Chef Jeffrey Vance’s personal philosophy is to do more than just feed the masses.
Story by Dylan Joffe
Photos by Charity Burggraaf
Jeffrey Vance, executive chef of both No Anchor and Navy Strength in Belltown, seemed pleasantly surprised when I suggested we meet early on a Friday morning. Most chefs prefer to catch up on sleep in the early-morning hours, but not Jeffrey — not lately.
More than a year ago, Jeffrey chose to stop drinking alcohol and focus his morning hours on creativity and self-awareness. He wanted to give mindfulness a try. Restaurant culture often means ignoring your own needs, but Jeffrey believes that embracing your needs is the key to unparalleled hospitality.
This new free time gave the James Beard Award-nominated chef a chance to better understand himself — and, in suit, to make the most interesting food of his career.
“There’s this movement toward — maybe not sobriety — but a little more self-care,” he says of today’s restaurant industry. “Knowing that we want to give our guests the best experience possible, we should do that for ourselves and the people we work with, too.” So rather than the industry standard of 14- to 16-hour work days, Jeffrey emphasizes work-life balance for his entire team.
Born in a small town in southeast British Columbia, Jeffrey grew up in a household that did not put great value on food. Dinner, during his childhood, was more likely to be Hamburger Helper than anything resembling the progressive techniques found on his menus today.
He started cooking because all of his friends were — mostly to pay for their skateboards and tickets to punk shows. His friends worked at suburban staples like the Old Country Buffet; Jeffrey himself got his start at a diner. It was the camaraderie that Jeffrey came to know in the kitchen — rather than the food — that fueled his passion for cooking.
“During a busy service, you feel a great sense of accomplishment with this group of people,” he says of the restaurant team. “You went through a great trial together.” It wasn’t until working for executive chef Jeremy Hansen, at Spokane’s Santé Restaurant & Charcuterie, and Brian McCracken and Dana Tough, at Seattle’s Spur, that his passion for scratch cooking and modernist cuisine grew.
Jeffrey’s personal philosophy on cooking is to thrill people with the unexpected, whether that’s pan-fried veal brain on the menu at No Anchor — ostensibly a beer bar — or a red velvet cake, made from beets, served alongside tiki drinks at Navy Strength. It’s this philosophy, Jeffrey says, that both businesses were founded on, and it’s what allows these businesses to ascend beyond their categories’ expectations.
“No Anchor is a beer bar, Navy Strength a prototypical tiki bar. We don’t know exactly what customer expectations are when they come in, but we want them to be thrilled when they leave.”
A hyper-local thread connects the menus at both establishments. At Navy Strength, the kitchen serves island-inspired food with primarily Pacific Northwest–found ingredients: Washington-caught albacore with pickled jalapenos, sour pineapple jelly, and nori chips; Puget Sound oysters served with tepache vinegar. At No Anchor, Jeffrey surprised guests this past winter with a micro-local tasting menu that was so seasonally specific, it never got printed on a menu; the freshest ingredients changed that quickly.
Jeffrey’s focus on all things local extends well beyond the kitchen. Through his years of running upscale restaurants, he has seen the growing disparity between the haves and have-nots of the world. It has fueled his advocacy work, first with Spokane’s Big Table, a nonprofit that “exists to see the lives of those working in the restaurant and hospitality industry transformed by building community around shared meals and caring for those in crisis, transition. or falling through the cracks.”
Jeffrey thinks it’s more important than ever for restaurant leaders to give back.
Last year, Navy Strength held a fundraiser for RAICES — Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services — an organization that provides free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrants. The fundraiser was in direct response to First Lady Melania Trump wearing a jacket that read, “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” while visiting separated family at the Texas-Mexico border. Jeffrey’s event, planned and executed with a number of other Seattle chefs, was called “Seattle Cares Do YOU?”
In December 2018, Jeffrey and a similar cohort of chefs, hosted a holiday dinner for the White Center Food Bank. And, they have plenty of ideas for future events. “I finally have the time and agency to give back. There’s an intersection between community and restaurants. I look at it as a moral obligation — to be hospitable toward people.”