Culinary Feature – AQUA by El Gaucho Executive Chef Wes Hood

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron

We are excited to feature the talented people behind the scenes – those who create and prepare the tasty treats that we all get to enjoy in our restaurants. Each month we will be introducing you to the gifted and passionate individuals who make up our culinary team. Bon Appétit!

AQUA by El Gaucho Executive Chef Wes Hood

AQUA by El Gaucho Executive Chef Wes Hood

Wesley Del Hood III, Executive Chef at AQUA by El Gaucho

“No matter how much one learns about food…there is always so much more to learn,” says Wes, Executive Chef at AQUA. “I have been continually inspired by the people, the chaotic-urgency of the dinner rush, the sights and smells of fresh ingredients, and the ways that cuisine can be artfully displayed.”

Wes’ passion for food and cooking started in high school, when he began working as a dishwasher for a local restaurant at the age of 15. His dad would often tell him, “Whatever it is that you do, do it to the best of your ability. Don’t be a follower: if you and your friends are going to rob a bank, make sure you are the one planning and leading it.”

Wes frying up some delicious Penn Cove Mussels at AQUA by El Gaucho.

Wes frying up some delicious Penn Cove Mussels at AQUA by El Gaucho.

He took his dad’s advice to heart, and his work ethic and leadership were noticed: he was soon allowed to do everything in the kitchen –still attending high school – “because the chef was usually in jail,” he laughs. After moving to Seattle in 2000, he worked two full time jobs, for both Meridian Restaurant and Classic Catering. He worked through the ranks at Palisade restaurant until promoted to his first management position at Maggie Bluffs, and later at Scott’s Bar and Grill. His next adventures took him to Consolidated Restaurants as a Sous Chef for both Elliott’s Oyster House and Union Square Grill. When Union Square Grill closed its doors, Wes joined our AQUA team (at that time, Waterfront Seafood Grill), and assisted with the rebranding and transition to AQUA. In January 2012, he transferred to El Gaucho Bellevue as a Sous Chef, and in March of 2013, returned to AQUA. Shortly thereafter was promoted to Executive Chef.

Wes admits one of his favorite things about working at AQUA is, “Quality. We buy the absolute best ingredients available. The quality of the people – to find such a tight-knit group of passionate professionals is truly rare. And, the view and ambiance in our restaurants is world class.”

Wes' boys, Connor and Ethan, digging for clams at the beach.

Wes’ boys, Connor and Ethan, digging for clams at the beach.

Another favorite is cooking for the occasional, and special, wine dinners at AQUA. “Often they involve trying new techniques and have a heightened attention to detail,” he notes. His most exotic food? “Geoduck!” he exclaims. “It’s clean and pure clam flavor and tastes just like the ocean!”

Wes and his family enjoying a hike

Wes and his family enjoying the Pacific Northwest trails

When he’s not grilling up some Copper River Salmon or shucking oysters at AQUA, he loves barbequing at home for his family, and is never deterred by the weather. His favorite is a medium rare NY Steak, grilled over live coals. Wes also couldn’t live without coffee, and items you’ll always find in his pantry at home are quite varied: smokehouse almonds, wasabi peas, mae ploy (Thai sweet chili sauce), capers, and peanut butter.

Lately, he’s been experimenting with baking, and his current favorite is sourdough bread. “I am having a ton of fun learning more about baking,” he says. “I have a living levain at home and named it Monster,” he jokes. If you’re unfamiliar with what a “living levain” is, Wes explains: “it’s a starter you use to make bread. You don’t need to add any yeast to it as it pulls in natural yeast from its own environment. A levain also contains a good bacteria that gives bread a favorable sour flavor. To make it you just mix flour and water, leave it out to ferment and feed it periodically until it becomes very bubbly and active.”

Wes with his two boys, Connor and Ethan

Wes taking a break from the kitchen and joining his two boys, Connor and Ethan, for some dessert at AQUA.

