“I go crazy for berry season. Geoduck is insanely good. The marijuana here is pretty good, too.”
Maria Hines goes to extremes when it comes to Northwest food, but to her, it makes all the sense in the world.
Grinding wheat for flour to make the pasta at Agrodolce, her Sicilian restaurant in Fremont, seems like a real pain. The mill broadcasts a coating of fine flour dust over everything, meaning they constantly have to wipe down the pasta room.
“It’s noisy and can be a bit fussy at times,” she says of the mill. She and her staff turn to the Internet when the machine is acting up.
“It’s amazing what you can learn on YouTube,” she explains. “We’ve taken that thing apart and put it back together more than my old 1976 Vespa I used to own!”
She goes out of her way to make that flour local as well. It’s made with organic, GMO-free grain — grown not in the heat of Eastern Washington, but out on the north Olympic Peninsula. “Believe it or not,” she says, Nash’s farm there has just the right climate, the fields surrounded by water and the towering mountains. (Nash’s also delivers its all-organic produce in the form of a CSA called Nash’s Farm Share Program; Seattle and Peninsula households can still get in on the tail end of this year’s excellent crops.)
Hines grew up in San Diego. She cooked in California, New York, France and Seattle, then back on the East Coast again, before choosing — of all those places — to settle here. Her reason is simple: “the bounty of ingredients and the social consciousness of Seattleites.” She loves how close we are to the Sound and to the agriculture found nestled near the Olympics, in the Skagit Valley and east of the Cascades. After moving here in 1998, she earned raves for her work at Earth & Ocean, then opened her restaurant Tilth in a lovely Wallingford bungalow almost a decade ago. It was only the second certified organic restaurant in the country, and it brought her a James Beard award in 2009.
A panel discussion featuring Tom Douglas, Matthew Dillon, Maria Hines and Rachel Yang, moderated by Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement, 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle; free with registration.
She also loves foraged ingredients: Porcini mushrooms, in season now, are her No. 1 choice — she likes to eat them thinly sliced, just raw. “Or porcini savory creme brûlée … or roasted in duck fat,” she says.
But it’s difficult for her to pick just one local favorite: “Berries!” she adds. “I go crazy for berry season. Geoduck is insanely good. The marijuana here is pretty good, too.” (Find her recipe for I Can’t Believe It’s Pot Butter — cannabis-infused butter for use in baked goods and beyond — at KUOW.org.)
Hines set the standard in sourcing all-organic foods all around the Northwest, from Nash’s Organic Produce on the Peninsula, to family-run Palouse Pastured Poultry in Spokane County, to St. Jude’s sustainable tuna, to Skagit River Ranch (where, she says, the owners “have become dear friends. They’ve bent over backward to try raising animals for me … rabbit, duck, poussin, goat”).
The dishes she says are the very best, right this very minute — arguably our region’s greatest season for eating, with summer and fall both serving their magic — at her three all-organic restaurants sound like poetry. At Tilth, there’s Skagit River Ranch pork loin, black Nile barley, foraged chanterelles, honey gastrique. At Agrodolce, look for house-ground, toasted Durum wheat mafalde — ribbons of pasta with frilly edges — with Nash’s carrots, pistachio pesto, padron pepper. At Eastern Mediterranean-flavored Golden Beetle, grilled apple, roasted leek purée, Gouda, and pork shank decorate wood-fired, Turkish-style pizza.
Hines mentions the social consciousness of Seattleites as part of what drew her here, and her intense focus on food extends to politics, too. She does more than seems possible for a person who also runs three busy restaurants. She’s an adviser to the James Beard Foundation–supported nonprofit Chef Action Network, “focused on harnessing the power of America’s pre-eminent chefs to help create awareness about — and inspire people to take action in support of — a strong, just and healthy food system.” She’s one of the Superchefs Against Superbugs — a group dedicated to ending the overuse of antibiotics in meat production — along with the likes of Hugh Acheson, Tom Colicchio and Suzanne Goin. Hines lends her power for fundraising and more to the very worthy Seattle-based Fresh Bucks program, which allows those on federal food assistance to get double-value when they shop at farmers markets. She’s on the board of local-farm rescuers PCC Farmland Trust. She’s been involved in the fight for GMO labeling. Hines is only a little short of a food superhero.
Fans of Seattle Restaurant Week might be interested to learn that Hines founded it, along with Ethan Stowell and Jason Wilson. “It was during the last recession,” she says, “and we wanted to do something for our own restaurants, and the restaurant community, to encourage guests to eat out during tough times.” Right now — the $30 three-course dinner deal runs at more than 150 restaurants October 18 to 22 and October 25 to 29 — she’s an SRW co-chair. (Full disclosure: The Seattle Times Company is a sponsor of Seattle Restaurant Week.) She says it’s an excellent way to thank regulars with a special deal, as well as “make new friends with guests who haven’t dined with us.” Her don’t-miss choices from the list this time around — besides her three places, of course — are Restaurant Zoe, Poppy, Ma’ono and Stoneburner.
In the end, though, Maria Hines is no local/organic/seasonal fine-dining snob. “I love food trucks, dim sum and movie popcorn!” she says. Just because it wouldn’t end up on her restaurants’ menu doesn’t mean it won’t end up in her stomach.