Visit with a Chef: Jason Wilson
June 27, 2016
We visited with Chef and Owner Jason Wilson of Miller’s Guild in downtown Seattle to find out what he loves most about owning one of Seattle’s most unique and comfortable steakhouses.
Where does your passion for sourcing high quality, sustainable ingredients stem from?
High quality, for me, is defined by how the product is raised, the husbandry of the animals and who raised that product. I want to know: Where was it raised? What time of year is it slaughtered? How was it fed? What were the conditions? What does it taste like? When all of that jazz comes together, that’s when I decide if it’s a great product for me. It’s important that there’s an authentic story and an authentic reason behind why we select the things we eat. It doesn’t matter whether we’re serving 500 people, five people, or 50 people – there should always be an importance to it, not one to just fill a void. It’s not that everyone thinks like this, but I think that quality should be the driver behind what you do in life.
What empowers you the most about owning Miller’s Guild?
My wife and I opened our first restaurant, Crush, in 2005. It was a very modern restaurant in a classic house. I kind of made my name and reputation based on fine dining, experiential food there, but I always wanted to show people that I have the ability to cook in multiple ways, that I have a broader range or depth to my cooking. How we do things at Miller’s Guild is based around a very visceral style. It’s a very natural, comfortable, almost innate style in which we like to eat. We take ingredients that are of great quality, we perform a simple task on them – whether it be a simple seasoning, a vinaigrette or a simple sauce – and then we throw them on the wood fire, which is something we all see as visceral. To me, the wood fire is at the center. It’s a very fun way of cooking.
In a way I feel empowered here because we have this natural approach to cooking, which it really is. Fire, coal, ash provides us with a really cool medium that, alongside the focus on great quality meat and really great quality ingredients, creates a boutique steakhouse. I guess that is even more empowering to me, because I get to redefine what a steakhouse is. Everything on the menu represents where I came from to where the journey is now.
Why do you use Niman Ranch beef?
My culinary career first got serious in San Francisco. I went to school there, got a bunch of work as a line cook, became a sous chef – then in 1996 I got to leave the country and go to Singapore for two years working for Jeremiah Tower at Stars. I came back when we were opening up Stars in Seattle, which is just a block away, and Jeremiah was like “we need to use this product” because of the connection to the farmers, the story behind it. I then talked to a farmer who told me this is why we do this, this is how we do this, this how we finish this natural product, and these are the parameters in which we work. So for me, it was like – got it, the best product comes from here and that’s why we use it.
Fast forward 15 years later to 2013 when we opened Miller’s Guild. I was talking to the guys at Corfini and I said, “Look, we need to find Niman Ranch because I want to bring in a product that I think we can look at as very, very consistent, a product that we can stand by.” I don’t want to touch the other grass-fed products out there because they won’t get the tourists and the people who want a steakhouse steak in here. I want something I can count on day, by day, by day. I want something I know that when they say it’s Prime, it’s not just Prime, but also goes beyond the natural criteria, that is going to be something we can stand by philosophically.
That’s when we started dry-aging the product and that’s why things just kind of blew up. We’ve been on the forefront of dry-aging in Seattle. As much as others do it now, no one dry-ages as long as we do and no one does the intensity level that we do, or offer it on smoke and open fire as well. Let’s take a great product and do something to it that no one else is brave enough to do.
It’s a love story to tell you that I’ve always used Niman Ranch. Philosophically it’s aligned and then with quality and consistency.
What else is on your plate – now or in the future?
In April of next year, I’ll open a restaurant called The Lake House. Crush was in a house on Madison Street, so it was called “the Madison house” or “the house on Madison Street” to some people. Now I’m opening The Lake House, which is a restaurant that is very modern farmhouse-focused, very produce-focused. It will be at the new Lincoln Square expansion in Bellevue across the lake, hence The Lake House. It will be almost twice as big as Miller’s Guild, and we’ll have two years sunk into it before we even open the doors. Coupled with that, we’ll also have a destination cocktail bar that will be beneath the restaurant. Similar to how we have it here with The Max, I’ll service the W Hotel, but it’ll be an independently run restaurant. We’ll be their destination restaurant. I’m excited. It’s a big undertaking, but it’s going to be worth it.