• at home and at work with
    AT HOME AND AT WORK WITH MATT DILLON
    Chef and Owner of Bar Sajor, Seattle
    April 23, 2015  |  BY TARIQ DIXON
    “I don't really want to mask things,” says the recent James Beard Award winner. “We let the ingredients speak for themselves.”

    An avid forager and a long-time patron of local farms, Chef Dillon has been committed to quality ingredients long before “farm-to-table” belonged to any culinary lexicon. This steadfast reliance on nature's finest has allowed the Chef to continually refine his signature, light-handed approach - one that's now afforded him five of Seattle's most critically acclaimed restaurants. At one of his latest concepts, Bar Sajor, Chef Dillon relies on a single wood-burning stove as his only source of heat - devolving cooking to its most primitive method, but with a rare delicacy that simultaneously elevates the art.

    Joined by Nick's parents Paul and Gloria, we dined at Bar Sajor during a recent trip to Seattle (which also happens to be Nick's hometown). Feasting on pickled vegetables, chicken liver pate, fresh sardines, wild mushrooms and fire-roasted chicken - the chef's abstract cooking philosophy no longer required any explanation. Each dish was edited to highlight only a few, praiseworthy flavors - those inherent to the star ingredient.

    For Chef Dillon, restraint may actually be more of a life mantra, rather than a mere cooking philosophy. Wanting a reprieve from the chaos and demands of restaurant life, he set sail for Vashon - a nearby island in the Puget Sound. Accessible only by boat, plane or helicopter, we boarded the ferry to visit Matt at his century-old, beachside retreat, nestled deep within a lush ravine.

    Seeking to minimize any clutter or chaos at home, Matt keeps his furnishings to a minimum, relying on a few modest, but well-crafted pieces. But with the ocean in your backyard, who's really trying to spend time inside?

    An active crabber and fisher, Matt takes us for a spin on his speedboat - a trip that's quickly derailed by it's aging and unreliable motor. Nonetheless, we head back to shore while absorbing the breathtaking view - relishing the advantages of a quieter, more 'restrained' way of living.

    Read about our time with Seattle's most revered new chef, and take in the views from his Vashon Island home.
  • Could you tell us a little bit about your cooking philosophy and inspiration?

    I don't really wanna mask things. We let the ingredients speak for themselves. I try to be light-handed, delicate and thoughtful with the food. It's really about restraint, and not overthinking it.

    Regarding inspiration, I don't know if it's very direct. I may hear a song that I like, or I'll be in a bad mood and only want to listen to classical music. What's the weather like? What's going on politically? I like the process of being hungry and participating in the world. How do I feel today, and how does my hunger respond to that? Most of my cooks get really frustrated, because you never know why I want to go in a particular direction.

  • How do you think about the design for your restaurants?

    There's so much Wood and dark brick happening in Seattle design - stained Douglas fir and big warehouse lights everywhere. But I recently spent some time in London and was really inspired by the timelessness - the old shops that'll always look cool, but still inviting. I want the restaurants to become institutions -places that people will visit for a long time.

    The Bar Sajor space is actually an old masonry from 1920 that was being used as a physical therapy bike shop - really strange. The space was really ugly with AstroTurf and fucked up walls. We gutted everything and brought in all new material. Three of my friends and I actually did it ourselves. We didn't have very much money, so we didn't hire a contractor. It was intense, but awesome.

  • I try to be light-handed, delicate and thoughtful with the food. It's really about restraint, and not overthinking it.

  • Do you know anything about the history of your home?

    It was built in 1904, and it's apparently the 6th or 7th oldest house on the island. There's a Seattle architect named George Suyama, and he was like you can never change it. I was like, “What about the inside?” I really wanted to rip down these walls - which I think I'll end up doing - and putting some sky lights in here.

    The summer time is really cool here. The fall and winter are epic. The house is really warm and cozy - it even has the little fireplace.

  • Do you consider restraint a virtue for the home as well?

    So my stepmother collects early American antiques with a strong emphasis on Shaker stuff. I was exposed to a lot of those things when I was young, and I really liked the utilitarian idea behind that - the simple function and clean lines. Things can get gussied up too much. And I can get really overwhelmed by the outside world - that's why I moved to an island, on a beach, in a little cabin. Restaurants are noisy and chaotic, so try to have quietness outside of the restaurant. At home, I don't want too many things cluttering up my life. A little mental medicine for myself.

  • Where do you spend most of your time when you're here?

    Mostly outside - on the deck or the beach. If I'm home on a day like this, I'll try and take my boat for a spin - or go fishing or crabbing. I really like the garden part of it - I do a lot of sitting and thinking there.

    Inside, I'm either in the kitchen or the living room. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen because I like to catch up on dishes, and I've been doing a lot of canning lately.

  • What tools and ingredients do you rely on most in your kitchen?

    My rice cooker - I make a lot of rice. My girlfriend and I cook pretty simple food because the farm is just up the road, and we have the fish and the crab out here. We'll just boil something and eat it with our hands, so not a lot of tools involved. And we eat a lot of yogurt - we put yogurt on everything. I've been making nut and seed butters, and some other probiotic stuff, but when I'm at home, I want something really simple. I don't want too much to think about.

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  • I really liked the utilitarian idea behind [Shaker furniture] - the simple function and clean lines.

  • Restaurants are noisy and chaotic, so try to have quietness outside the restaurant...A little mental medicine for myself.

  • If I'm home on a day like this, I'll try and take my boat for a spin - or go fishing or crabbing.

  • I can get really overwhelmed by the outside world - that's why I moved to an island, on a beach, in a little cabin.

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