Greg Atkinson is going back to his roots. The author of six critically acclaimed cookbooks (the latest released this fall), a regular contributor to the Seattle Times’ Pacific Northwest Magazine and to Food Arts, a regular guest on KUOW and KCTS, a recent teacher at the Seattle Culinary Academy, and a restaurant consultant for ten years, the former executive chef of Canlis is re-donning his toque and opening his own restaurant in his hometown Bainbridge Island. Marché is scheduled to debut in February of 2012 at 150 Madrone Lane (located in the alley across from Mora Ice Creamery).
Atkinson describes Marché as a 21st-century Bistro. The restaurant will offer patrons lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch and will feature indoor seating for 48, a patio accommodating 24 more, a small lounge for intimate evening gathering, and a display kitchen so that diners can watch their food being prepared. His menu will blend Pacific Northwest and West Coast cooking with French cuisine. Atkinson also hopes to incorporate French Creole cooking from his days growing up on the Gulf Coast and some Spanish and Italian dishes. As a chef at Cafe Bissett on geographically isolated San Juan Island, he learned to rely on food grown locally. A preliminary sample menu shows that he will continue that tradition with Marché: Two of its offerings are smoked Niman Ranch pork shoulder with organic sweet potato puree and garlicky green beans and King salmon grilled with raspberry butter sauce, fingerling potatoes, and Persephone Farm peas. He plans to work with local farmers to obtain Bainbridge-grown chicken and eggs and Bainbridge-made goat cheese, in addition to locally grown vegetables.
Atkinson gets animated when talking about the restaurant’s site, a mid-century building owned by Jim and Linda Brandt, and its modern look: “You can put anything against it.” What he wants to put against it is a meld of European sensibility to reflect his European roots and Northwest flavor to reflect its setting. Architect Frank Karreman is working with Atkinson to upgrade the site, which was until recently an antique store. The roof will be raised on the front portion of the building to fit clerestory windows that will let in more light. High-back, upholstered banquettes will be topped with a wall of mirrors to expand the feel of the space and to evoke a French bistro.
Atkinson and his wife Betsy were walking Dungeness Spit recently when Atkinson spied a rock and seaweed and snapped a photo. The deep red and blackish green of the photo and its background of gray mud and blue sky became the color palette for the restaurant. To that end, the interior design will incorporate a reddish-orange fabric, dark green trim and doors, blue-glass lighting, and stripped-down concrete.
I asked him about his return to restaurant cooking. Atkinson explained that he had been considering a tenure-track offer from the Seattle Culinary Academy when the Brandts approached him, for the second time in six years. The couple was going to develop the 150 Madrone Lane property as a restaurant (Karreman was already working on it), and they wondered if Atkinson wanted to take on the space. Atkinson says, reflecting on his decision to start a restaurant at this point in his life, “Metabolically, you have more energy at thirty, but I’m wiser now. Being an instructor helped me develop additional leadership skills.” The winner of the James Beard Foundation’s 2001 M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award for the best food story of the year, Atkinson will continue writing and plans to sell his cookbooks at Marché. He will also continue to contribute to Pacific Northwest Magazine and to Food Arts. In fact, he’s writing a diary of his experience opening a restaurant as a three-part series for Food Arts.
So how will he manage the hectic lifestyle of a restaurant owner with that of a celebrity writer? His family will certainly play a part. Betsy, experienced in restaurant work and wine sales and distribution, is working with Greg to develop the restaurant and will be managing the front of house. Their son Henry has just graduated from college and, in a stroke of good timing, is looking for work, and son Erich is old enough to put in hours at the restaurant as well when he’s not in school.
Despite Atkinson’s extensive cooking experience, which includes developing the food and beverage programs at Islandwood and launching the dining program at Friday Harbor House on San Juan Island, he has never owned his own restaurant. But no worries: As Atkinson writes at the beginning of Northwest Essentials, “Start with the best ingredients and you can’t go wrong.”
See our Chef Interview: Greg Atkinson, Restaurant Marche with his Pumpkin Soup and Slab Apple Pie Recipes.
Images by Sarah Lane and Greg Atkinson. Architectural rendering by Frank Karreman.