, and present it between bread.

But then Tough starts talking about a pasta carbonara he liked from one of Spur's past menus—tagliatelle tossed with smoked oyster mushrooms that mimic the flavor of pork, topped with shaved parmesan and parmesan foam, then mounted with a sous vide duck's egg which, when broken at the table, creates the sauce for the pasta. McCracken loved a chocolate consommé that he and Tough made for a s'mores dessert—gelatinized, frozen, and clarified essence of chocolate, perfectly clear but with a flavor like the best hot chocolate ever, presented with a marshmallow sorbet and graham-cracker soil. Tough recalls a short rib done with fluid gels, McCracken a flight of whimsical pastries. Once they get talking, the two chefs just roll.

And that's another innovation of the Spur kitchen: It can operate with two chefs without one of them ending up in jail for shanking the other in an argument over garlic. Where most kitchens, by necessity, are dictatorships, Spur's is a two-man democracy. "It works for us somehow," explains McCracken, this balancing of two passions, two minds, two inspirations coming from two very different places. "We fight just enough to make everything better.""

Thank you Seattle Weekly, Voracious, and Jason. It's an honor.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April's menu at Spur, as seen by Photographer Trevin Chow

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Trevin Chow Photography Show at Spur

Born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, Trevin's been living in Seattle since 2001. He specializes in creative portraiture, urban landscapes and low light photography.

His favorite Spur drink? Broken Spur #2.

Come by and see Trevin's work rotating on our walls.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Seattle Weekly Favorite Restaurants on Spur: Grounding in Locality + Seasonality, Balances an Impulse towards Abstract Gastro Modernism

Spur's been included in the Weekly's favorite restaurant list of the year and cited for "eye opening indulgence". Thanks to Jason Sheehan for this write-up: "Spur Gastropub The problem with so many of today's flailing attempts at modernist cuisine and molecular gastronomy is that, in their breathless fascination with all the goop, gear, and gadgetry involved in turning cheese into pasta and fish into foam, many chefs forget that they're still being paid to make people dinner. That means that the food itself still has to be a recognizable part of the "dining experience" and not get completely lost amid the chemicals and lasers. This, then, is the strength of Spur—a kitchen where a grounding in locality, seasonality, and recognizable ingredients (hedgehog mushrooms, salmon, potatoes, leeks, bacon) balances the impulse toward abstract gastronomic modernism, always elevating the trout above the almond foam and the sockeye salmon and house-made mascarpone above pure gimmickry. Because Spur's crew can manage this (at prices considerably lower than those at many of the country's other temples of molecular gastronomy), dinner here can be an event and an eye-opening indulgence without ever slipping over the line into a piece of egotistical performance art staged by cooks solely for their own enjoyment."
Powerful Hunger image from the Seattle Weekly.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

a look at April at Spur

Cattail Creek Lamb Saddle with spring veggies

Sweetbreads with white asparagus and rhubarb

Amberjack Crudo with radish and avocado mousse

Peanut Butter Panna Cotta with chocolate and banana

Yogurt Vanilla Sponge Cake with cultured butter and rhubarb