Third-generation Canlis owners on how to keep ego out of the kitchen
Recently, Rachel Belle hosted the very first Your Last Meal LIVE at Crosscut Festival! She was joined by brothers Mark and Brian Canlis, the third-generation owners of Seattle’s 70-year-old fine dining institution, Canlis. But despite growing up in a family that ran a fancy restaurant, the brothers say they ate macaroni and cheese and Spaghetti O’s, like a lot of kids did in the 1980s.
Brian also revealed his Secret Shame Food, something he kept from his wife for years.
“My mom used to always shop at Costco and one of the things she’d get were these five-pound bags of shredded cheddar cheese,” Brian said. “I loved cheese so I’d sneak into the freezer and pack a little kids cup with cheese and put it in the microwave for about 32 seconds. It comes out and you eat pure melted cheese with a fork. This morning, my kids were watching The Sound of Music and my wife was asleep — she didn’t sleep well last night because she’s seven months pregnant with our fourth kid — and I totally did it! This morning I ate a cup of melted cheese. I was married about two years when my wife caught me eating melted cheese with a fork. She was absolutely horrified at how disgusting it was.”
Canlis’ doors have been closed over the past 15 months, but they’ve gained international attention for their ingenuity, launching 18 different pandemic culinary concepts that sold out one after the next. Everything from a parking lot crab shack to a bagel barn and the virtual learning platform, Canlis Community College.
Canlis also recently hired a new executive chef, only the seventh in the restaurant’s history. They devised a very unorthodox interview process, and asked applicants to submit a 60-second video doing something they’re bad at.
“We believe great leaders, which is what kitchens need in this country, not great egos, are comfortable being seen,” Brian said. “They’re comfortable showing others when they’re not good at something, being vulnerable. We had a lot of chefs sending videos doing things they are good at because they couldn’t stand to be seen as not being great.”
“So many people failed at this,” Mark said. “It’s 60 seconds. Come on, we all have something that we just suck at. It tells you a lot about a person.”
About a month ago, Daniel Humm, chef and owner of New York City’s Eleven Madison Park, announced that when the restaurant reopens, it will serve a completely vegan menu. This is huge news in the restaurant world, considering EMP has been named one of the best restaurants in the world.
“I think it’s bold, and I think it’s exciting,” Brian said about Humm’s decision. “Our entire industry needs to move that direction. That’s what fine dining should be doing. You know when a really fancy luxury car comes out with a feature, and then 10 years later all the cheaper cars have that same feature as standard? That’s what great chefs of the world are doing. I think that’s what Daniel is doing. He’s going to pave the way to teach and help other restaurants be able to get off their meat kicks. When the great restaurants do it, it helps all the others be able to follow.”
“We’ve kind of been moving that direction for five or six years now,” Mark said. “I’ll tell you, it’s not easy to do. People come in and they have a certain mindset about what is special or what expensive food looks like. ‘Wow, I’m paying this much money for celery.'”
“We really hope the world moves towards protein being the compliment to the veg as the star,” Brian said. “For our bodies and the environment.”
Listen to the entire episode of Your Last Meal, featuring Mark and Brian Canlis.