Kelly O
Chewie Alvarez
Chef, the Green Room (Showbox), 1426 First Ave, 628-3151.

The bar food at Seattle's most prestigious live music venue had never been its strongest feature. That changed dramatically earlier this year, when longtime Showbox custodian Chewie Alvarez took over the Green Room's kitchen. Melding a rich culinary schooling in Mediterranean, Italian, and French cuisine with his family's homeland recipes, Alvarez has conjured up a fresh and vibrant menu emphasizing Mexican basics: spicy snapper fish tacos, tart and succulent ceviche, and the sexiest guacamole I've ever encountered--perfectly balanced with slivered cilantro and the unexpected lushness of half-and-half. Kindly tolerating my Spanish, Alvarez was generous enough to share his guacamole recipe with me.

So how long have you been cooking? "Eleven years--since 1990 or so."

Where did you start? "I worked at a local French restaurant till 1994; then I started at 2218 [a now-defunct Belltown restaurant/club], which is where I met Jeff [Steichen, owner of the Showbox]. At 2218 it was Italian cooking for a while, and then the owner switched to Mediterranean. I was the sous chef for six years."

So how long have you worked at the Showbox? "Cleaning? [Laughs.] Six years; I was cooking over at 2218 and working over here."

So how did you end up cooking at the Showbox? "I asked Jeff if he would need somebody to take care of the kitchen, and he said yes, but he never really asked me. He tried a lot of other people, and then one day he came and said, 'Hey Chewie, wanna come to the kitchen?' It was actually the first time I'd cooked Mexican food [professionally]."

So what do you cook at home? "Oh, well my wife, she loves my fettuccine with shrimp. And my Caesar salad--my wife and my kids like my Caesar salad."

So where did this guacamole recipe come from? "My mom--in Durango, Mexico--this is always the way they make it there. The half-and-half keeps it from getting brown."

So where do you like to eat when you're not working? "I like to eat at American restaurants; I don't like to go to Mexican."

Because it's boring? "No, because it's not Mexican food."

So what's the key thing that Americans do to mess up Mexican cooking? "I don't know where they get these recipes--like carne asada?! Carne asada in Mexico is salt, black pepper, crushed garlic, and sliced--not chopped--onions, and a little bit of beer. Then you just let it sit for two hours. That's carne asada. Here, they sometimes have orange and lime... or even egg added--I don't understand why."

Interview by Hannah Levin