His wife of 12 years, Elizabeth, and their two “brilliant and rambunctious boys,” Connor (7) and Ethan (5), are Wes’ pride and joy. “The highlight of my day is walking them to school every morning,” he says. Another favorite is playing Legos or wrestling with the boys, as well as solving puzzles like Sudoku, Cryptograms (“I’m a total nerd,” he says), and burning off steam by running. Lately, he’s been found watching episodes of “Criminal Minds” and Gordon Ramsay’s, “Kitchen Nightmares.”

Wes stays on top of food trends by searching his favorite internet cooking sites, and following Chefs Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulund, and Thomas Keller. “It’s inspiring to look at their work,” he explains.

Looking for a little gastronomy inspiration yourself? Then visit Wes and the AQUA team on Pier 70, every night, beginning at 4pm.

Wes with his culinary team at AQUA brunch, which will be served for Easter, Mother's Day and Father's Day this year.

Wes with his culinary team before AQUA’s Sunday brunch, which will be offered for Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day this year.

Employee Highlight – Sivi Mennen, AQUA by El Gaucho General Manager

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron
Sivi has been with AQUA from the first day it's doors opened as Waterfront Seafood Grill in May 2000.

Sivi has been with AQUA from the day it opened as Waterfront Seafood Grill in May 2000.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle’s poignant observation is Sivi’s favorite quote. Known for her drive, as well as being a fair and honest person, anyone who knows Sivi would not be surprised that this is how she approaches work and life every day.

Born as April Siv Mennen in New Haven Connecticut, she grew up in West Seattle and attended Seattle Lutheran High School and University of Washington. Her Swedish parents thought the name Siv was too unusual, so they added April as her first name. She’s always only been called “Sivi,” however; a nickname for Siv.

Sivi has been with AQUA (then the Waterfront Seafood Grill) since the beginning, when it opened in May of 2000. She was in real estate sales, looking for some extra income, and had always admired El Gaucho and its founder, Paul Mackay. She started as a part time server, and “I was hooked!” she exclaims. She was eventually promoted to Private Dining Director, and when her mentor, General Manager Chris Sparkman, announced he was stepping down, she was asked by both he and company President Chad Mackay to throw her hat in the ring for the position. “That was five years ago,” she recalls. “Taking on the challenge of General Manager was the best decision I have ever made,” she says, and adds that it’s also her proudest accomplishment.

Sivi was named a Seattle Tourism Ambassador of the Year 2014.

Sivi was named a Seattle Tourism Ambassador of the Year 2014.

People is what Sivi loves most about her job. “I love all of the different personalities that I get the chance to work with, as well as those I meet each day. I am truly blessed to have met some of the nicest people in the world through AQUA,” she exclaims.

Her love of people was recognized in 2014 when she was named a Tourism Ambassador by Visit Seattle, the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. She notes that it meant a lot to be recognized by her peers.

Sivi is also known for her generosity and involvement in local non-profits. For over seven years, once a month the AQUA by El Gaucho crew prepares, cooks and serves lunch to 300 people at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission (UGM).

Sivi and the AQUA team serve lunch at Seattle's UGM once a month.

Sivi and the AQUA team serve lunch at Seattle’s UGM once a month.

“I really like the monthly UGM service,” she says. “We have a chance to truly connect with the gentlemen (and sometimes ladies) who come through, and it puts life into perspective. I notice a real difference in my staff after we’ve been there together too; they are gentler with each other, more kind toward one another, and more humble. It makes my heart happy. I wouldn’t trade that opportunity for the world.”

Another organization Sivi has been involved with is the USO, through their annual golf tournament and gala fundraisers. “Seeing the difference that the USO makes on a daily basis for those who sacrifice everything for our freedom is amazing,” she says.

Sivi with Chefs Ken and Steve at the USO Golf Tournament last summer

Sivi with Chefs Ken and Steve at the USO Golf Tournament last summer

Family is important to Sivi, and they are extremely close. She has three sisters, a brother, three nephews and a niece. Spending time with her parents is time she treasures. “As I get older I realize the time I spend with them is priceless,” she says.

Her strong family connection also carries over to the restaurant. “We are a group of individuals who come together to make an incredible team,” she says. “We appreciate each other’s attributes and lean on each other for support. We truly are a family, and we love what we do.”

