The Carnivore’s Dilemma with Eden Hill Chef Maximillian Petty
Welcome back to The Carnivore’s Dilemma, a column by Jason Price that features recommendations on how to prepare and where to eat meat from Seattle chefs that venture well beyond steak and burgers. This month’s subject – Chef Maximillian Petty of Seattle’s Eden Hill restaurant located in the Queen Anne neighborhood.
The more chefs we talk to that make their local area a primary focus of their cuisine, the more we realize how many of them want to become farmers. Many seem to strive to get as close to the land and the animals they work with as possible. Several want to own their own farms as close to their restaurants as possible. And all speak with reverence of the farmers, ranchers and fisherman they partner with. For without them, they would be banished to a life of ordering meat from the same place they get their bleach. And isn’t that an appetizing thought?
One such chef that is new to the Seattle culinary scene is Maximillian Petty who recently opened Eden Hill in the Queen Anne neighborhood. The Northwest native most recently removed from Austin is purposefully playful with his dishes while making a strong effort to use every bit of the animal. This is shown in dishes such as the Pig Head Candy Bar – using everything from the pig’s brain to the eyeballs and snout – reconstituted into a beautifully gelatinized, fried morsel that is delectable.
I recently had an opportunity to speak with Chef Petty about his coast-to-coast path to cooking in Seattle and his ever growing love of tasty animals. Here’s what he had to say…
Tell me about your background and why you became a Chef
I grew up in Bothell and moved to Port Angeles when I was 12. When I was 15, my sister who is also a chef, opened a restaurant and she hired me. She made me start from the bottom with dishes, making stocks, prep and all that. I worked at it and was running a line when I was 18. The day I graduated high school I got job in DC with the help of my other sister who is a lawyer there.
They had been going to this restaurant a lot and got to talking to chef. Of course, she bragged about me and said that I loved to cook and replied that he was looking for a line cook. She called me and I moved to DC right away and went for it.
One of the sous chefs there had a brother working for José Andrés – who I was obsessed with. I loved the family style concept and his ability to incorporate molecular gastronomy into the theme. I got to stage with him here and there over the course of the short time I stayed in DC.
What an excellent opportunity to have at a young age. Why did you leave?
I found that the food scene in DC was focused so much around people and not food. It felt like half the time people weren’t paying attention to what they were eating and that many restaurants were sacrificing quality for the sake of making a buck. Plus, I missed the Pacific NW and the trees and everything.
So, I decided to go to culinary school. I had gone back and forth between wanting to be a firefighter and cook and I had some friends moving to Oregon so I tagged along. I went to culinary school at Lane Community College which was pretty small and hands on. I’d gone back and forth between wanting to go to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and there – but in the end I felt I’d benefit more from the education at Lane.
What was your experience like in culinary school?
I loved Lane and I excelled even though it was difficult. They chose one student to do a big 400-person dinner and I was selected which was really great for me. After graduation, I got a job right away with King Estate Winery in Oregon which has a huge restaurant on its property.
Because I was so persistent and annoying, I took over their charcuterie program which is basically all I did for a bit over a year. I learned to butcher very well and was doing like 30 salmon, 20 halibut and 8 albacore every week. Something like 1500 fish a year.
Sounds like you had a great hands-on education and some creative license.
Yeah – I did all the beef, lamb and pork charcuterie projects for the plate which was great. I could do anything I wanted to try. I love charcuterie and was obsessed with it.
My wife, who I met when I moved to Oregon – she was who convinced me to go to culinary school. Then she got a job in Austin and I agreed to go. Though I have to say if it were anywhere else in Texas I wouldn’t have gone.
So where did you work in Austin?
I got a job with James Holmes who runs a place called Olivia. The Chef de Cuisine at the time was Andrew Francisco who had worked at the French Laundry. I started brunch, on the pancake station, kept my head down, worked hard, and was 23 when James offered me the Chef de Cuisine position. There was a lot of staying late and broadening charcuterie program as well. I built a curing fridge with humidity control and just sort of jerry-rigged it.
I was terrified but I knew every station and I felt like I could do it. I just kind of faked it until I could make it. It was the best thing for my career – everyone in the kitchen was older than me which was a big challenge. I did it for 3 years and won a Zagat ‘30 under 30’ award as well as an Austin ‘40 under 40’ which was a big deal.
