Chef Bruce Naftaly takes one of late summer’s most beloved sweet stone fruits and gives it an edge.
STORY BY JACKIE VARRIANO
PHOTOS BY CHARITY BURGGRAAF
The owner of Marmite, a French-leaning, locally-focused restaurant on Capitol Hill, Bruce moved to Seattle from Palo Alto in the late ’70s with a plan to study music. But first, he needed a job.
Bruce’s music teacher was also the voice coach and friend of famed Seattle restaurateur Victor Rosellini, who helped Bruce snag a gig washing dishes.
“Which was fine, I was just out of college,” Bruce says with a wave of his hand. After all, Bruce was still thinking he was in Seattle just to study music.
But the kitchen Bruce found himself in wasn’t your average greasy spoon; it was The Other Place, Victor’s son Robert’s restaurant, itself a celebrated forerunner to today’s farm-to-table dining.
The words “local” and “organic” sealed the deal for Bruce, who not only loved classic French cooking, but also cooking that celebrated the region and seasons, a practice he discovered when he collected persimmons around his neighborhood in Palo Alto. It was those scavenging sessions that first sparked Bruce’s interest in cooking.
“We knew who had the best trees and would scavenge around for ingredients and cook them,” says Bruce. “It was a lot of fun.”
Once at The Other Place, he approached chef Dominique Place, offering to wash dishes during the day and apprentice alongside Dominique at night. The intense training paid off: “As it turns out, I have sort of a knack for this thing, for sauces and how to get flavor out of things and how things should taste.”
Bruce ended up taking over the kitchen at The Other Place after Dominique departed. Over the next few years, he made a name for himself as a chef who celebrated the ingredients of the Pacific Northwest —although it didn’t come easily at the time.
“This was before computers,” Bruce says. “It was all about just spending a lot of time, person to person, and it was very exciting. You’d get these little boxes of green beans, and you’d find people who spent their passion and love growing this stuff, and then you’d take these beautiful things and do what you love and hopefully make them stand out.”
After a few years, Bruce left The Other Place to open Les Copains with a collective of other like-minded chefs interested in locally-sourced food, then moved on to the Alexis Hotel before opening Le Gourmand in 1985.
There was a garden behind the petite Ballard spot where he would harvest ears of corn to order, and there was nary a lemon (or nearly any other item that couldn’t be sourced locally) on the menu.
The concept was born out of the idea for a place that featured the same ideas about ingredients and food as Le Gourmand, but in a less formal context.
“Le Gourmand was pretty much all tasting menus and wine flights, and it was fairly fancy, and we thought, ‘Well, you could really eat well like that but have it be in this more down-to-earth, friendly setting with a lot of soul.’”
He found a 40-gallon steam kettle, and Marmite (pronounced “mar-meet”) was born. The name refers to a big cooking pot, and the kettle Bruce found is constantly bubbling with stock “to fuel all the sauces and soups, because that’s the part of French cooking that’s the most exciting to me.”
Although Marmite does so much more than soup, it’s in these comforting bowls that Bruce’s love for seasonality really shines. Take this nectarine and shiso soup, which takes one of late summer’s most beloved sweet stone fruits and gives it an edge.
“It’s savory and fantastic,” Bruce says.
He loves doing savory fruit things and is particularly drawn to this recipe because “the heart and soul of the restaurant is stock-making, and I thought a soup — which is like an attenuated sauce — would be a good symbol for a place and what I love about cooking.”
His recipes come about from lists — making lists of what’s available or in season, and then matching up what he thinks will go well together. He’s taught cooking classes for years, thinking of them as a laboratory of sorts where he can try out new recipes to eager taste-testers.
Bruce remembers coming up with this particular recipe with Sara, while the two were driving over the Aurora Bridge in his 1963 VW Beetle. It was 1999, and they were on their way to Pike Place Market for an arugula tasting.
“We were thinking of a new soup for the menu at Le Gourmand, and nectarines were just coming in, and we were growing a lot of green shiso, and we both thought that the combination of flavors in a savoy soup context would be delicious — and it was!”
NECTARINE AND SHISO SOUP
- 1 leek white, cut into small pieces
- 1 onion, cut into small pieces
- 2 shallots, cut into small pieces
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 ripe nectarines, pitted, cut into small pieces
- 8 leaves fresh green shiso
- 4 cups chicken stock (homemade, please!)
- 4 teaspoons crème fraiche
- sea salt
In a heavy-bottomed, non-aluminum pan, cook the leek, onion, and shallots in the unsalted butter over low heat until they are translucent and relaxed. Add nectarines, six of the shiso leaves, and the chicken stock and raise the heat to a boil. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer until the nectarines are soft.
Remove from heat and purée in a blender until completely smooth. Pour into a saucepan and salt to taste. The salt brings out the savory flavor from the stock and rounds out the flavor. Chop the remaining two shiso leaves. Serve in bowls garnished with a teaspoon of crème fraiche each and a sprinkling of the chopped shiso. (Alternative garnishes include chive flowers or rose petals.)
Jackie Varriano loves digging into stories that discuss why we eat the things we do — and when — in our region and beyond. Her work can be found at jackievarriano.com.