While the team works hard to take care of their guests, they also love to have fun. “We play ‘AQUAball’ during the evening,” she explains. “We shoot wine corks into a vase behind the bar service well each night, all night, as we collect the corks from opening wine,” she smiles. “Guests get a huge kick out of it, and often they get to play, too.”

In the restaurant, having a special relationships with older guests is something she’s known for. “I just love, love, love getting to know them and learning from them,” she expresses.

Family is important to Sivi. Pictured here with her mom and two sisters

Sivi with her mom and two of her sisters.

Besides spending time with family, she enjoys the beach, water and shopping. “I am slightly obsessed with sea animals, so when I vacation, it’s always to go spend time visiting whales, turtles, and dolphins,” she says. Sivi also loves king crab and lobster, champagne and Gucci, the movie “Shawshank Redemption,” TV shows “Criminal Minds,” “Law and Order,” and all of the “Real Housewives.”

A little known fact about Sivi is that she works on Sunday, which is typically a night off for restaurant General Managers. “I grew up as a preacher’s daughter, and was never allowed to work on Sunday, as it was family day, and a day of rest,” she explains. “As a result I have always rebelled a bit and enjoy working on Sundays,” she laughs.

Sivi treating her niece to a night out.

Sivi treating her niece to a night out.

Rebellion aside, the best piece of advice she received was from her dad. “He’d say, Sivi, the world does not care about the storms you encountered. Only if you brought the ship in.”

As captain of the AQUA ship, you can count on Sivi and her crew to deliver excellence, and a world-class experience, every night starting at 4pm.

Supplier Highlight – Taylor Shellfish

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Supplier Highlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron

What does it take to produce the fattest, juiciest bivalves around? We asked the best in the business, Taylor Shellfish, who has been farming oysters for five generations, to explain.

Thanks to clean water and nutrient-rich bays, the Pacific Northwest has the best shellfish around.

Thanks to clean water and nutrient-rich bays, the Pacific Northwest has the best shellfish around.

Chad Mackay, El Gaucho Hospitality President, is committed to sourcing the best products in the world for guests to enjoy. When it comes to seafood, he turns to locally owned Taylor Shellfish Farms.

Taylor Shellfish produces some of the best oysters and clams in the world, and they just happen to be in the Pacific Northwest,” says Mackay. “Just as location, or terroir, is important to making great wine, so too is location critical to growing great shellfish. And Taylor is in the right place.”

We’re talking about some pretty incredible geography in Western Washington and British Columbia: South Puget Sound, Hood Canal, Samish Bay, Port Angeles, Vancouver Island and Desolation Sound. Thanks to clean water and nutrient-rich bays, the Northwest has some of the best shellfish beds around. Taylor Shellfish Farms is dedicated to healthy watersheds and estuaries, and they were one of the first shellfish companies to have their farms certified as sustainable.

Taylor Shellfish Farms is five generations strong. Pictured here: Jeff Pearson, Paul and Bill Taylor

Taylor Shellfish Farms is five generations strong. Pictured here: Jeff Pearson, Paul and Bill Taylor

You might say that salt water is in the Taylor family’s blood. Bill and Paul Taylor began farming oysters as kids on Totten Inlet, where their great-grandfather, J. Y. Waldrip, had started the oyster business in 1889. Today, the brothers run the company with their brother-in-law Jeff Pearson, farming some of the same special tidelands from over a century ago. Many of their children have recently joined the family business, making it five generations strong.

With 10,000 acres now under ownership or lease, Taylor Shellfish Farms relies on micro-locations for a consistent supply to customers. “Every day is different based on the weather,” says Bill Taylor, president of Taylor Shellfish Farms and a fourth-generation farmer. “We monitor conditions carefully and shift production and harvesting as needed. Shellfish should come out of the water one day and be on the plate the next.”

Even though oysters can make it to your plate in a day, growing them takes a lot of time and attention. Starting out as seeds in hatcheries, oysters may move locations several times. The growing process takes about 18 months for Pacific oysters and up to four years for Kumamotos and Olympias. For Shigokus, Taylor floats the oysters in bags and allows the movement of the tide to create the deep shell cups and briny ocean flavor.

