He’s spent four decades as part of Seattle’s food scene, so Geogy Chacko knows how simmering trends turn into fully plated business opportunities.
The India-born chef began buying into the future of the Washington wine industry when others viewed it as a fad. These wines grew into a mantra for Chacko and the focus of FAR-EATS, the centerpiece of his young restaurants in Belltown.
“I’m in downtown Seattle — just a few blocks away from Pike Place Market — and I would say more than 50 percent of my guests are tourists, and they always want to try Washington wines,” Chacko said. “That makes it a great thing for me to pair Washington wines with my food.”
He’s poised to introduce many more not only to Washington wines but also his cuisine in various forms as owner of a veritable theme park of eateries in the shadow of the monorail over Fifth Avenue. FAR-EATS, just beyond its first anniversary, stands out as the fine-dining spot in his “garden” halfway between Seattle Center and the famed market.
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“What I have is what I call the Global Food Garden on Fifth,” Chacko said. “I have FAR-EATS, which is a wonderful restaurant that just happens to be Indian. There is Dos Amigos, which is a Mexican concept. We have Belltown Burgers, which uses 100 percent organic burgers, and we have a delicatessen called Beba’s Deli. All together, people who walk in and want to sit down and enjoy a meal can come to FAR-EATS. If they are in a fast pace, they go to one of the fast counters and sit together and enjoy the food.”
No restaurant is a sure thing, but the prospects look encouraging as the Pacific Northwest continues to emerge from the Great Recession and new construction in downtown Seattle caters to urban life.
“I think I’m still digging the gold,” Chacko smiled. “It’s going to take two to three years before the gold starts coming in. This is the corner of Fifth and Bell. Amazon is putting in their three towers, which is bringing in about 10,000 people about two blocks away.
“Right across the way, I have 1,700 condominiums coming, and across from me Bell Street is becoming Bell Street Greens — basically a park for people to walk from the waterfront all the way to Fifth Avenue,” he continued. "So they can follow the monorail and go either to downtown or the Seattle Center. I’m on the corner, and I have a great patio, which also will attract people.”
Chacko began his culinary career with more than three years at the Mumbai College of Hotel Management and Catering Technology, which has produced several contestants on The Food Network’s Iron Chef series and graduates of the Culinary Institute of America. He arrived in Seattle as a teen, started at the Westin and worked his way into lead cook positions at The Georgian Room in the Four Seasons Olympic Hotel for Ludger Szmania, the Seattle Sheraton with Kathy Casey, Chandler’s Crabhouse for Brian Poor. It didn’t take long for his entrepreneurial spirit to emerge, though.
“In 1981, I had a grocery shop, and in 1982 I started my first restaurant in Lake City called Geogy’s Indian Cuisine,” he said. “That was the second Indian restaurant in town. It was fun as a youngster. At the same time, I was working for Four Seasons, I was open four days a week. That’s where I started doing Indian food and experimenting with Northwest fusion of Indian food. I still do quite a bit of fusion in most of my menus. I have salmon, I have scallops. I have lobster.”
For years, Chacko has left his wine list in the hands of third-generation wine professional Penny Rawson, who moved to Seattle from Great Britain six years after the World’s Fair — and just as the Northwest wine industry began to take root.
“My dad had wine shops in England, but I started in architecture,” she said with a refined British accent. “Before long, my eyes started to hurt and I decided that working in wine would be easier, although I did design some houses for my dad.”
She has two great aunts who also operated wine shops in England.
“We’ve always seemed to be involved in wine,” Rawson said. “When I was working with my dad, the English wine industry wasn’t what it is today. There were some strange wines from strange places, but we still had French and Italian wines. Then Austrian wines came up. So did Australia and South Africa.”
In Washington state, among those on shelves was the lagging brand of National Wine Co., now a footnote in the history of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
“When I arrived, there were only nine wineries — including Nawico — so we all grew up together.”
Rawson crossed paths with Charles Coury, one of the first Californians to plant Pinot Noir in Oregon’s Willamette Valley; Myron Redford, who moved from Seattle to create Amity (Ore.) Vineyards; and Patricia Gelles, the flamboyant Brit behind renowned Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain. And then there was winemaker David Lake, the Master of Wine whose arrival at Columbia Winery attracted worldwide attention.
“I knew of him because he was a Brit, and my parents had met him,” Rawson said.
She operated a catering company in Seattle for several years and later became Columbia’s culinary director — making her perhaps the Northwest’s first winery chef.
“I worked with Columbia and David Lake for about 20 years — from 1978 to 1998 — doing the catering,” she said. “That took me to Eastern Washington and Red Willow Vineyard. Anywhere Columbia went, I would go. That seems so many years ago.”