What a meteoric rise for you. Where did you go from there?
Well, this tech billionaire bought the old Kennedy home – and they pretty much bought me from my job and moved me back to DC to be their private chef. I did lots of parties, lots of cool neighbors and people donating a lot of money – celebrating how great they all were. I got to do a lot of molecular gastronomy stuff to keep my interest. But I was a little stifled by the family – they had 4 kids and lots of pizza nights.
Sounds interesting but how did you escape back to Seattle?
When I was on vacation visiting here my sister (who works at The Herbfarm) and I were walking around Queen Anne and I stumbled in here. I met the previous owner and asked him how he did in this neighborhood. He said ‘great’ but he had to leave to go back to France. She was peeking in the window at a place across the other side of the street and she looked back at me and I gave her the thumbs up.
So I left my job in DC and came back here. I felt like if I had stayed a personal chef I’d lose touch with what was really going on in the culinary world. It was only 4 months ago and it all happened very fast. I had never lived in Queen Anne and I don’t have to depend on tourists downtown.
It’s been incredible and I knew going into it I’d have to be very different. I knew How to Cook a Wolf and LloydMartin were very good. I knew that Toulouse Petit was always busy. But I knew if I did something a little different, a little edgy, I would do well.
Tell me about the concept behind Eden Hill
For one, we don’t make people feel bad about their preferences. I will make any accommodation. I never say no, and we do it to make them happy. I strive to make the place somewhat accessible but also serve things you can’t do at home.
Our clientele is a mix between people and about half come in for date night when they have a sitter and to be in an atmosphere of where they can get away and just be in their world. That’s why we do the shared plates, I call it the ‘Lady and the Tramp’ effect. They can talk about their food together instead of their individual preferences.
Tell us about your relationship with meat.
I have a lot of respect for it. It all comes down to my work at King Estate with charcuterie. I got to handle meat for the first time as a whole and I gained a whole new respect for using every piece of fat, meat, bone – especially in stocks. I gained a level of respect for the animal.
I had to weigh unusable trim and every time I’d do it I would figure out a way to use and cut that waste product. It would be like a game in a way – where I’d try to use things for charcuterie projects.
So do you attempt to use every part of the animal?
When people ask if we use the entire animal we emphatically say ‘yes’. At the end of the day we strive to be left with a scraped head and carcass. My head to tail usage has gone even farther and farther with each animal I’ve worked with.
When I can use things like lamb necks (which I buy for something like $2/pound) and am able to give people a lot on their plate, I make my costs and they enjoy a well-cooked piece of lamb they wouldn’t normally see on a menu.
Take the Pig’s Head Candy Bar – when I was doing normal head cheese I’d chiffonade the ear and all that. But we’d leave the brain alone; even though it can be so delicious it doesn’t set well. So I figured out ways to use the snout, the brain, the eyeballs – and I decided to set it, fry it and use the natural gelatin and fat to give it flavor and body. (Author’s note – we tasted this during the interview and it was amazing!)
What affinity do you have with farmers and the land?
My relationship with meat is full of love and respect and from eating a lot of it – a lot of great grass-fed beef. My wife raised show pigs and I’ve learned from her family and her dad. The beauty behind growing and feeding them – when you see how the flavors of those products are developed like in Oregon with the feeding of hazelnuts and whatnot. I love how the farming community is giving real care and love in raising these animals properly.
We grow our own microgreens here and I get this happy feeling every time I cut it out back. I feel like I’m lucky to be able to order any whole animal I want at 27 and this point in my career and be able to pick and support who I want to.
What do you have in store when it comes to creative meat preparations?
A lot of stuff we do is on the tasting menu and the one thing we’ll do eventually is the trotters. We’d get cases of them in Texas that this guy was going to feed to the dogs and I was blown away. We’d do this long process of deboning them and taking the meat off, making forcemeat off of that, doing this slow poach and fry after we’d stuff it back in.
I’m also utilizing beef tendon – people don’t do a lot with it. We make cracklins out of beef tendon and out of one case I have enough for 6 months. We slice them by hand, dehydrate them and fry them. They take on the most beautiful texture and flavor of chicharron that I have had in some time. I like giving people something they’ve never had or a version of something they’ve never had. It’s fun and I’m lucky that I can say that about my job.
Those sound amazing. What dish in recent memory are you most proud of?