Join us at Taste Washington this year, March 28-29th at the CenturyLink Events Center. Along with Taylor Shellfish, our team shucks over 10,000 oysters for guests over the two-day event.

Join us at Taste Washington this year, March 28-29th at the CenturyLink Events Center. Along with Taylor Shellfish, our team shucks over 10,000 oysters for guests over the two-day event.

All of that careful, hands-on cultivation—coupled with great tidelands–results in the fattest, juiciest bivalves around.

For Mackay, who opened AQUA by El Gaucho at Pier 70 in 2000, sourcing the best oysters, clams and mussels is paramount. “We’ve trusted Taylor Shellfish as our supplier since we opened. The Taylors are an exceptional family and exceptional farmers,” he says.

That partnership leads to exceptional food. AQUA’s executive chef Wesley Hood creates menus featuring Taylor Shellfish Farms seafood, such as steamed manila clams with fennel and mussels in coconut milk and red curry. And there’s nothing quite like raw oysters on the half shell to deliver a sweet, briny taste as fresh as the smell of the sea.

Sourcing the very best products ensures unsurpassed flavor, the signature of El Gaucho restaurants.

There's nothing like raw oysters on the half shell to deliver a sweet, briny taste as fresh as the smell of the sea.

There’s nothing like raw oysters on the half shell to deliver a sweet, briny taste as fresh as the smell of the sea.

Wine Feature of the Month – Argyle Winery

Posted in Featured Wine with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron

What image comes to mind when you hear “Argyle?” Socks, maybe a sweater? The various colored, diamond pattern is quite discernable, and can be traced back to the tartan of a Scottish clan. Without a doubt, the classic pattern has withstood the test of time.

Blog Argyle Label close upWhen famed Australian winemaker Brian Croser and Texan Rollin Soles joined forces in 1987 to build a winery in the Willamette Valley, they had numerous, yet a couple of requirements, for a name: “They wanted a name that was reflective of quality,” says Cathy Martin, spokesman for Argyle Winery. “There is a diamond mine in Australia with the name Argyle. Brian and Rollin figured that was a good image to shoot for, and that is where the diamond logo associated with Argyle came from.” Cathy continues, “They also wanted a name that would fit into the Scottish sounding town of Dundee.” Thus the wine brand Argyle was born.

Their approach worked – the diamond is still used in their branding today, and the foundational community mindset, by aspiring to contribute to the local area, is still an integral part of the culture at Argyle 28 years later.

Argyle farms 400 acres in two of the 16 Oregon AVAs.  Pictured here, the Knudsen Vineyard, located in the Dundee Hills of the Willamette Valley.

Argyle farms 400 acres in two of the 16 Oregon AVAs. Pictured here, the Knudsen Vineyard, located in the Dundee Hills of the Willamette Valley.

Just as the history of the Argyle pattern has a rich and lasting history, so does the new world winery: co-founder Brian Croser is an Australian winemaking legend and one of the most famous figures in the wine world. He founded Petaluma winery in the 1970s, and one of his contributions to the industry was his advocation for what’s called “reductive wine making,” which is especially important for making white wines: by using stainless steel, inert gases and temperature control, fruit flavors are preserved, by protecting the must (the freshly pressed juice containing the skins, seeds, and stems) and evolving wine from oxygen exposure. This is one of the reasons for the success of the Australian wine industry in the 1980s.

Croser joined forces with a Petaluma co-worker, Texan Rollin Soles, to stake a claim in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The winery was created to make cool climate sparkling wine, today also produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling.

Argyle is the new world’s highest rated sparkling wine producer.

Argyle is the new world’s highest rated sparkling wine producer.

Argyle has earned an international reputation for producing world-class methode champenoise sparkling wine, silky-textured pinot noir, and barrel-fermented chardonnay. Argyle is the only winery to have reached the Wine Spectator Top 100 for white, red and sparkling wines. It’s also the new world’s highest rated sparkling wine producer.

