Culinary Conversation Starter
Josh Henderson, nationally acclaimed chef and owner of Huxley Wallace Collective, is perhaps the most revered culinary figure in the Pacific Northwest. And not just because his cuisine is downright delicious, but because he brings a community-minded spirit and reverence for the natural world (and sustainably-sourced local produce) to every project he touches.
At Thompson Seattle, Henderson will head up Scout and The Nest, two innovative restaurants that will showcase what the city has to offer the food scene beyond Washington State’s famous “salmon and apples.” Think: an array of amazing ingredients and two beautifully designed spaces that reflect the Pacific North West aesthetic.
“We want to show that Seattle’s burgeoning food scene can rival any city in the world— but, that we like to do it our way,” says Henderson. “We are also excited to bring the first elegant rooftop bar to the city that’s for locals and visitors. Ultimately, my hope is to offer surprising moments and different experiences for people over and over again in the unique spaces we’ve created throughout the hotel.”
Here, Henderson shares more about his food philosophy, how he would spend his dream day off in Seattle—it sounds like heaven—and more.
How would you describe your food philosophy? How has this evolved since you started out as a young chef?
My food philosophy is simplicity while focusing on French and Japanese flavors most of the time. I love what Washington provides from an ingredient perspective, it is so incredible what we have at our fingertips at certain times of the year. My philosophy has really changed over the years. In the beginning I was concerned with being as creative as possible, and figuring out new ways to do things or trying to develop something that hadn’t been done before. Now I really just want to make delicious food and simplify and use one or two beautiful ingredients. The idea of a charred salmon collar, with some sea salt, fresh mint, and black vinegar seems more exciting than something that is over thought and overworked.
Why is it so important to pay homage to Washington State in your work?
I love this state and think that what we have here in the Pacific Northwest is incredible and precious. I have traveled all over the world and whenever I come back home, it is always with such a sense of awe for the beauty of this place. That is part of it, but the other part is that what we have ingredient wise is so special as well and really needs to be explored.
What makes the Seattle culinary community so compelling right now?
I think we are at a turning point where in the next few years you will see so many of the cooks and chefs that work for me—or Ethan or Renee or whoever—branch out on their own and do their own thing. We will have cooks who have worked in other cities around the world return to Seattle. They’ll bring their knowledge and perspective back with them and then operate through the lens that Washington State provides. It is an exciting time for sure.
How has your childhood influenced the way you cook?
I spent my life moving, my dad was a pastor/missionary and we lived in India and Hong Kong for a couple of years. I can’t imagine that those years didn’t have an influence on me in regards to just opening my eyes to other cuisines and cultures. The reality is though, what I tend to fall back on as my life has gone on, is simple well executed flavors. Flavors and dishes that feel soulful in whatever way that might be. With so much influence from Asia, it certainly weaves its way into my psyche, along with the experiences I have had when I lived and traveled in Hong Kong and Thailand.
How will your relationships with local farmers and winemakers influence the menu?
They are a constant, and so it isn’t something new or interesting. They inform the seasons and menus and everything. It just is.
Can you share one of your profound food experiences?
There isn’t one thing that stands out in my mind. On one hand it could totally be roasting s’mores and hot dogs with my boys over a fire on a perfect summer night, or it could be eating ramen with my girlfriend Kimberly and laughing about something silly. It isn’t some epic meal from some three-star Michelin spot. Those places are supposed to be epic. It is the moments that are surprising or normal that creep up and make it something profound.
How would you spend your dream day in Seattle?
I would hopefully be about 80 degrees out and clear—a September day so it is light out until 10pm. Kim, myself, and the kids, we’d wake up in the morning and I’d make some coffee on my Bialetti, fire up some waffles, crack open the door to the outside, and let some fresh air in. It would probably be a Saturday or Sunday so the Huskies or the Seahawks would be playing an evening game around 5pm. We’d finish up the waffles, the kids would probably play some hoops out front, and then we’d all pile in the car and head to the farmer’s market. Grab a baguette, some Beechers Flagship, Secchi, a bottle of rosé, some fruit, and some cookies of some sort. We’d then head to Discovery Park and bring a Frisbee and just hang out for a while. The boys are like vacuums, so we’d plow through most of the food if not all of it. We’d walk the trail and just ramble around. We’d then come home, maybe a quick 30-minute nap, then some friends would come over and the game would start, the kids would be racing around. We’d fire up the green egg and do up some whole fish and some bone-in chicken thighs and make some tacos—simple with fresh avocado, cilantro, diced onions and tapatio and lots of beer… Sounds pretty damn perfect.