Four years ago, chef Matthew Dillon went to a party in a nearly century-old building in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood, and something...
Four years ago, chef Matthew Dillon went to a party in a nearly century-old building in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, and something about the place got under his skin. With its square tiled roof, arched windows and fanciful gardens, the one-time ornamental-stonework operation felt like it belonged in the Italian countryside, yet it was surrounded by, as Dillon puts it, “all this industrial mayhem.”
The dichotomy of European pastoral versus trains, planes and automobiles captured his fancy. “I knew I had to have it,” he says. “I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with it.”
This was before he’d been named one of Food and Wine magazine’s top chefs of 2007, an honor that helped put Sitka & Spruce, his gem of a restaurant on Eastlake Avenue, on the national map. Now he’s feverishly working to launch his latest venture, The Corson Building, one he envisions not so much as a restaurant but as a community-centered space with food as its driving force.
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On Saturday, the facility, at 5609 Corson Ave. S., will host its first event: a dinner for 16 people that will precede chef and author Anthony Bourdain’s appearance at the Moore Theatre. The “chef-at-large” at New York’s Les Halles, Bourdain is no doubt better known as host of the Travel Channel’s “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” in which the so-called “bad boy of cuisine” trots the globe in search of adventure and food, a cigarette-smoking, beer-swilling rogue who’ll try anything from cobra’s heart in Saigon to sheep’s testicles in Iceland.
Bourdain’s breakout memoir, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,” first published in 2000, was an amusing and raunchy recounting of his culinary career in the days before ubiquitous celebrity chefs. “He’s a great writer,” Dillon says, though the rough-and-tumble world Bourdain paints is a far cry from the world Dillon has known in his most recent stints at Stumbling Goat, The Herbfarm, The Georgian at Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic Hotel (previously the Four Seasons Olympic Hotel) and Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie.
The Corson Building, built around 1910, is part of a small fraternity of Seattle structures classified as Spanish Eclectic, inspired by early Spanish missions and common throughout Florida and the Southwest. Other such structures in Seattle include the buildings housing Belltown’s Two Bells restaurant, Cascade’s 911 Media Arts Center and Capitol Hill’s Utrecht Art Supplies.
Dillon set his sights on the place and eventually called Wylie Bush, owner of Capitol Hill’s Joe Bar, where Dillon would often have crepes and coffee and talk with Bush about his revolutionary ideas for the Seattle food scene. Would Bush want to be his business partner?
The two acquired the building a year ago and began working on a transformation he figures will be ongoing. “I think it will always be an evolution,” Dillon says. “It’s got gardens and all this stuff that needs constant attention. It’s a real, living, working environment.”
Though Jerry Traunfeld, who left The Herbfarm after 17 years and plans to open his own restaurant — Poppy — by fall on Broadway East, is often cited as one of his influences in the kitchen, Dillon says his philosophies about food and food culture can be traced to Fugazi, a socially minded, post-hardcore punk band of the ’80s and ’90s.
Fugazi applied its punk-rock model to simple living, striving to make shows affordable and accessible by eliminating unnecessary items like tour merchandise and playing in untraditional spaces in pursuit of its do-it-yourself philosophy.
“Food was just my way of being part of that,” says Dillon, whose 21-year career began as a 13-year-old picking up skiing money by working in a friend’s cafe.
Seats up for auction
Saturday’s pre-event dinner, with the 16 seats available by auction on Ticketmaster — about $600 at last check — will mark the continuation of Dillon’s vision, one that imagines The Corson Building as a place for kids to make chicken stock, for canning festivals or crab feeds or benefit dinners, whatever he decides to do with it.
“The only limits we’ll have is the actual space itself,” he says. “We’re not even calling it a restaurant.”
That alone differentiates it from Sitka & Spruce, where Dillon might be found enjoying a glass of wine with patrons. But, “the integrity and the idea behind the food will be the same,” he says.
“I just felt like it needed to happen.”
Marc Ramirez: firstname.lastname@example.org