Argyle farms 400 acres in two of the 16 Oregon AVAs. The Knudsen Vineyard is located in the Dundee Hills; while Lone Star and Spirit Hill Vineyards are located a little further south in the Eola-Amity Hills AVAs. All grapes are hand harvested into small baskets and transported to the winery. Grapes are chilled overnight before crushing, to preserve the ripe fruit characteristics and naturally limit oxidation.

El Gaucho Portland is proud to feature four special wines under the Argyle label for the month of February:

El Gaucho Portland is proud to feature four Argyle wines for the month of February.

El Gaucho Portland is proud to feature four Argyle wines for the month of February.

2011 Argyle Brut, 90 Points, Wine Spectator. Tasting notes indicate the bright acidity lends itself to a long, energetic finish, “begging for oysters.” El Gaucho is currently offering Brookside and Shigoku oysters on the half shell, for a match made in heaven.

2012 Nuthouse Chardonnay – “brings dreams of char-grilled crustaceans and blackened squid.” Pair it with the expertly grilled Hawaiian Mahi Mahi with Citrus Segments and Beurre Blanc from El Gaucho’s fresh sheet.

2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – “an honest interpretation of the Willamette Valley.” This wine’s refreshing acidity cuts through even our heartiest dishes. Try it with El Gaucho’s Estancia Grass Fed Filet Mignon with Bordelaise sauce or our Frenched Rib Chop.

2012 Reserve Pinot Noir, 92 Points, Wine Spectator. The gorgeous, clean fruit and silky texture make it perfect to share with our classic center cut Chateaubriand and cliff sauce. “A true celebration in balance.”

The Argyle story includes a relentless pursuit of the finest red, white and sparkling wines, and El Gaucho is proud to offer these fine wines on our list.

Meet Sarah Scott, Executive Chef at El Gaucho Bellevue

Posted in Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , on February 6, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron

We are excited to feature the talented people behind the scenes – those who create and prepare the tasty treats that we all get to enjoy in our restaurants. Each month we will be introducing you to the gifted and passionate individuals who make up our culinary team. Bon Appétit!

Sarah Scott, or “Sarita” as her coworkers call her, is El Gaucho’s newest – and youngest - Executive Chef.

Sarah Scott, or “Sarita” as her coworkers call her, is El Gaucho’s newest – and youngest – Executive Chef.

“I live to eat!” Sarah exclaims. “Half the fun is being hungry enough to try new things.”

Sarah Scott, or “Sarita” as her coworkers call her, is El Gaucho’s newest – and youngest – Executive Chef. She was promoted last fall at just 27 years old, which makes her one of the few female chefs who has taken the reins of a prominent American steakhouse in the country.

Sarah grew up in Winter Park, Florida. In the summer, while a teenager, she worked at her mother’s architectural office as a receptionist/secretary and realized she would never be satisfied working behind a desk. Cooking was always a favorite hobby – she and her mom would frequent local farmer’s markets on Saturdays, and she recalls going to the grocery store to walk the aisles and “awe” at the new ingredients. Her mom encouraged her to experiment and cook new things, and her dad was always a happy guinea pig, gobbling up everything she created (even if it wasn’t the best, she adds). “Both my parents were always pushing me forward, and willing to go with whatever crazy food idea I had,” she says.

Sarah with her mom in Chicago last summer.

Sarah with her mom in Chicago last summer.

She studied hospitality management in college, and while there, got a job as a pantry cook and found her calling. “Within seven months, I was promoted to a line cook and became addicted to the high-stress/intense environment of the kitchen,” she says.

Once she started in the kitchen, she never looked back. Becoming Executive Chef at El Gaucho Bellevue last year is her proudest career accomplishment, although she also fondly remembers being promoted to the lead line cook at a 500 cover/night restaurant when she was just 20 years old.

Sarah joined the El Gaucho team in 2008 when Bellevue opened, and worked her way through every station to the top. When asked what life has been like since she’s been promoted, she laughs, “It’s a lot more hours and stress.” There is an upside, too: “I have more freedom to try new things, through specials and tweaking existing menu items for lunch, dinner and happy hour,” Sarah explains. She is especially proud of “modernizing” the Private Dining Menu, while maintaining the classic El Gaucho standard. Changes include revamping the cheese boards (“they’re impressive,” she says), adding truffle mac and cheese spoons, and burger truffle sliders. Everything has been well received.

