As the man behind the grill at both the Crocodile Cafe and Solo, it's Jesse Smith's job to make sure both places never run out of food and that Peter Buck gets his three slices of pineapple for breakfast. While he maintains that musicians get more action than chefs, he predicts that chubby, hairy guys will be the indie-rock rage by the end of this year.
What would you call yourself, and how would you describe your daily duties?
Well, over at the Croc, I'm titled kitchen manager because some other fella wrote the menu (except for the 10 items that will be on the new menu coming out at the end of the month; I wrote those). But over at Solo, my title is chef because I wrote the menu myself. My job is pretty simple in essence. Show up to work, make sure the food tastes good, make sure we don't run out of food, and try to put as much love and care into every meal I prepare as I possibly can.
How did you come to be the head hash slinger at two such fine Seattle establishments?
I was working as a Montesorri preschool teacher last summer, and I started working at the Croc part time for some extra cash. At that time, there was this guy running the kitchen there who didn't really have his shit together as far as culinary skills go. After abouta month of cooking there, they offered me this guy's job. At first I wasn't sure about it, but it paid better than teaching (what a backward country), so I took the position and quit the school. The bar manager at that time was leaving to start his own joint, and he needed someone to write him a menu because all he knows about food is how to pile it into his gaping maw. He had eaten some gazpacho that I made and then asked me to come over and be the chef at Solo. Naturally, I accepted.
What inspires you when creating new menu items?
My wife and I travel to Central and South America a lot, and that is where I get a lot of my best ideas. I love going down there and seeing how closely food and family are intertwined. Food there is a social event where huge families get together for hours and spend quality time while having a meal. It's not like here, where people eat 50 percent of their meals alone, in their car, out of a paper sack.
Which celebrity chef annoys you the most?
Rachael fucking Ray. Holy god! Every time I see her stupid smiling face on the cover of some crappy magazine, I just want to smash it in with a potato masher. I don't even know how she got to where she is, but I know that it's Oprah's fault, and I hate her for that.
Who is the most famous musician you've watched eat the food you've made?
Peter Buck from REM comes in for breakfast a lot. He always asks for three slices of pineapple with his meal. But I wouldn't say that I watch him eat, 'cause that would be creepy.
Who do you think sees more hot action, musicians or chefs?
Well, I'm in a band and am a chef. But, I've been married for almost six years to an amazing woman. So I try to steer away from any hot action that gets thrown my way. But if I had to say, musicians would probably take the lead. Mostly because chefs tend to be a bit more portly and often smell of meat and cheese. Most musicians maintain a steady diet of cigarettes and booze to keep their girlish figures. I think that's what most women want. But then again, the chubby, hairy guy thing is really going to blow up the music scene in '07. Mark my words.
What are your extracurricular activities?
Right now I am in the startup phase of a production company called Fallen Pine with a close friend of mine. We are going to be releasing a compilation record with a bunch of notable Seattle musicians by the end of this year. The series that we are starting is called The Packwood Sessions. We will be donating all of the proceeds to a local charity (yet to be named). Also, I like to think of myself as a decent poker player. But as most of my friends would tell you, it would be easier for me to show up to games and just hand over my money before we even deal the cards.
Top five records to listen to when cooking at home:
1. Midlake, Trials of Van Occupanther.
2. Michael Jackson, Thriller.
3. Idaho, Hearts of Palm.
4. Fleetwood Mac, Rumors.
5. ...And boy, do I love me some Creedence Clearwater Revival.
A weekly peek behind the curtain of the Emerald City music world, Behind the Scene sheds light on folks you won't see onstage, but who make it all happen.