Along the way, Rawson assisted the Washington Wine Commission when the commission first brought its World Vinifera Conference to Seattle, helping to design what would evolve into Taste Washington. She became active in the Enological Society of the Pacific Northwest and helped chronicle the Seattle restaurant scene for the Bellevue Journal-American newspaper. That’s how she met Chacko.
“Penny wrote a piece on my restaurant called ‘Blessings on Juanita Drive’ about Indian food,” Chacko said. “Eventually, we kept in touch, and she’s been doing PR for me since I started another restaurant called Chutneys. I had to bring her basically out of retirement to do this one.”
Rawson said, “There weren’t many Indian restaurants around then. I happened to review it, and coming from England, I was missing my Indian food. It really stood out from the usual at the time, but Geogy’s food has always been slightly different than the norm."
Perhaps his restaurant in Lynnwood, which included a wine bar and featured winemaker dinners, would have had some legs with Rawson’s help.
“It was ahead of its time,” she said.
Chacko quipped, “I wish that I had started it right now. I tried to teach some culture in Lynnwood, but it just didn’t work,” he joked.
His timing with the evolution of Washington wines and the concept of FAR-EATS seems spot-on.
“I’ve found that pairing Indian food with Washington wines is very friendly because the wines have a lot of fruit,” Chacko said. “Indian food is traditionally pretty spicy and I would say has more flavor. The flavors go very well with both red and white wine, and Washington is doing a great job growing the right grapes.”
FAR-EATS’ wine list offers only Washington wines and features value. The most expensive bottle at the table is the Hightower Cellars Pepper Bridge Merlot ($58). He even offers Treveri Wine Cellars’ Sparkling Brut as a glass pour. As expected, there are multiple Rieslings from Washington, but what stands out is Treveri’s Sparkling Syrah.
“It’s very fruity, and up-front fruit is what goes well with the curries and spices of India,” Rawson said. “French wines often don’t work because they don’t have the fruitiness of Washington reds.”
The pairing with Chacko’s Cilantro Salmon was moist, delicious and remarkable. The purple bubbles by Treveri bring an abundance of Marionberry, raspberries and blueberry flavors that swim alongside the sweet spice rub on the salmon. There’s no hint of the metallic aftertaste that often foils attempts at enjoying red wine and fish.
After that, Chacko’s serving of Butter Chicken with the Sleight of Hand 2012 Riesling was predictably suave. While the nut purée sauce, the coconut sauce and pesto each worked with the Riesling, the Butter Chicken also paired nicely. It won out because it was the most photogenic.
“The acidity of the wines and the spices work pretty good so they don’t fight each other,” Chacko said. “Each one becomes a very good accompaniment.”
Sleight of Hand Cellars $18
2012 The Magician Evergreen Vineyard White Wine, Columbia Valley
— 600 cases, 12.1% alcohol
Trey Busch didn’t intend on changing The Magician from a proprietary white blend into a relatively dry Riesling.
Circumstances beyond his control at Evergreen Vineyard, the most famous planting in the new Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area, forced his hand.
“The first year it was all Riesling was 2011,” Busch said. “It had been a blend of Gewürztraminer and Riesling, but our Gewürz block was taken from us at Evergreen by Ste. Michelle, so we switched to all Riesling.”
Some vintages, (Gewürz would dominate) have long been trusted to screwcap. Change can be good, though, and there’s something to be said for bottling a Riesling from the same vineyard praised by Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen in their groundbreaking Eroica program.
Winemakers will remember 2012 as a warm vintage, but Evergreen is one of the state’s relatively cool spots, particularly at night, which is when grapes retain their much-needed acidity. That helps explain why Riesling from this Milbrandt vineyard features tones of Granny Smith apple, Asian pear and minerality with citrusy acidity.
“It is such a versatile grape and an amazing food wine,” said Busch, a buyer for Nordstrom before trading Seattle for Walla Walla, getting his start with Dunham Cellars and arriving at Basel Cellars.
By the numbers and on the palate, The Magician compares with dry Rieslings beyond the Pacific Northwest at 1.1 percent residual sugar, a pH of 3.04 and total acidity measured at 8.8 grams per liter. That formula lends such Rieslings to Asian cuisine.
“It’s all about balance for us,” said Busch, who launched his winery with the 2006 vintage and named it for a Pearl Jam song. “We love it crisp and drier, where the sugars and the acids complement each other. I love seeing folks’ reactions to the wines, since many consumers preconceive the wine to be sweet.”