Sarah experiencing her first 3-star Michelin restaurant, Alinea, in Chicago last year with her family. Alinea Chef Grant Achatz also pictured.

Sarah experiencing her first 3-star Michelin restaurant, Alinea, in Chicago last year with her family. Alinea Chef Grant Achatz also pictured.

For inspiration, Sarah loves to browse magazines and food blogs, but admits she’s “slightly sheltered” because she doesn’t own – or watch – TV. She also looks to Chicago, New York, and San Francisco for food trends: Last July she traveled to Chicago, and the first spot on her list was dining at 3-star Michelin restaurant, Alinea. “It was a mind-blowing experience,” she says. “I met the chef and got a tour of the kitchen. It opened my eyes to flavor and texture combinations. I never realized how in-depth one could go. Everything was incredible,” she exclaims.

When dining out, Sarah looks for great food with a laid back atmosphere. Harbor City in the International District for dim sum is one of her favorites. “I talk in butchered Chinese as nice as I can, smile a lot, and I’m set,” she laughs. She’s adventurous with trying new things, too: alligator, blood sausage, yak and Uni are among the most exotic foods she’s eaten. Once she made a moose stew for her family using what her uncle had brought back from a hunting trip. Is there any food she doesn’t like? “American cheese and bologna,” she says without skipping a beat. What does she like best about working at El Gaucho? “I get to work with the highest quality ingredients available,” she says.

Sarah with her boyfriend Ryan Brandenburg, exploring West Seattle.

Sarah with her boyfriend Ryan Brandenburg, exploring West Seattle.

To relax, Sarah loves visiting Redwood National Park and kicking back with a Manhattan with an extra cherry. She also loves music, and frequents local venues in her new neighborhood, Capitol Hill. “I love listening to the local flavor, whether it’s funk, indie, or rock,” she says. Sarah herself is a musician – she played bass trombone at University of Central Florida and Rollins College, admitting she almost majored in music performance. Thankfully for us and our taste buds, she didn’t!

Want to taste Sarah’s latest creation? Then head down to El Gaucho Bellevue, Monday – Friday starting at 11:30am, Saturday and Sunday starting at 5pm.

Sarah trying her hand at driving a John Deere.

Sarah trying her hand at driving a John Deere.

Employee Highlight – Tony Capra, El Gaucho Bellevue General Manager

Posted in Behind the Scenes on January 22, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron
Tony Capra, El Gaucho Bellevue General Manager

Tony Capra, El Gaucho Bellevue General Manager

“The older I get, the less I think of accomplishments or steps in the ladder. Rather, I try to be a good person on a day-to-day basis, do right by people, and become a more fair and just person,” Tony explains. “I’m a Libra – I thrive on balance,” he says with a smile.

Hailing from Minneapolis, Anthony James Capra fell in love with the hospitality industry when he was hired as a bellman at the Phoenician Resort his freshman year at Arizona State University. He returned home to finish his degree in German at University of Minnesota and worked at the Whitney Hotel, a small, high-end boutique hotel. In seven years, he worked his way from bellman to his first management job, all the while meeting many visiting celebrities, including Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon while filming “Grumpy Old Men.”

UGM Chad, James, Tony, Cooper

Tony serving lunch at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission with fellow El Gaucho General Managers James Capangpangan, Cooper Mills, and President Chad Mackay

Even though he loved his job, he didn’t necessarily like the Minnesota weather. He decided to take a road trip west to visit two former colleagues – one in San Francisco, another in Seattle. First stop was Sausalito, where he spent three days sight-seeing with his friend Monica. As much as he loved the Bay area, the cost of living was too high, so Tony headed north to Seattle and, as he explains, “as I was driving on 99 North through Seattle, I just knew this is where I wanted to be.” While in Seattle he took in the sights with an old friend Ellen, who had moved from Minneapolis to Seattle the previous year and who would later convince Tony to move to the restaurant side of the hospitality business.

