These days, Chef Steven Snook spends a lot of time thinking about geoduck, the strange, alien-looking clams that live for more than 100 years and burrow themselves all around Puget Sound.
"I know not everyone's in love with them," he told me. "But I think they're fantastic. They can be a bit rubbery and chewy if not done correctly, sure. But they can also be wonderful and interesting. I'm actually using them as sashimi in a green garlic soup. It's fantastic."
Just a few years ago, Chef Snook was less concerned with long-living Pacific Northwest clams, and much more worried with staying away from the wrath of celebrity bad-boy chef Gordon Ramsay. In fact, he spent seven years working for Ramsay; first as the sous chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London, and next at Ramsay's restaurant Maze at the London hotel in New York.
"Chef Ramsay is definitely aggressive. He called me names. He called everyone names! He wants to break you down and then build you back up," said Snook. "But he definitely shaped who I am; made me the chef I am today."
Like his former boss Gordon Ramsay, Chef Snook has a British accent, tattoos, and is passionate about food. So, I had to ask, does he have Ramsay's same temper in the kitchen?
"Oh, no, no, no," he told me, laughing. "I'm much more about nurturing people. I try to make them imagine that it was their restaurant, their livelihood. That's much more my style."
Chef Snook joins Salish Lodge & Spa as the new executive chef after spending three years as executive chef at the Kenwood Inn and Spa in Sonoma Country.
"It was an easy choice to come to Washington," he said. "I love it here. The food is fresh and fantastic and there are so many interesting seafood ingredients. That's one of the best things about cooking in the United States versus the UK, there are so many regional and seasonal differences. My favorite dish on the menu right now is a Potlatch Cured Salmon with bitter greens. It's bright. It's clean."
And bright and clean describes Snook's style overall. He likes to keep things simple, focusing on fresh, local ingredients.
"I like a balanced menu," he said. "Nothing should be too rich. You should be able to taste each ingredient. For example, I'm using pine for smoking and infusions right now. It's simple, but a big flavor."
Other dishes on Chef Snook's menu include a Dungeness Crab Bisque with Truffle Crème Fraiche, Crisp Pork Belly with Pickled Hen of the Wood Mushrooms, and Sunchoke Risotto with Whipped Parmesan.
"I'm really excited for this new opportunity," he told me a few days before debuting his dishes. "Depending on the day I'm about 90% excited and 10% nervous, or the other way around. I just want it to be good."