News Blog for Seattle's Wallingford Neighborhood

 

Maria Hines talks "Iron Chef," future plans

August 6th, 2010 · No Comments

We chatted with Tilth chef-owner Maria Hines earlier this week, days after she beat Chef Masaharu Morimoto on “Iron Chef America” and the day after she re-created that dinner in her restaurant. Readers hoping for behind-the-scenes tidbits will be disappointed — Hines couldn’t say a peep about production (not that we didn’t try!).

Not all chefs are so tight-lipped, though, and the “secrets” of “Iron Chef America” are easily found online. The highlights: The challenger chooses an Iron Chef to battle; they learn three ingredients in advance that could be the “secret” ingredient; and they have weeks to train for the competition in their own restaurants.

How did the producers get in touch with you?
I don’t know. I’ll assume that it was because of the James Beard Award. A lot of times when chefs get called for things it’s because of an award.

Tilth hosted Chef’s Table the night the show aired. Was that by design?
We didn’t know it was going to air on that day. We filmed it a while ago, and they don’t tell you very far in advance when it will air. We were planning on doing a viewing party, so that destroyed that, but was able to leave in time to see the show.

Did you consider having a viewing party at the end of Chef’s Table?
We have a theme that’s a commitment and it wouldn’t follow suit with Seattle Chefs Table, to focus on one chef.

Last night was the “Iron Chef” dinner at the restaurant. Did you change anything from the dishes on the show?
We turned the brandade into an hors d’oeuvre that was just smaller, but otherwise it was exactly what we did for the competition. We might add one of the dishes to the menu.

As of late last week there were still spots available for that dinner. Did that change after the show aired?
We ended up filling up. It was hard for people to commit to coming before the show because they don’t know what they’re getting.

Had you worked with Pacific cod before the show?
There are lots of different Pacific cods. The one that we had, I’d never used before. A fish is a fish, but to a certain degree you break them down differently.

Are you interested in doing more TV?
I’m fully open to it, if it fits the brand of Tilth, and if it’s something that suits us. I had a blast. It was stressful and hard, but if something comes easy is it gratifying? It seems like it’s fun after it’s done. like running a marathon: “Wow, that was actually kind of cool.” You have a feeling of accomplishment, you have a payoff. It helps you move through life in a different way. Then when you come across other challenges or obstacles, you have a little more trust in yourself. It’s kind of cool.

You seem really at ease in front of the camera.
The camera doesn’t bother me. You don’t know untill you’re in front of the camera. On the other side of that lens, there are people watching, so I think about it as people. It feels like a two-way mirror. I thought I would hate doing TV. I don’t have cable; I hadn’t even seen “Iron Chef” before I got the call to do it.

You could tell that your team — with chef de cuisine Larkin Young and sous chef Jason Brzozowy — was really tight on the show.
Larkin and Jason (we call him Mason — you can hear that on the show) are really strong cooks with great palates. I couldn’t ask to have two better people with me.

How have these TV appearances affected your business?
It’s been great, and it has an impact on our local economy. When tourists come they come to Wallingford, they bring more traffic to this part of Seattle. It’s turned into a destination restaurant because of Martha Stewart, James Beard. They find their way to us. I did set out to create a destination restaurant, but I wanted to be in the neighborhood. I like the trees and the beautiful houses.

How had business been before the TV appearances, with the economy, etc.?
Last year was really shitty — sorry, I should say bad! This year it’s definitely picked up. We’ve been fortunate with the Martha Stewart thing, which was in February and helped out during what’s usually a slow month. ThenĀ Seattle Restaurant week gave us a strong April. ThenĀ “Top Chef” helped in May. We’ve been riding on a lot of good timing.

Do you have expansion plans for Tilth?
I don’t have expansion plans. I’m just going to try to keep my head above water. We’re generating more business now with all the hype. When you have people coming because of the outcome on “Iron Chef,” expectations are really high. I want to give every guest who walks into the restaurant a dynamite experience. I don’t want to do things that would pull me too far away from Tilth. I’m too attached to being here and my staff. It’s very family oriented here. If I opened another restaurant, I worry that feeling wouldn’t be there. I’d have to wear more hats than I do. Never say never, though. Someone might give me a pile of money to open another restaurant!

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