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Inspired stories about artisan wine and taste makers.
by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML
Slouching Towards Lummi Island
Part 3 of 4: Foraging
Your moment of Lummi Island zen.
The first thing you notice about The Willows Inn on Lummi Island is the quietude. No blaring music. No snappy kitchen prep banter. No rattle and crash of cookware.
The kitchen runs with the calm abiding of a zen meditation center.
The second thing you notice about The Willows Inn on Lummi Island is Chef Blaine Wetzel’s youth.
Barely thirty, he looks much younger. In five meteoric years since helming The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Chef Blaine has garnered the prestigious 2014 James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef award, the James Beard Foundation 2015 Best Chef Northwest award, and earned rave reviews from the New York Times.
Yet for all his achievements, Chef Blaine Wetzel remains gracefully understated, like his food, a true renaissance Millennial infused with an endearing combination of irreverence and old soul.
We begin with a stilted Q & A that eventually wraps with sighs of relief on both sides of the camera and microphones; none of us like scripts. Freed from the false constraints of irrelevant questions, the chef invites us to hop in his truck and head to the Inn’s nearby secret garden, where the good stuff begins.
Here, behind unprepossessing wooden gate, Chef Blaine gleefully peeks into raised beds like a young child discovering Christmas presents, sharing snippets of seasonal herbs and mustard greens for the tasting.
Satiated by the bio-dynamic bounty, we head back to the kitchen for food prep. Pulling up the gravel drive, we meet a slight, man-bunned kitchener eagerly bearing a spray of freshly foraged roadside Angelica leaves. Nearby, a designated wood-fire griller roasts dandelion stems.
We pied-piper Chef Blaine inside, past a scrum of devoted staff deveining shrimp, to the front kitchen nearest the dining room. Here, an intense staffer silently scans a black light wand over a steel bin of crab meat, searching for shells. Two equally studious staffers meticulously monitor the slow toasting of birch branches in the brick oven.
Despite the number of kitchen staff working in tight proximity to one another, the space resembles a church instead of a kitchen. A sacred place pledged in homage to the seasons, reverence manifest in the intricate tasting menus under composition.
And then, with effortless legerdemain, preparation moves seamlessly into presentation. To be continued…
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