5 Minutes With Renee Erickson of The Whale Wins

By Leslie Kelly  |  April 2, 2014
Credit: Leslie Kelly

Chef-owner and wine-buyer for four high-profile restaurants (The Whale Wins, The Walrus and The Carpenter, Boat Street Cafe and Barnacle), Renee Erickson is a chef who is constantly on the move. We recently caught up with the James Beard Best Chef finalist at The Whale Wins to chat about her kitchen mishaps, potato chips and her upcoming first trip the James Beard Awards ceremony on May 5 in NYC.

Where were you when you heard the news that you made the James Beard Best Chef finals?
I was sitting at home in my bathrobe, on the computer. My friend and business partner Chad Dale texted me and I sorta didn't believe him, so I started looking online. We're all so excited. A bunch of us are going to the celebration in New York in May.

What's the game plan for the awards ceremony weekend?
We fly in on Saturday and we really want to have dinner at Estela and then we're going to Blue Hill on Sunday. I've never been to New York before, so not really sure what to expect on Monday. 

Tell us about your most embarrassing kitchen mishap.
It was probably about 10 years ago. I was in a hurry and opening a big mustard can and my finger got caught. I ended up in the ER, getting 12 stitches. It's still numb. But I went back to work and finished that catering job. I had to. It still makes my stomach flip when I have to open a mustard can.

What's your guilty pleasure?
Lay's potato chips. It's kind of a joke around here. We actually serve bowls of them at Barnacle.

What's the coolest cooking trick you've learned lately?
Well, I've learned a lot about cooking in the wood-fired oven here. It's pretty magical. I've also been trying an elimination diet, a kind of Paleo thing. And it's made me think about food differently, wanting to cook in a more healthy way.

What's next for you?
We're working with Corky Luster at Ballard Bee Company, this year on a project to set aside some hives just for us. We'll probably sell jars of that at restaurants. We love his honey, which tastes different, depending on the time of year. And my book, A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus, comes out this fall. I've been talking to Jess Thompson (co-author of the book) about writing something about herring. [Looking over at a nearby table where both diners are digging into smoked herring sandwiches] That makes me so happy.