There’s a new chef in town, and soon he will be seeking to win over the hearts and stomachs of Ellensburg diners.

Executive chef Larkin Young will head up Basalt Restaurant, which will anchor the Windrow Hotel slated to open in late September. The restaurant is planned to hold approximately 100 people in the downstairs area and will also boast a rooftop bar that can seat another 90. Young will also oversee catering operations that can host another 300 people between three rooms.

The 44-year old Young was raised in Minnesota. He moved to Washington in 2000 to work at the Salish Lodge. He said the natural surrounding of our state was what inspired him to come west.

“I really wanted to live in a place where there was mountains, ocean, desert and rainforest,” he said. “There was one place and it was Washington. Really, that was my main drive.”

Young originally went to college for hydrology and water treatment management, but he soon found after graduating that it didn’t hold the appeal he first thought it would. He had worked as a cook during college, using personal skills passed down through family members.

“From seventh grade on, my sister and I were expected to cook dinner and have dinner ready for when our folks got home,” he said. “We started cooking at an early age. The kitchen was just a natural progression to follow. Everything kind of came easy in that setting.”

After deciding to pivot in his career path, Young quickly noted that he could use science skills honed in college to benefit his culinary pursuits.

“When you’re cooking you are a chemist,” he said. “You’re going through physical and chemical changes all the time. You’re understanding about how things like emulsifications work. You’re understanding the physics of food and how carryover works with steaks, specific cooking techniques like blanching and things like that. They all have their purpose and end result, and I think that’s a very scientific way of cooking.”

KITCHEN IS BEST CLASSROOM

To Young, learning is contagious. When he got his feet on the ground in Washington at the Salish Lodge, he decided that he wanted to focus entirely on the learning aspect so that he could develop his skills as comprehensively as possible without a formal culinary schooling. In the end, as most chefs find out, the kitchen is the best school for those who aspire to be chefs.

“The direction I took with Washington and the chefs in Washington was I found the best chef I could work for and I worked for them,” he said. “I continued to follow great chefs. I skipped over the whole part where I went from sous chef to chef. I just went from sous chef to sous chef to sous chef, because the lack of schooling in my area, I always felt like I had things to learn. I always felt that when I had learned as much as I could from someone, there was always another chef around that had a skill or a skill set I was really interested in.”

Young’s culinary pursuits took him east to Walla Walla, where he worked for a spell before returning to Seattle to work at Tilth under Maria Hines, winner of the prestigious James Beard Award.

“Maria was probably my biggest mentor,” he said. “I worked with her for about three years.”

Young then went on to help open a restaurant in Seattle, and then worked for a time at the revered Canlis Restaurant before jumping at the opportunity to work at the Willows Inn on Lummi Island. There, he worked under Blaine Wetzel, two-time James Beard Award winner.

“That was like my dream job,” he said.

After helping open other restaurants in the Seattle area, Young’s partner was accepted into the MFA program at Central Washington University. He began to research culinary opportunities in the area and caught wind of the plans for the hotel. After contacting the developers, he met with them and conducted a tasting.

“We decided this would be the next move,” he said.

EXPERIENCED IN OPENINGS

For Young, Basalt will be the fifth restaurant he will have helped open and the third from the ground up, so he has a fundamental understanding of what’s necessary to get the wheels turning. This experience for him, however, provides a welcome change from previous experiences.

“It’s really refreshing when you have an amazing investing group that has put the faith in you to take what you’ve learned and apply it to their hotel and restaurant,” he said. “I still feel amazing lucky every day I come to work.”

As he develops the menu for the hotel, Young said it is important to him to place a focus on both sustainability and local sourcing for the food on his menu. To him, he sees this as helping keep the economic cycle within the area as much as possible.

“We have the ability to support different areas in our community,” he said. “It all stems from money. Where are we giving our money and how are we supporting the people that are producing the things that we need. It’s amazing to be in this area and have access to some of these things. I never would have had that opportunity in Seattle.”

Beyond seeking out local ingredients for his menu, Young sees a crucial importance in winning the trust of local diners. He sees the key to this through approachability in his menus and consistency in the quality and presentation of dishes.

“I know that you need to have a couple good experiences before you really relax a little bit,” he said.

Part of the approachability of the restaurant will be the setting. Although dinner service will be more resemblant of fine dining as compared to breakfast or lunch, Young said he wants to keep it reasonable so that all feel welcome.

“It will be a comfortable place to eat,” he said. “It’s not going to be over the top.”

For Young, the first year for him will be a learning process as he feels out the needs of his diners. Beyond providing an exemplary experience for them, he sees great reward in the ability to pass on his skills to chefs that will work under him at Basalt.

“It’s exciting to think of yourself as a potential teacher,” he said. “I’ve worked with organizations where I’ve taught classes and I’ve worked with a lot of young cooks. It’s really rewarding when you see these little sparks happen with people and they get it and they understand and progress. Eventually they move on and you see them successful in what they do. That’s part of the evolution of kitchen culture. Eventually you want the people working under you to be better than you one day and carry on some of the things you taught them.”

Comments

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.