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Canlis hires its first female executive chef

Since closing its dining room in March 2020, Canlis has reinvented itself several times, moving from Seattle’s tallest fine-dining restaurant to a bagel store, crab shack, and drive-in movie theater.

Now the restaurant has made another, more permanent change by hiring Aisha Ibrahim as its new executive chef. Ms. Ibrahim, 35, is the seventh chef and the first woman to run Canlis cuisine in its 70-year history. She started working on April 30.

Ms Ibrahim succeeds Brady Williams, who completed a six-year run at Canlis in February, and who plans to open his own restaurant in Seattle later this year.

Canlis opened in 1950 in an impressive mid-century modern building overlooking Lake Union, serving a menu of surf and turf classics with a Pacific inflection. In recent years, under the leadership of its third generation owners, brothers Mark and Brian Canlis, it has grown from a beloved local institution to a player in the national food scene. Jason Franey, who arrived from Eleven Madison Park in New York City as executive chef in 2008, revamped the menu in a modernist language: a smarter plating, with more crumbs, foams and emulsions.

Mr. Williams, who brought renewed attention to Asian techniques and ingredients, took over in 2015. In 2017, Canlis won its first James Beard Award, for Outstanding Wine Program, under the leadership of the Wine Director and Nelson Daquip spirits. In 2019, Mr. Williams was named Best Chef: Northwest, and the restaurant received the Design Icon Award to celebrate his remarkable home.

By hiring Ms. Ibrahim, Canlis will continue to look to Asia for culinary inspiration.

Born Zsahleya Aisha Ibrahim in the southern Philippines, Ms. Ibrahim immigrated to West Virginia at the age of six. (She’s the fourth executive chef at Canlis with an Asian heritage.) She attended college on a basketball scholarship, but when an injury ended her athletic career, she applied to Cordon Bleu College. of Culinary Arts in San Francisco.

Ms Ibrahim rose through the ranks of Bay Area kitchens to become sous chef at Manresa, the three Michelin star restaurant in Los Gatos, Calif., Before moving to the Basque region of Spain in 2015 to work for chef Eneko Atxa. . in Azurmendi. Ms. Ibrahim became a chef at Aziamendi, Aziamendi’s sister restaurant in southern Thailand.

Before joining Canlis, she spent two years preparing to open her own food project in Bangkok, which was scuttled by the Covid-19 pandemic. Ms Ibrahim’s partner, Samantha Beaird, will also join Canlis staff in the newly created position of Head of Research and Development.

Ms Ibrahim said she was drawn to Seattle for the unsurpassed quality of ingredients sourced from the forests, fisheries and farms of the Pacific Northwest. She plans to spend her time in Canlis exploring the region’s indigenous ingredients, the nuances of its micro-seasons, and the city’s historic role as a gateway to Asia.

Ms Ibrahim admitted that she was surprised to find herself in the United States, after vowing to give up the country’s brutal cooking culture for jobs in Spain and Thailand, which allowed her a more balanced lifestyle.

“Food in America has exhausted my generation of leaders to the point where we ask ourselves, ‘Do I really want to do this? she said. “But Canlis is first and foremost a people-oriented program. I’ve been around the block working in high-end restaurants, and it’s not common at all. . “

After two interviews with Zoom for the job, Ms Ibrahim flew from Bangkok to Seattle – her second visit to the city – to cook a seven-course meal that sealed the deal. Mark Canlis described his cuisine as simple, understated and sophisticated. “His food was an invitation,” he says. “It wasn’t bending or staging.”

Canlis chiefs have always been like honorary members of the family, Mr. Canlis said, and hiring a new one can feel like “adding a sibling.” Culinary skills are just the stakes of the table.

“What makes Aisha the best chef for this restaurant is taking care of people, leading people and creating culture,” he said. “Everyone has a desire to build a better industry, but she is already living that kind of life and investing in people in ways that inspires us.

The change of management follows what has been the most eventful, but creatively fertile, year in the restaurant’s history. Seeking ways to keep their staff employed during the pandemic, the Canlis brothers kept the team busy delivering meals around Seattle, serving burgers and bagels from the restaurant parking lot, and hosting virtual bingo shows.

Currently, guests can dine on a four-course menu at $ 145 served in 12 private yurts (plus a ‘tree house’ on the rooftop of the restaurant), or come and enjoy cold beers, brisket and pie. at the Frito in the canteen, a smoking room at the counter in the parking lot. (Reservations for both are currently sold out.) Mr. Canlis said he hopes to return to domestic service in July.

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