* Sleight of Hand Cellars, 1959 JB George Road, Walla Walla, WA 99362, 509-525-3661, sofhcellars.com.
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Chicken marinade ingredients:
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon dried methi leaves
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, finely chopped
1. Combine all marinade ingredients and smash with the back of a spoon to form a lumpy paste.
2. Scrape this paste into Ziploc bag with the chicken.
3. Seal and massage the bag until the marinade covers each piece of chicken. Place into the refrigerator for 3-24 hours, massaging the bag occasionally.
Butter sauce ingredients
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeno or to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
4 tablespoons clarified butter, ghee, or canola oil
4 cardamom pods cracked open. Retain seeds and discard dry husk
1 stick of cinnamon
1 bay leaf 1 can tomato purée (10.5 ounces)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream or more to taste
1/2 cup water
1 pinch of dried methi leaves
1. Combine first seven Butter Sauce ingredients to make a loose paste. Set aside.
2. In a medium frying pan, heat the 4 tablespoons of either clarified butter, ghee, or canola oil until a drop of water crackles when dropped in. Add the cardamom seeds, cinnamon stick and bay leaf, and stir for a few minutes. Add the reserved loose paste and roast until oil separates.
3. Stir in the tomato purée, sugar, salt, heavy cream and water.
4. Cook for 15 minutes until sauce thickens slightly. May be made to this point and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
5. To finishing the dish, remove the marinated chicken from the plastic bag and place in a glass casserole dish.
6. Bake in a 350-degree oven until the internal temperature of the breasts reaches 165 degrees.
7. Remove from heat and chop into 1-inch pieces. Heat the reserved butter sauce in a deep pan, adding additional cream to taste.
8. Add the cooked chicken pieces and bring to a boil. Add a pinch of methi leaves and let simmer for a few minutes.
9. Serve on basmati rice or over pasta.
Treveri Cellars $19
NV Syrah Brut, Columbia Valley
— 700 cases, 12% alcohol
Juergen Grieb’s Yakima Valley bubble house — his dream come true — is blowing up.
For nearly 30 years, he made huge amounts of wine in Washington state, but only industry insiders knew him. That’s the nature of the custom-crush business.
Now, he’s helping raise the profile and versatility of sparkling wine in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. He’s already doubled production in the past year and had his wines featured U.S. government events, specifically by a State Department chef visiting Yakima.
“He said he liked our wines, and I didn’t know who he was until toward the end when he whipped out his business card,” Grieb said. “I asked him, ‘Are you bull----ing me? I never thought I would get one of those chefs in my winery.”
Twice since Grieb launched Treveri Cellars in 2010 have his sparkling wines been poured at State Department dinners. The first time was later followed by a State Department tour for Grieb.
“It was a real honor, and I’m not even an American,” he chuckled.
The Syrah Brut is one of eight bubbles he crafts. He first experimented with red grapes in 2010, running trials with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, a Cab-Merlot blend and Syrah. He enjoyed the fruit and the balance of the Syrah, so he came out with 150 cases in 2011.
It’s the most expensive of his sparklers because it’s the most challenging and the most time-consuming (18 months), yet it’s poised to become his most popular, with 1.4 percent residual sugar.
Grieb, who has been making sparkling wine, primarily on the side since he was a teen in Germany, had his doubts about making a fizzy red. An Idaho winery — Camas Prairie — builds one from Lemberger. Grieb said he couldn’t find a North American winery making a sparkling wine from Syrah, which is popular in Australia. He may have found a niche.
“Now we are sending this to China,” he said. “They love the Syrah Brut. People, when they come to tasting room they taste the wine and they like it. It’s so unique.”
* Treveri Cellars, 71 Gangl Road, Wapato, WA 98951, 509-877-0925, trevericellars.com.
2 pounds salmon fillets, portioned into 4 – 6 ounce pieces
2 teaspoons cayenne chili pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh garlic
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro – discard stalks, and chop leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Place the following pesto ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring well to combine.
2. Place the salmon pieces in a shallow baking dish, in a single layer, and spread with half the pesto mixture. Turn over each piece of fish and spread with the remaining mixture.
3. Cover and refrigerate for 1-3 hours, turning occasionally. The longer before cooking the spicier it becomes.
4. Salmon may be grilled or pan-fried until just cooked.
5. Serve Cilantro Salmon with rice pilaf or as a lunch favorite on a fresh green salad.
ERIC DEGERMAN is co-owner of Great Northwest Wine, a news and information website. For more information, go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.
CHARITY LYNNE is a photographer based out of Seattle, Wash. You can find her online at charitylynne.com.