Nautical themes run deep for Renee Erickson

Renee EricksonDespite owning four Seattle-area restaurants (The Whale Wins, Boat Street Cafe, The Walrus and the Carpenter, and Barnacle), James Beard-nominated chef Renee Erickson somehow found the time to pen a cookbook, A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus. (You can enter our contest for your chance to win a copy and check our events calendar  for various events and signings). This book of menus and stories highlights simple, sourceable ingredients and is filled with seasonal, personal menus like a Fourth of July Crab Feast, Wild Foods Dinner, and a fall pickling party. Chef Erickson answered several questions from EYB about her busy schedule, food influences, and favorite cookbooks.

You own three restaurants in Seattle - how on earth did you find the time to create this beautiful cookbook?  

I now own four… Barnacle is our new Amaro bar next door to Walrus.  Owning many restaurants mean you have a team of fantastic people who work with us to make what we do a success.  I am super lucky to have a staff that loves what they do and loves cooking and sharing our restaurants with our guests.  Writing the book was a year-long project that could not have happened without my fantastic staff.  

What is the style of food at your restaurants?  

Boat Street Cafe is the most traditional of them all.  It's still comfortable and beautiful but has a more classic European-style menu. Walrus is a bright oyster bar--a cross between a beach shack and a French oyster bar.  We serve tons of oysters, appropriate wines by the glass, and serve up some incredible fin fish, shellfish and much more.  The Whale Wins is a restaurant where almost everything is cooked in our incredible wood burning oven, from incredible vegetable dishes inspired by the Middle East, India, and France, to a cote de boeuf roasted perfectly in the oven. And our newest member is Barnacle, an Italian Amaro bar with delicious small plates to match perfectly to our Italian wine list and huge 100-plus bottle bar full of amari. My favorite is the Octopus terrine with Ligurian olive oil and lemon.

How different are the recipes in the books from the menus at your restaurants?

Not very.  A lot of the recipes in the book come from the restaurants: pâté, harissa, pork shoulder, octopus, pickles, salads...A few things are from my life outside of work but all of it is represented in the restaurants too.  

I gather you didn't have any culinary training.  How did you learn your skills?  

I read a ton and most of my inspiration and learning came from travel.  I think it's the best school possible.

How much do you get to cook at home, and when you do, what kind of dishes do you make?  

I think I cook a fair amount for a professional cook.  I love what I do so I do it a lot.  The book does a good job describing how I cook at home from brunches to quiet dinners of clams and grilled bread.  Probably what I cook the most is a roast chicken.  

Do you have a cookbook collection?  What are your favorites? 

I love cookbooks...some of my favorites are Canal House (red book and series), Plenty, all of Nigel Slater, the Chez Panisse series, and the classic Zuni Cafe Cookbook.

Owning restaurants in Seattle you must be aware of food trends.  Which do you wish would disappear and which should stick around?  

I don't pay attention to the trends feels like once it's a trend it is almost dead. If people love what they are doing it really doesn't matter if it's a trend or not.  

Which recipe in your book most epitomizes your style of cooking?  

I think the messy spot prawns.  I love food that is fresh, messy, and gets you close to your food.

Photo courtesy The Whale Wins restaurant in Seattle (

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