Renee Erickson gently pulls at the strings of restaurant culture and makes it all seem more relaxed, with a sense of generous ease. Her restaurants are full of light, artwork, and good conversation. She's not afraid to tell a simple story with her food, but it's marked with details that make you linger admiringly: the huge handful of herbs and spritz of lime that wake up a pile of braised greens, the soft fishy smoke of herring rillettes on crusty toast, whisper-thin slivers of octopus dressed with the very best olive oil and salt. Each of her spaces is discreetly programmed to delight, and they've been accordingly lauded by the likes of Bon Appétit and the New York Times. The boisterous the Walrus and the Carpenter will have you tipping icy oysters by the dozen and slurping down other treats like silky beef tartare and Moscow mules made extra frisky with fresh ginger. Next door, Barnacle vastly outperforms its role as waiting room with delicious charcuterie and amaro-centric cocktails. The Whale Wins is as pretty as a stage set, with vegetable plates that are just as significant and engaging as, say, the juicy wood-fired steak. And Boat Street Cafe, her original restaurant, is the most intimate of them all, where you can share lusty delights like country pâté, sharp pickles, and hot razor-clam fritters. If you want to throw dinner parties like Renee, as any right-thinking person would, her perfectly charming book A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus just came out on September 30. She's giving an author talk at the Book Larder on Wednesday, October 1, and there's a dinner at Delancey on October 6 and a lunch at the London Plane on October 8 to celebrate the book, too.
What are your favorite places to eat out when you can? Delancey, of course. We have a pizza that we love that is called the trailer park girl—white pie, pepperoni, and preserved lemon, sometimes with pickled peppers. London Plane for anything vegetable, and I love the bread. There are always many options for delicious wine by the glass, too. At Mamnoon, I love the kaak (pocket bread with za'atar), shorabat adas (lentil, garlic, cumin, and bread), and the falafel—anything with tarator, the cucumber yogurt sauce. Maneki, for miso black cod collar and fried oysters. Slate, for an Americano and beans to go.
What were your favorite food memories from childhood? So much of my inspiration has come from traveling, but I'm realizing now how important growing up on the Puget Sound has been. My family had a cabin on the Tulalip Indian Reservation. I have so many memories of crabbing and fishing and picking blackberries.
What's a guilty pleasure food for you? Lay's potato chips. They're more like chips in France, which they often serve with drinks. [Note: Renee isn't really one for shame; in fact, she serves Lay's to her Barnacle customers, and the bags function as a not-insignificant decorative element in the pretty blue-tiled space.]
What food don't you like? I hate chili.
Do you have a hangover cure? I wish. I'm hungover right now. Water. Time.
What was your first record? The first given to me was Disco Duck. I think the first one I bought was Kenny Rogers's The Gambler.
Do you listen to music in the kitchen? Yes, all sorts. A lot of bad music, really. With Spotify, you can kind of take a tour of a music. We've been enjoying Steely Dan radio, Fleetwood Mac radio, oh, yeah, and Nicki Minaj.
What do you cook for yourself at home? I roast chickens a lot, eat a lot of sardines, cucumber salads—nothing that exciting. A lot of eggs on toast. I haven't been cooking all that much at home recently.
Favorite staff meal? Jay makes these really delicious long-roasted pork-belly confit things that we put sriracha and vinegar on. We also do homemade corn dogs and fried rice.
What ingredient are you currently obsessed with? Dukkah [the Egyptian-inspired blend of ground nuts and spices]. I've been putting it on fish, carrots, veggie salads, and just on butter on a cracker. We made a really delicious biryani with that on top.
What is your favorite condiment? Olive oil, which I guess isn't too exciting. I also like Calabrian chili paste and rose harissa.
What's your best tip for home cooking? Use lots of salt. I think people don't season things well in general: It's such an easy addition to something to make it delicious. Salt is not bad for you; it's yummy and delicious.
Who are your role models? I guess the ubiquitous one: Julia Child, for her seeming lack of self-criticism. She was confident and proud of what she did, even if it wasn't perfect. Recently, Gabrielle Hamilton is out there among other women chefs who are cooking what they love versus what they think people want them to do.
Where would you like to be in 20 years? Retired, I guess! Maybe living on Whidbey on a farm.
What do you love about Seattle? The Puget Sound, Elliott Bay, Mount Rainier, all the amazing products that we get so easily. Dungeness crab, spot prawns, a bunch of seafood. Wild blackberries.
What do you dislike most about Seattle? Transportation—meaning lack thereof. Summer construction. People wearing shorts in the winter. Oh, and people who won't say hello back to you. Sometimes I greet people at the restaurant and they look at me like I'm an alien.
This is part of a series of interviews with great Seattle chefs appearing intermittently in The Stranger.