He drove home, gave his notice, and packed up his car to head west for good. He didn’t have much luck with hotel jobs, so he followed his friend Ellen’s advice and gave restaurants a go, starting at Salty’s on Alki as the maitre d’. He found success redesigning the dining room and books, and after stints in banquet management and purchasing, he wound up as General Manager (GM). It was there he also met his best friend, Cooper Mills, now the GM at El Gaucho Seattle. After nine years at Salty’s, he moved on to Ivar’s as Asst GM, spent time at Acres of Clams, and became GM of Ivar’s Salmon House.

In October of 2008, he joined his friend Cooper to become Asst. GM at El Gaucho Seattle. He quickly became known as the “go-to” guy and fix-it man, and filled in for vacant GM positions in Tacoma and Portland, but he never wanted to move outside of Seattle. In October 2012, he was offered the General Manager position at El Gaucho Bellevue.

Tony with some of his El Gaucho Bellevue family at the annual POUR event: Whitney, Ryan, Tivoli, and Apple

Tony with some of his El Gaucho Bellevue family at the annual POUR event: Whitney, Ryan, Tivoli, and Apple

Since becoming GM, Tony says his greatest accomplishment as a professional is building a team that works so well together. “We’ve built a great environment for our guests and team,” he says.

In his free time, Tony loves to travel, play golf, and cheer on local sports teams. He is also a fan of English Soccer team Chelsea. Last year he bought a 24’ RV, affectionately known as “Minnie Winnie” and has so far explored Eastern Washington and the Oregon Coast. That said, his favorite place is Maui. As you might have guessed from his name, Tony is Italian, and when going out, he loves home-style Italian cooking, with a warm atmosphere and good food. His favorite haunts are Bizarro in Fremont, Palace Kitchen, and Branzino for cigars and scotch for an after work treat.

Tony with work teammates Cooper, Jimmy and Larry cheering on the Seahawks to victory!

Tony with work teammates Cooper, Jimmy and Larry cheering on the Seahawks to victory!

When asked about his family, he mentions he’s the youngest of four, and has five nieces and four nephews all in the Minneapolis area, which he visits once a year. His parents are now “full time RVers,” splitting their time between Minnesota and Texas. “My West Coast family has really become the people I work with at El Gaucho Bellevue,” he says. “I have people ask me if I’m interested in being set up on dates, but honestly I’m content being single. I like my life, and my work, and my family here.”

His favorite part of working for El Gaucho is that at the end of the day, it’s still a “mom and pop restaurant.” He explains, “There are no layers of corporate; the owners trust the General Managers to get the right people and let them do their job. If we’re doing our job right, we’re attracting the right people, who are professionals and are not only great people, but great people to work with.”

Tony with El Gaucho Bellevue Captains Larry and Lonnie with the Vince Lombardi trophy

Tony with El Gaucho Bellevue Captains Larry and Lonnie with the Vince Lombardi trophy

Visit Tony and his family of employees at El Gaucho Bellevue for lunch, happy hour and dinner. Hours: Monday-Friday starting at 11:30am, Saturday & Sunday starting at 5:00pm.

Supplier Highlight – Eydfinn Tausen with Olympic Seafoods

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Supplier Highlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron
Fishing fleet in Neah Bay

Fishing fleet in Neah Bay

Sourcing the very best ingredients is one of the hallmarks of our company and one of the most important aspects of our business. We place a priority on finding the best, and are always thrilled when we find exceptional natural sources in our own backyard. Here in the Pacific Northwest that means access to some of the best seafood in the world.

One way we ensure that our guests are served the best is to build relationships with our key suppliers and track the source and quality of the products they provide. We are grateful to Corfini Gourmet, a local food distribution company, for introducing us to an individual we now source from, who is taking product sourcing and transparency to the next level.

Eydfinn Tausen of Olympic Seafoods

Eydfinn Tausen of Olympic Seafoods

Eydfinn Tausen of Olympic Seafoods has created a fish tagging system with information so detailed you know where the fish came from, to the boat who caught it, even the name of the fisherman.

