Renee Erickson knows what she’s doing. A Washington native, she’s become an essential part of Seattle’s food scene. She’s the James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Sea Creatures, a harmonious band of food concepts. Erickson’s five restaurants and counting are as symbiotic as they are strikingly individual, and her handful of doughnut shops, and sandwich and salad counter too warble her distinct nautical aesthetic and ingredient-first sensibility.
Palate-minded people travel across the country to slurp Erickson’s West Coast oysters on the half shell, to indulge in her Parisian-style steaks that are dry-aged and butchered in-house, and to discover her tender octopus terrine that tastes unmistakably like the sea. If you haven’t had the chance to treat yourself to these dishes, perhaps it’s time for a Pacific Northwest pilgrimage.
You may be wondering how such a culinary living legend got her start, but there isn’t a moment in time Erickson decided she wanted to be a chef — she just became one.
“It was circumstantial more than anything,” Erickson explains. “Just right place, right time.”
As an art student at the University of Washington, she got a job at Boat Street Cafe. She quickly took on responsibilities and found herself in the kitchen baking and prepping. A few years later, the restaurant was up for sale and Erickson bought it. She was a 25-year-old with an opportunity that she couldn’t turn down, but she wasn’t consciously choosing the chef path. It seems to have chosen her.
“I loved restaurants and I loved cooking and I loved the environment of trying to create a place where people come and celebrate or just eat and drink with their friends,” Erickson says. So she ran with it.
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While Erickson was still in college, she had another life-changing turn. She spent six months living in Rome, where the university had an art program. This experience informed the ingredient-forward cooking she’s known for today.
“I think my ethos around ingredients came from living in Italy and really being shocked by how much the season or even day of the week influences what people choose to eat. Rome is so seasonal and the radius of what it considers local is so small.”
Erickson knew the natural bounty of the Pacific Northwest could be treated similarly, so she’s taken that on and continues to pioneer with new projects.
“It’s more and more common now to open a lot of restaurants, but it’s also ridiculous to do so,” Erickson says. “It’s been a wild ride.”
For a glimpse into Renee Erickson’s magical Sea Creatures empire, click through the photo gallery above. And see Seattle sweets below.
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