A beloved local chef goes through a lot of effort to install a Platonic ideal of equipment in his new kitchen. Plus: his springtime recipe for radish soup (with optional roses!).
BRUCE NAFTALY’S new stockpot is really big.
About 2 feet in diameter and the same deep, it holds 40 gallons. You could easily bathe a child in there, or two small ones; with its shiny stainless steel and copper piping, it’d look right at home among the witches in a steampunk “Macbeth.”
It’s not actually new, just new to Naftaly. It’s a 1961, from B.H. Hubbert & Son, Inc., a Baltimore company that, “Alas, is no longer in existence,” Naftaly says, “but they were really big in the steam kettle world.” A giant industrial steam-powered stockpot like this is technically called a steam kettle. If you’re any kind of kitchen-equipment nerd (or maybe just any kind of nerd at all), it’s impressive — lovely, even.
1424 11th Ave., Seattle; 206-755-8606; marmiteseattle.com
“It’s got a lot of charisma,” Naftaly says. “It looks just like I wanted.”
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Naftaly, along with his wife, Sara, ran Seattle’s marvelous Le Gourmand (and, eventually, its fantastic sidekick, Sambar) from 1985 until spring 2012. That’s nearly three decades of beautiful Northwest ingredients transformed with deft French techniques into dining magic on a quiet corner in Ballard, starting long before anyone trumpeted the value of the local.
Naftaly said he was retiring, but he couldn’t keep himself out of the professional kitchen for long. This past winter, he opened Marmite on Capitol Hill, conveniently next door to Sara’s pretty little bakery, Amandine. Much less formal than Le Gourmand, Marmite even serves lunch, with an emphasis on the most elemental of foods: soup. The Hubbert steam kettle enables large-scale stock production for that, as well as retail sales to those who want to make soups and/or sauces at home with the best of building blocks. Naftaly originally planned to call the retail operation Building Block Stock, with a logo of kids’ wooden blocks, but now that he’s got the new restaurant, it’ll share that name — “marmite” is French for cooking pot, and Marmite’s logo has a drawing of one.
Naftaly will sell chicken, fish, veal and a “robust” vegetable stock. After decades of teaching occasional cooking classes, he says that last one is “like a magic show,” because no one believes soups or sauces made with mere vegetable broth could be so good. Venison, lamb and beef stock will be by special order.
Naftaly’s got all his fingers crossed that the Hubbert will be up and running by the time you’re reading this. He makes a joke about its long “gestation period” — he got it in October, after locating it online (“I just Googled it.”). It cost $1,200 used. A new one might be around $25,000, Naftaly says, and, “They’re not as pretty … they really look like they belong in the basement of a hospital somewhere.” They also run on electricity or natural gas, which would’ve been much, much easier — Seattle has only municipal steam power downtown, and, as Naftaly learned, it provides only around 8 PSI, while the Hubbert requires 40.
So Naftaly acquired a small-format, high-pressure steam boiler for the basement. (A custom-made model was considered and rejected. “Under that kind of pressure, it’s like making a bomb,” he says. “The city frowns on installing a bomb underneath your kitchen.”) Then there were those new copper pipes for running the steam up to the ground floor and back, new electric lines, a new grated drain under the Hubbert for cleaning it, a new spigot that swings out above it to fill it up.
The Hubbert sits, in all its shiny glory, in Marmite’s open kitchen, well situated for viewing from one end of the bar. Naftaly figures he’ll be in it for about $20,000 by the time it’s all done. “It ended up being an expensive project,” he says, “but considering it’s the basis of the whole restaurant, it’s worth the bother, I guess.”
Naftaly calls the following soup “a spring thing,” with a flavor that’s “mild and savory, with a little pepperiness from the radish.” He says you could probably use any kind of radish. The soup’s creaminess is, he opines, “kind of miraculous.” (“You can always finish it with a little cream,” he notes, “but that’s kind of cheating.”) If you’re careful to prevent your onions, leeks and shallots from getting any color when you’re cooking them, he says, the soup will have a faint pink cast to it — one that you may augment by adding two roses’ worth of petals when you add the radishes, and pureeing them into it, too. (Organic, old-fashioned roses, not bred for disease resistance, taste best, he advises, and a few drops of rose water make a nice finisher.) What’s radish-and-rose soup like? “It’s kind of a complementary flavor, it turns out … like an earthy, peppery perfume,” Naftaly says.
Bruce Naftaly’s Radish Soup
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 leek, white only, washed and cut into ½-inch pieces
2 shallots, peeled and quartered
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ pound red radishes, washed, trimmed and halved
2 cups chicken stock
1. In a heavy nonaluminum saucepan, slowly cook the onion, leek and shallots in the butter over low heat until they are translucent and “relaxed.”
2. Add the radishes and the chicken stock. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the radishes are soft.
3. Purée with an immersion blender or in batches until smooth. Return to saucepan, and salt to taste.
4. Serve garnished with a spoonful of crème fraîche and a pinch of chopped chives.