Woodinville, Washington, native Renee Erickson calls her collection of six Seattle restaurants Sea Creatures. She’s beguiled by Pacific Northwest seafood—mussels and oysters, clams and sardines—and equally enthused about French, English, and Italian foodways, gleaned from her European travels and tastes. The result is a blend that earned Erickson the 2016 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest.
The nautical theme is everywhere in Erickson’s world, beginning with French-tinged Boat Street Café, where she began as a server before buying (and later closing) the place. Year by year Erickson expanded, with The Whale Wins, oyster bar The Walrus & the Carpenter, aperitivo joint Barnacle (named one of Esquire magazine’s 2017 best bars in America), French-inspired Bar Melusine, shrine to dry-aged steak Bateau, and General Porpoise Doughnut & Coffee. They’re the kind of restaurants where French Chablis and Italian amaro are as treasured as Washington’s Penn Cove oysters and greens from Local Roots Farm.
Erickson, who earned a degree in fine art from the University of Washington, learned to cook after studying and traveling abroad. Susan Kaplan, owner of the Boat Street Café, taught the young cook on the job and later sold her the restaurant. Erickson has now taken the dream of producing her own food further, with 50-acre La Ferme des Ânes (The Donkey Farm), on Whidbey Island. There, she raises heritage-breed cattle, poultry, and lamb is on pasture, as well as a raft of vegetables. In between growing and cooking, Erickson managed to publish a cookbook, A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus, in 2014.