Meet The Most Outgoing Chef In The Pacific Northwest
Raymond Southern’s hands-on approach in the dining room gives guests an extra incentive to book a table at Kingfish on Orcas Island. That, and the excellent farm-to-table food coming out of the kitchen.
This chef’s not shy
Outside the outsized personalities on Food Network, most chefs tend to be on the reserved side. They prefer spending time in the kitchen to schmoozing with guests. Making beautiful food is the way they express themselves, right?
Well, not always.
Take chef Raymond Southern at the dining destination spot on Orcas Island. When the restaurant’s open, you’ll find the affable chef front and center in the cozy dining room of the place he opened with his wife, Holly, shortly before the pandemic changed everything. “I tell people the first year of running a restaurant is the hardest, so I’m not lying,” he said.
You’re likely to hear him introduce himself to diners as the chef and owner and janitor. He also answers the phone and takes reservations, holds the door for guests and eloquently describes the dishes he delivers to the table. He’s rightly proud detailing the savory madeleine amuse bouche that greets guests to digging into the minutia of the restaurant’s sweet finale: That dessert you didn’t think you could possibly find room for, but then the bowl of roasted butternut squash ice cream and hazelnut brittle has disappeared.
Chef Raymond is Canadian, his hometown on Vancouver Island. As the crow flies, that’s not far from his current residence on the horseshoe-shaped island in the San Juans, a three-hour trip from Seattle. His resume is jam-packed with awards and accolades, yet there’s no haughty air in Southern’s demeanor that would give that away.
After a few years in the kitchen at the Rosario resort helped him build a following on the island, those kind of connections encouraged him to open his own place on the less traveled side of Orcas.
He and his wife created an atmosphere that’s island chill with an expansive outdoor deck overlooking West Sound. The menu reflects the chef’s personal tastes: “I’m a meat-and-potatoes guy,” he explains when walking diners through the ever-evolving menu.
He’s also a pasta-making perfectionist, leaning on high-gluten flour from Cairnspring Mills to produce a lineup of noodles that are a toothsome compliment to the traditional and New World sauces. That includes a goat-meat based bolognese that tastes as if it would fit right in at a trattoria in Italy.
There’s nothing showy about the food emerging from the kitchen. No tweezers were used in the plating of the meal. Still, guests notice the care taken, especially when it comes to sourcing locally.
A rich farming tradition
When the island in the Salish Sea was first settled, it became a patchwork of fields covered in crops or grazing livestock. Much of that agrarian landscape still exists. In recent years, a new crop of ambitious farmers and ranchers began gearing production to meet the needs of chefs looking to showcase local ingredients.
The menu at Kingfish reflects that approach as references to nearby farms appear throughout. OrcaSong Farm is one purveyor that shares the goal of sustainable practices aimed at addressing issues caused by climate change.
Lum Farm raises goats and lamb, the latter slow-roasted and served as shareable carnitas on a recent menu while Valley farm provides the rabbit that’s braised in a red blend from Orcas Wine Co. Half a dozen oysters from nearby Judd Cove are super fresh and hit that just-right briny, plus naturally sweet spot that make plump bivalves a fitting starter for a Northwest feast. Various fungi tangled up in the pappardelle ragu are from North Beach Mushrooms.
On the Pacific Northwest-centric wine list, the love is spread around the state with particular attention to respected Walla Walla vintners such as Dunham Cellars, Forgeron, Woodward Canyon and Kyle MacLachlan’s Pursued by Bear label.
Southern’s roots show on the organic tea selection, assorted flavors from British Columbia-based Denman Island Tea Company.
While there’s no doubt the first year of Kingfish was rocky, since reopening, the restaurant has been swamped with reservation requests.
“The issue is maintaining 50 percent occupancy, not filling up,” said Southern, though most seats were already occupied by 6 on a recent rainy Wednesday. “There are lots of locals who love dining at restaurants.”
To make a little more room at the inn, the team is going to expand outdoor seating for the busy summer season. For those concerned about eating inside, the menu clearly states: “Please respect your fellow guests and our staff by wearing a mask at all times when not eating.”
Diners who are adverse to interacting with the gregarious chef needn’t worry that he’ll intrude on conversations. Like those seasoned front-of-the-house veterans, Southern knows when to linger for a moment, filling in details of the dish he just delivered and when to move on. Because nobody appreciates a carefully conceived and thoughtfully executed plate of food that’s left to cool while the server chats on and on.
Kingfish serves dinner Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations are highly recommended.
Know before you go
Most visitors travel to the San Juan Islands from Anacortes on Washington state ferries, and reservations are essential during the summer months. San Juan Airlines flies from nonstop Seattle and rental cars are available on the island.
Check the Visit San Juan Islands website for suggestions on accommodations, dining options and seasonal activities.
Published at Sat, 10 Apr 2021 17:51:55 +0000