Let’s Talk Food: Up-and-coming new chefs in Seattle

According to Seattle Met, the city has five hot chefs for 2018.

All are younger than 40 years old, they understand the inner workings of the restaurant kitchens and are very savvy about the culinary aspects of the business. Each of them presently work for restaurants and create some of the best meals in Seattle, but behind the scenes since they work under other chefs. As good as they are, these chefs could easily open their own restaurant.

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One of the five is Cecily Kimura from Waimea. Her parents, Craig and Sally Kimura, still live in Waimea, and her aunty and uncle are Lauren and Delbert Nishimoto.

Cecily also was featured in the New York Times food section last month in an article about “expediters” in a restaurant.

At 27 years old, Kimura leads the rotating brunch buffet at Joule, where she is able to expand her culinary horizons with a new culinary theme each month.

Cecily’s mom cooked dinner every night and being Korean, Sally’s meals often were kalbi, bibimbop and meat jun with a side of gochujang dipping sauce.

Her menus pull no creative punches.

“Once I have a theme, like street food or a specific cuisine, I’ll brainstorm the buffet in its entirety,” Cecily says.

Winter is for “cozy spices”; summer means tropical fruit flavors. Once, she devised a lineup of Ethiopian-inspired dishes (honey-roasted beets with grapefruit, berbere and pink peppercorns; dabo bread with onions).

“God, it sounded so good,” Cecily recalled of the Ethiopian food.

That menu remains one of her favorites.

Rachel Yang, chef-owner of Joule, Revel and more says this about Cecily: “The biggest thing that you ask of your sous chef, who’s in charge of your restaurant sometimes, is to see the big picture. She is one of the smartest and most hardworking chefs I’ve seen. Her creativity and amazing work ethic, especially, shine through brunch — she’s on every single level of it!”

On her day off, Cecily goes to Marination, where she is able to enjoy Hawaiian-style food.

“It just seemed like I would find somewhere to fit in,” she says. Luckily, she has a sister and several Hawaii co-workers to hang out with.

When working, Chef Kimura cannot live without something pickled.

“In almost every dish there’s some punch of acid from a pickle,” she says. It’s practically gospel at Joule, where you’ll likely encounter her pickled peanuts, cucumbers and even yellow curry beets.

According to her mother, in middle school, Cecily took cooking classes from the late Nancy Piianaia. After taking classes for two years, Piianaia, who I knew and loved dearly, asked Cecily to be a helper. That might have been the turning point in Chef Kimura’s life, as culinary arts became her chosen career.

In 2006, in Waimea, at 16 years old, Cecily landed a summer job weighing, shaping and wrapping pizza dough. In 2009, she graduated from Hawaii Preparatory Academy and went to University of California at Davis, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in food science.

From 2013-14, Chef Kimura went to Seattle, “a great food city to start my culinary journey” — and studied at Le Cordon Bleu. In 2014, she worked at Tom Douglas’s Home Remedy, then started as a line cook at Joule. In 2016, she was named sous chef.

Let it be known, Cecily, that all of us here on the Big Island are very proud of you and know you will go a long way in the culinary world.

The remaining young chefs include 32-year-old Chris Barton, chef de cuisine of Stateside. Instead of going to culinary school, Chef Barton started out washing dishes, working his way to line cook.

Eric Johnson, chef-owner of Stateside, says this about Chris: “Chris is young, but he’s kind of like an old-school gentleman chef: He’s even keeled, he’s got the work ethic and a great palate. Anyone who’s going to be a good chef is adaptable and needs to be constantly learning — that quest for new information is what drives a good chef-and he definitely does that.”

Nicole Matson is executive chef of How to Cook a Wolf, an Italian restaurant. Addam Buzzalini, the culinary director of Ethan Stowell Restaurants, says this about Nicole: “Her strength is beauty and simplicity by design. She has a knack for knowing what goes with what — both her combination on the plate and what she pairs with her food. She’s excellent at writing menus, training, sharing her knowledge, the list goes on and on. She’s badass.”

Jack Mazzacavallo is the sous chef at Copine, and Chef Shaun McCrain says: “Jack definitely has that Northwest feel to his approach, which I really like: French-style food and Northwest food really blend together because we have similar products and seasons. He’s a great support, and the balance that we need in the kitchen; when I’m freaking out, he stays calm — not that I freak out.”

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Kyle Fong is sous chef at Le Petit Cochon, and according to La Petit Cochon chef Derek Ronspies, Kyle “can make anything I throw at him; his purees, his sauces, his meat-cooking skills are bomb. He adapts to what I do, but if he had his own place, it would be completely different. He does a really good job of adding two or 35 extra ingredients. I joke that I like 108 things on a plate.”

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.