Eydfinn has been a leader in the fishing industry since the early ‘80s, working with Select Fish and later Whole Foods. He always felt there were many under-utilized opportunities in the fishing industry, particularly in Neah Bay. “There’s so much fresh fish!” he kept telling himself, knowing that most of the fresh fish consumed in Seattle is from Alaska and BC. While Neah Bay is a shorter distance at 150 miles, logistics still present a challenge: a windy road and mountain range separates the two and deliveries were not dependable. And with fishing, timing is everything.

This brand new building, dock and ice house is an open work area where the fish is sorted and weighed for the Makah fisherman in Neah Bay.

This brand new building, dock and ice house is an open work area where the fish is sorted and weighed for the Makah fisherman in Neah Bay.

He decided to take matters into his own hands and bought a refrigerated truck, and started introducing himself to mostly Makah fisherman in Neah Bay. The people he met had great fishing expertise but didn’t have experience marketing and distributing their product. Eydfinn knew how to do both.

“Most people don’t have any idea where their fish come from,” he explains. “I want to help tell that story. I’m the facilitator. I want the customer to see where their food is coming from.”

To help tell that story, Eydfinn created tags for each of the fish when they’re caught, containing a QR code that displays the species, name of the boat, and a bio on the fisherman. The QR code can simply be read through a smart phone, and even guests can take the tag home with them. The tagging process takes time: Eydfinn is hopeful that in 2015 all black cod, halibut and salmon caught in Neah Bay will be tagged.

Fish are tagged by the Makah fisherman, and the QR code, read through a smart phone, gives information, including the fisherman's bio.

Fish are tagged by the Makah fisherman, and the QR code, read through a smart phone, gives information, including the fisherman’s bio.

Eydfinn blog - fish tag QR code back side Eydfinn blog - fish tag QR code

I tell the fisherman, “If you are proud of your fish – tell your story,” Eydfinn explains. These stories are told through each fish tag sold through Olympic Seafoods.

Eydfinn’s model is working. He knows most of the Neah Bay fisherman, who deliver to a co-op, from where Eydfinn purchases his fish. He currently works with about 30 boats belonging to the co-op, and in most cases, the fish caught are delivered within 24-36 hours. He’s also proud that he’s helping to reduce the carbon footprint to provide fresh fish to consumers.

“We love that we are so close to the source,” says El Gaucho Seattle Executive Chef Matt Brandsey. “The black cod currently on our menu comes directly to us from Neah Bay. By the time we get it, it has only been out if the water for less than 24 hours. Eydfinn works directly with specific fishing families to ensure consistency every time.”

Eydfinn Tausen blog fish

Beautiful fish caught in Neah Bay.

Fishing is a complicated and delicate system, managed by governing bodies from the international level down to local tribunal communities. The quotas and fishing seasons are an intricate balance that’s different every year. ForNeah Bay, a typical year starts primarily with “bottom fish,” such asPetrole and Dover sole, cod and other flat fish varieties. Halibut season typically starts mid-March, and is a very short season inNeah Bay due to quotas – it runs much longer in Alaska and British Columbia, Eydfinn notes.

One of the boats in the Neah Bay fishing fleet.

One of the boats in the Neah Bay fishing fleet.

About a week later, black cod season opens and usually lasts until the beginning of May, which is when King salmon season opens; normally the season can last until mid-September, depending again on set, and met, quotas.. In July,Coho salmon season begins, and in September, black cod reopens and can last until December (like this year). Year round, boats inNeah Bay catch many species of Rock fish, ling cod, and other species of bottom fish.

Our mission is simply to find the best for our patrons and guests to enjoy. No excuses and no compromise. Our family of restaurants constantly works to bring you the best the world has to offer, and thanks to Eydfinn and his team, some of that is from the local waters of Neah Bay.

At El Gaucho Seattle, black cod is marinated in white miso and orange juice. The skin is seared on a plancha grill to get it super crispy, then finished it in the oven. It is served with roasted Brussels sprouts and winter squash with coconut milk molasses.

At El Gaucho Seattle, black cod is marinated in white miso and orange juice. The skin is seared on a plancha grill to get it super crispy, then finished it in the oven. It is served with roasted Brussels sprouts and winter squash with coconut milk molasses.

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