Hey! Your oysters are calling for a topping of savory granita
In the waning days of summer, there’s still lots at the farmer’s market to enjoy. This week, Chef Jay Guerrero met me at the Denny Regrade market, a tightly edited version of Pike Place Market. In the summer, it sits in the shadow of the Amazon Spheres on 7th and Lenora.
We came to look at the produce, but the glass domes were mesmerizing. “I mostly want to stare at the Spheres,” said Guerrero. “My old boss is here — Renee.”
That would be Renee Erickson of The Whale Wins and her Sea Creatures Restaurants. Guerrero started at Boat Street Café in Belltown. Later he helped open Bar Melusine on Capitol Hill.
Guerrero fell into cooking by necessity. “I was tired of being a sad, penniless artist in New York,” he said. “And my friend who was also a sad, penniless artist who worked at Prune.”
Prune is a tiny, highly acclaimed restaurant in East Village. Despite the fact he didn’t have any training, Guerrero tried out for a job there.
“I picked like two quarts of parsley and chopped some things, and watched them work on the line for a couple of hours. Then they cut me and said go the bar and get a drink, get a snack,” said Guerrero. “I was like, this the best thing I’ve done for myself in six years.”
Guerrero came back the next day to talk with owner-chef Gabrielle Hamilton—and carried with him a box of sharpies and masking tape.
Guerrero explained: “Because you use those all the time in the kitchen to label stuff…And I said I’ll work for you for free, whenever you need me. She’s like, great, what are you doing on Saturday.”
That was the beginning of Guerrero’s culinary career.
We looked around the market, stopping at the lone vegetable stand and taking inventory. Guerrero noted that cauliflower and broccoli were starting to arrive. The cucumbers were right at their height.
Lots of people don’t know what to do with cucumbers besides pickling. I asked Guerrero what he’d do.
Guerrero offered two ideas.
The first: Peel, puree, and strain. Add some honey and make a sorbet.
Or, make granita, an Italian frozen dessert. But make it savory.
“You could do that with some shallots, lime juice,” Guerrero said. Add herbs like basil or shiso, if you like. Then put the mixture in a shallow pan. Stick it in the freezer and rake it with a fork every 20 minutes.
The savory granita would make a nice topping for ceviche or fresh oysters, said Guerrero. “I would do that, buy, like a couple of dozen of oysters, then have some granita, shuck and eat, and beer," he added. "You need to have some Rainier there, too.”
Guerrero returned to Seattle in 2012 after seven years working his way up at Prune. His boss connected him to her friend, Renee Erickson. Guerrero enjoyed restaurant work, but he needed a breather. These days, Guerrero develops menus and teaches cooking classes at The Pantry in Ballard.
Every now and then he’ll get the urge to make art. “Occasionally I’ll pick up a pen and brush, and like, agh, this hard," he said. "So I’d get back to the kitchen and make lunch.”
Truth is, he never stopped making art: Guerrero says cooking and art are kindred spirits.