Chef and Founder, The Lakehouse
Culinary Director, Fire & Vine Hospitality
James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson — founder of Civility & Unrest, The Lakehouse, and many other Northwest eateries — didn’t begin his life with aspirations of becoming a restaurateur. Rather, he wanted to play in the National Hockey League or become an architect. That was the plan, at least, until he and his friends bought a giant fish.
In the late 1980s, Wilson was a 19-year-old restaurant worker living with a house full of roommates in Hawaii and surfing as much as possible. One day, Wilson and his roommates pooled their money and bought a 100-pound ahi tuna for $120 from the back door of a local restaurant.
“We had steaks that night, tartare the next morning, and it just kept going,” he said of the varied methods he and his roommates used to prepare the tuna. “Over a four- to five-day period, we had, in different iterations, eaten this giant fish. What I retained from that was a culmination of memories, experiences, and shared dinners with friends and other people that we had met as a result of this.”
For Wilson, that ahi tuna was essentially the “aha” moment he needed to set him on his path. Later, after attempting college at San Jose State University in California, Wilson abandoned academia and entered culinary school.
“I did it because of love,” he said. “When you fall in love with something and you are passionate about it, you often-times will do things that are either at great risk, great peril, or great reward. It was simple for me to make that decision.”
Today, Wilson is glad he followed his heart. “This is a dream come true,” he marveled. “I pinch myself often.”
6 a.m. We built a little gym in our garage that I use as often as I can, but generally I’m in there for 20-30 minutes every morning with a bottle of lemon water to wake myself up.
8 a.m. I love taking my son, Ferrin, to school despite the daily traffic. We usually pass the time by talking about all sorts of stuff, but today I am on the phone with Frog Hollow Farm, so he put earphones on.
9 a.m. I start my day at The Lakehouse with Lawrence Main, our general manager. It is a pleasure to run my dream restaurant with him — strategizing and re-evaluating for constant improvement.
10 a.m. I pop into El Gaucho in Bellevue to talk with Michael Jordan (the new executive chef, not the basketball player). We are sharing perspectives and chatting about oysters.
11 a.m. The Fire & Vine Hospitality team is always running around to the different restaurants, so we catch up once a week.
11:45 a.m. Zach Dunn and I collaborate on growing our social media presence — he‘s a bit of a Renaissance man. Today, we’re looking at a video where he made me and some squash look good.
Noon The team at El Gaucho Seattle makes a family meal every day for lunch, and we get to sit at the bar and take a few minutes out of the day to talk and laugh together.
1 p.m. Next stop: Miller’s Guild to roast some Granny Smith apples for the first course at the FareStart Guest Chef Dinner. The Infierno is incredible — I roast anything and everything in that thing!
1:30 p.m. I take some time to catch up with the team at Miller’s Guild. We talk through all the latest preparations and plans for an upcoming special event.
2:30 p.m. Working with El Gaucho Seattle Executive Chef Jonathan Garcia at nonprofit FareStart (a restaurant jobs program). This guy is an amazing partner — he is super-talented and calm in the kitchen.
5:30 p.m. Garcia and I had such a great experience working together at this FareStart event and being part of the graduation of two incredible people at the start of their cooking careers.
9 p.m. It’s time to hit the ice. I play competitive ice hockey to blow off steam — it is fun and a great way to keep in shape mentally and physically. I coach my son’s hockey team, too.