“Self-taught and brimming with energy and ideas, 27-year-old Chef Chris Nau is aiming to shake up the Kitsap County dining scene.
Nau made a splash at the 2016 World Chef Challenge, taking first place in the international division and finishing second overall. Now, in addition to serving as executive chef at Manette’s venerable Boat Shed, he’s creating a private dining club in Bremerton and working with the Filipino-American Association to turn its community center kitchen into an incubator for local food businesses.
“My vision is a little bit bigger than my boots,” he admitted during a recent interview after lunch service at the Boat Shed.
A 2007 graduate of South Kitsap High School, Nau grew up with Mexican and Spanish culinary influences at home and honed his skills at a number of restaurants, including MoonDogs, Too, Uncle Dave’s Café and the high-end Bay Street Bistro, where he reveled in creating four-course, internationally-themed Sunday dinners.
He highlighted local ingredients, including mushrooms, herbs and seaweed that he personally foraged. “I had the ability to create my own style.”
Nau has carried that sensibility to Northwest Root Cellars, a catering and culinary pop-up company he launched last summer.
“My concept with Northwest Root Cellars is re-harnessing American culinary traditions like sitting down family-style and eating food based on seasonal and local influences,” he said.
To that end, he hosted his first pop-up dinner Jan. 13 at the Filipino-American Community Center, with an 11-course meal that drew more than 60 diners. Nau billed it as the first meeting of The Root Cellar Society, a private club that he hopes will attract adventurous eaters and chefs who want to cook for them.
Head chef Chris Nau, top left, laughs as his motherBuy Photo
Head chef Chris Nau, top left, laughs as his mother Tina Nau, helps with the radish salad table at the Root Cellar Society at the Filipino-American Community Center in Bremerton. In the center is chef Trevor Nelson, and chef Gerren Allen, right,. (Photo: Larry Steagall / Kitsap Sun)
The small-plates menu included a venison eggroll, lentil soup with rabbit, calamari and chorizo street tacos, roasted carrots with goat cheese, honey and mint, and pork served three ways, including pork belly with a poached egg. Diners set at one long table decorated on a budget with enclyclopedia pages for placemats.
“This is the kind of deal where you eat things you’ve never eaten before,” Nau told diners afterward to rousing applause.
“We haven’t seen anything like this in Kitsap,” observed Brad Moore of Bremerton, who attended the dinner with his wife and two other couples. “Normally at home, I wouldn’t try some of these things. But, in an environment like this, where it’s prepared so well, it opens up your mind to try it.”
Nau plans to make the dinners a monthly event for now and would eventually like to have teams of chefs creating weekly pop-ups in unexpected locations around the county, including art galleries and empty buildings. It’s a concept that’s been successful in larger cities, including Seattle.
The Root Cellar Society accepted a suggested $50-per-person donation for the pop-up and Nau assembled a team of chefs, including mentor Trevor Nelson of The Restaurant at Gold Mountain and Gerren Allen from Friday Harbor, whom Nau met at the World Food Championships. The chefs donated their time, so that all the money could go toward food and supplies.
“I was inspired by the World Food Championships to come back and create something by chefs and for the chefs to do things we can’t do in our restaurants,” Nau said.
“You can leave the pretentiousness out the door,” said guest chef Joaquin Buttner from Puyallup. “This is fine dining that’s all about the food.”
Nau said the format allows chefs to experiment with unique flavors, ingredients and cooking techniques. By structuring it as a private club, he’s able to use ingredients from private individuals who are not licensed food processors.
The January dinner, for example, culminated with a dessert of bourbon-soaked figs candied by a local farmer. A drizzle of tart yogurt complemented the sweet fruit, which was finished with a dusting of local bee pollen for one perfect memorable bite to end the evening.
Northwest Root Cellars
Chef Gerren Allen makes deep fried egg rolls at the Root Cellar Society at the Filipino-American Community Center in Bremerton. Larry Steagall / Kitsap Sun
“You can’t get it anywhere else. You can’t buy it and it can’t be duplicated,” said Nau. “The figs are from this season and there was the simplicity of just three ingredients and just local foods.”
As part of his mission to promote local food businesses, Nau recently became leasing manager for the Filipino-American Community Center’s 600-square-foot commercial kitchen in East Bremerton. Customers so far include CJ’s Evergreen Catering and Hello, sweeties. baked goods.
Nau hopes to attract food trucks and has other ideas for the space, including making it a food hub, where farm produce and eggs could be washed and made available to the public. He’s also putting together an informational packet to help people with food business ideas navigate state and local regulations.
Virgil Valdez, a board member for the Filipino-American Association, said proceeds from kitchen rentals will help pay the building’s mortgage, while also benefiting the community. “This is a good program he’s putting together.”
Connections at the Filipino-American Association helped send Nau to the World Chef Challenge, an invitational that’s part of the annual World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Alabama. Competing in the international division, Nau had 25 minutes to make his signature cold-smoked Fuji apple tuna poke served on a frozen river rock. He advanced to the finals and finished in second place after using a mystery box of ingredients to create a blue crab chowder with a base concocted from pickle brine, cream cheese and water.
“I’m proud to bring that accolade to the county,” said Nau, who plans to compete again next November and hopes his performance will help put Kitsap on the culinary map. “I’m proud of what we do on the Kitsap Peninsula. We have great products and great farms. It’s always been a great goal of mine to showcase the region.”
Some of the dining experience food options at the RootBuy Photo
Some of the dining experience food options at the Root Cellar Society at the Filipino-American Community Center in Bremerton. (Photo: Larry Steagall / Kitsap Sun)
Root Cellar Society February Pop-up
When: 7-11 p.m. Feb. 10
Where: Filipino-American Community Center, 1240 Sheridan Road, Bremerton
Tickets: Can be reserved for a $50 donation at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/february-secret-supper-root-cellar-society-tickets-31201669032?aff=erelexpmlt
Courtesy of the Kitsap Sun”
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