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October wine dinner


Ted Furst

A restaurant life

In late 2010, Ted Furst opened Le Grand Bistro Américain, a French bistro at Carillon Point in Kirkland. His culinary goal was to show how things taste when no shortcuts are taken; the menu looks simple, but the quality takes time. "It's not cutting edge; if you're a French bistro, there are about 20 dishes that have to be on the menu. The other 10 dishes are things we get to play with and we have nice specials. The wine list is a lot of fun. We offer an international selection with a mix of French and New World wines, as well as more familiar Cabernets. And we're probably one of the few restaurants on the Eastside without a TV," laughs Ted. Straight forward, right? Yes, but it took awhile to get here.

Like most restaurant industry professionals, Ted had other plans. He was an English major at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, and Florida State. The plan? Write a novel. In a work/study program as a freshman, he waited tables at the school's rathskeller. After school, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, working at restaurants as a dishwasher, bus boy, and server. By the age of 22, he was carving rack of lamb tableside. From Naples, Florida, he decided to move to the West Coast at the age of 23. "I thought I'd see what the Beach Boys were talking about." A former girlfriend had spent a year in Seattle and said he should check it out. "My plan was go to Seattle and if I didn't like it, move to San Francisco. I got in my car and drove to Seattle. The car blew up twice on the way out and I arrived flat broke. I found a fourth-floor walk-up with fleas on Capitol Hill and looked for a wait job, perfect for novelists because you work short hours with good pay and don't take the work home with you. Unfortunately, no one would hire me. About five years later I figured out the reason: I had that East Coast edge. Seattle was so mellow back then that if you breathed on it, you'd bruise it. One day I saw a sign in a window that said, "Cook wanted, experience preferred, will train the right person." This was 1978 and food-wise Seattle was pretty backward. There was Canlis and Rosellini's 410, but they were traditional, continental food. Mangia Bevi was in the first wave of lighter, modern Italian food. I took the job and worked for a chef who was younger than me. He came in drunk, late, hungover; five months after I started they fired him and asked me to be the chef. I fell in love with cooking. They let me use the kitchen after closing; I'd be there until 3 a.m. cooking and learning. That was one good thing about being an English major: I learned to research. I stayed about a year and a half, then realized I needed to work under someone who knew what they were doing."

Ted moved to Marcello's as sous chef and helped them re-open (they had moved from another location after a fire). "The chef was great to work with while we were getting ready. The first night, he became a beast. During the rush, I took my apron off and told him he could stop yelling or find a new sous chef." Not wanting to lose him entirely, Ted agreed to wait tables and get out of the kitchen. From there, he moved to Crepe de Paris where he worked with Chef Dominique Place and GM Bob Eickhof. "I got real experience here, waiting tables and understanding how a well-run kitchen operates. We were across from the Fifth Avenue Theatre, so there would be a full house early, then regular diners, then theatre goers coming back for dessert. It rekindled my desire to cook. I was living on Bainbridge Island in a little captain's cabin with a writing area. I was commuting and unhappy about it. I'd met a woman whose brother owned The Manor House on Bainbridge; he was looking for a chef. I loved it, except that it had four electric burners in the kitchen, which was challenging. I hired my brother who was in college and had worked in kitchens. We were there about a year."

Le Grand Bistro Américain
2220 Carillon Point
Kirkland, WA 98033

Watch for part 2 in our next issue.

Connie Adams/July 2017

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