A few weeks ago, I reported here that executive chef Matt Colony had left Maxwell’s Restaurant & Lounge to run two restaurants in Poulsbo. Taking over the helm of Maxwell’s will be Vivian Irish, a young chef and Tacoma native who got her culinary start at Pacific Grill under the direction of Aaron Valimont, former executive chef, and Pacific Grill owner Gordon Naccarato. Irish also is a graduate of the Tacoma School of the Arts.
Curious about Irish? So was I. Click “more” to read a Q&A with the new executive chef of the popular St. Helens neighborhood upscale eatery.
Q: What is your cooking background?
A: My first cooking job was actually as one of the cooks at a Christian summer camp. I spent the entire summer cooking for the camp children and staff. During my senior year at the Tacoma School of the Arts, I began an internship at Pacific Grill working under Aaron Valimont. I had planned on going to Le Cordon Bleu of San Francisco once I graduated high school. After my monthlong internship, I was offered a job to help out the pastry chef when things became busy.
By the end of my senior year, I realized that going to culinary school at that time was not an option. The day after I graduated (in 2007), I received a call from Aaron Valimont. He had heard I would not be attending culinary school and offered me a full-time job. I then spent the next three years working at Pacific Grill. I learned everything I felt I could from chefs Gordon Naccarato, Aaron Valimont, Jason Moses and Ian Thompson.
After my time at Pacific Grill, I was offered a full-time position at Maxwell’s. I took the opportunity because I had wanted to work with Matt Colony for some time. A little after six months, I was made his sous chef. During my time working with him, we wrote the menus and prepared all of the food together.
Q: How did you become interested in cooking?
A: I became interested in cooking when I was very young. I always loved cooking and baking with my great-grandmother at her condo in Burnaby, B.C. As I grew older, I finally understood that the passion I had for cooking could (turn) into a career. I would not only be doing something that I loved every day, but I would also never be bored with my career path as restaurants are constantly keeping busy and changing.
Q: Will you be making any changes to the menu at Maxwell’s? Can you tell readers about those changes?
A: Any changes to the Maxwell’s menu will be purely seasonally affected. The menus at Maxwell’s for the past year or so have been written by both Matt and me. So if and when changes are made, they will remain the same style that everyone who dines at Maxwell’s has come to love. I enjoy cooking food with incredible flavor and great balance. My style is very similar to Matt’s.
Q: What’s the best practical joke you’ve ever played on a fellow chef? Don’t hold back. We want the gory details.
A: Practical jokes are an essential part of a kitchen’s atmosphere. I have definitely done my fair share. … The best joke I have ever played would have to be the time a co-worker and I used to hide another cook’s “special tools.”
This guy used to have a bucket set next to his station filled with tongs, spatulas and spoons. Just about every day for a week or so, before he would arrive at work, we would grab all his tools and hide them randomly around the kitchen. When he would come in to start his shift, he would search the entire kitchen looking for his special tools. He wouldn’t even start his shift until he had found each and every one.
Q: If you could serve any luxury ingredient in abundance without worry of food cost, what would you serve? And how would you serve it?
A: I absolutely love caviar. Served simply with just a slice of brown bread, or extravagantly with all the condiments. If I could serve that every day, I would, but alas, food cost is food cost, and if it’s not in your budget, or if the turnover rate would not sustain the cost, you just can’t do it.
If I could serve caviar, I would change it up constantly. I would serve it classically with toast and creme fraiche. I would serve it with fried potatoes or on top of smoked salmon. I would make a caviar sauce; I would put it in a salad. … If I could find a way to serve it with processed cheese I would. It’s just fantastic.
What do you like most about working at Maxwell’s?
The absolute best thing about working at Maxwell’s is the staff. We are all such a close-knit family here, and will always help one another out. Rumors don’t exist, and no one talks smack. We tell it how it is, and everyone is always on the same page. Another great thing is our regulars. They keep our place alive, give us encouragement when we get busy, and even come to our staff parties. We have a family here. That is what makes our hidden gem of Tacoma an incredible place to work.
Maxwell’s Restaurant + Lounge
Where: 454 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-midnight Friday, 5 p.m.-midnight Saturday
More information: 253-683-4115 or www.maxwells-tacoma.com
Read my past reviews of Maxwell’s:
A piece about their farro risotto.
A review of the Walker burger, one of my top five favorite burgers in town.