Well, for New Year’s Eve we did this cured foie gras and folded in some creamy peanut butter at the end. We chilled it, balled it out, and dipped it at least 20 times in this concord grape gelee and it made the thing look like a grape. Seeing the surprise on people’s faces when they have something like that is why I do what I do. It’s really a great feeling.
Where do you get your meat?
I use Anderson Ranch in Oregon and did even when in Texas and DC. I support them because I know their farm is beautiful and they are a great leader in how we should be raising animals and how they are processed. They may not be ‘local’ but what they are doing for their animals and local community is important.
What dish from your childhood do you miss the most?
My mom made these meatballs – my wife laughs (off to the side) because we made them so many times in college. It was these barbecued meatballs with this sauce – like ketchup and caramelized onions, Worcestershire and star anise. I think there were fennel seeds too.
I have an obsession with meat and sweet things – I pair a lot of meat with sweeter types of applications. I have this pork belly brine for 96 hours, then I braise for 16 hours, and pairing with a yellow raisin mostarda. The Pig Head Candy Bar is paired with pear soup and this sweet, fattiness. I think it all stems from my mom’s meatballs.
What chefs have inspired you?
The family style scientific part – Jose Andres. He’s not someone I really worked under but before my staging there I was reading up on everything he believed in, what food meant to him, listening to some of his TED talks – how he felt really spoke to me.
My sister, who was a chef here, in NY and now in France for the last six years – she’s inspired me to really appreciate Northwest cuisine. When I worked with her at the bistro in Port Angeles – she always bought right off the water there, off local farms. As a teenager you don’t care. Back then we we’re eating Cheerios and pop tarts. But now there’s a big push in getting kids to know about their food and my sister did that for me.
Also working at King Estate there were two chefs – Michael Landsberg had an influence on me in classic French, flavor profiles and a very Marco Pierre White style. He trained me in a very classical French way. The other was Ben Maldoni who was a sous and a musician. He helped tie music into food and pushed me outside the box to create experiences for people who were more emotional. He was kind of a nerd in the respect of food science and what was happening with the products we were creating.
Who are the top Chefs in Seattle?
If I had time to go out, and when I do/if I can – I love the Northwest fresh take that Renee Erickson does. It’s simple and I love that. I think she’s doing it so well.
Also Maria Hines at Tilth and her pushing for the organic and local focus and what she’s been able to do with every venture she’s been involved with. I appreciate her listening to her customers.
And Holly Smith and what she’s done. I‘ve been following Café Juanita forever and am proud of what she’s done there.
What’s your guilty pleasure with food?
I love candy of all kinds. My guilty pleasure is the fact that, I’ve done a lot of travelling in my time, and I’ve found a certain appreciation for being able to eat anything. I’m not picky, and we’re here every day from 10am-midnight. I’ll want to eat something and I’m not ashamed if we pick up a frozen pizza.
I’m not a snob – I don’t go to restaurants and complain. I appreciate what is being put on the plate. And I’m lucky to be able to feed myself. Down the road when I’m feeding my own kids I’ll cook more. I’m obsessed with candy, gummies and chocolate milk. We usual have a big bowl of skittles and sour patch candies on our line for servers.
What kinds of food or preparations would you like to see more of in Seattle?
That’s a tough question because I know of what I’m doing here and a few others things but in trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing is difficult. I think that using more of what we have here is especially important. I think we could focus even more on local seafood.
I think Seattle is on an upswing in using local farms. They do such a good job and coming from a place like Texas I feel like I’m blessed to be a part of what is going on here. We have such a nice array of restaurants and themes. You have a lot of choice when you come here and I think we’re a lucky city to have that.
In one word, how would you describe the Seattle restaurant scene?
Final question – What’s your go-to karaoke song?
I’ve never done karaoke in my life. But if I did, I’d have to have two drinks which would mean I’d be totally wasted because I don’t drink. And I’d do ‘One More Try’ by George Michael. If that was unavailable – then probably Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’.
*Portions of this story featuring Chef Maximillian Petty originally appeared in Eater Seattle
A great interview giving us a view into the mind and heart of a careful chef. Thank you very much for posting this, Jason. I enjoyed it to the max, a million percent. 😉
Thanks Jacob – I’m glad you enjoyed it. He’s really doing an amazing job.