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Porkchop and Co.'s Paul Osher on Creating a Menu Using "Whatever Looks Good at the Farm"

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Welcome back to Up-and-Comers, a monthly column from Megan Hill dedicated to the rising stars of Seattle's food and drink scene.

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[Photo: Porkchop & Co.]

Los Angeles transplant Paul Osher moved to Seattle to open Porkchop & Co. when the former Belle Clementine space opened up in Ballard. He launched the restaurant in April with the concept of incorporating heaps of fresh, local ingredients in gut-busting sandwiches, breakfast hashes and benedicts, and a wide ranging dinner menu that includes a Skylight Farms Special with "whatever looks good at the farm."

The Ohio native moved to California in 2002 to pursue a doctorate degree on the relationship between food and political theory. But the food part proved much more interesting, and Osher found himself doing more cooking than studying. His ventures in Los Angeles—and now Seattle—meld his family history with his love of sourcing from local farms.

What was your start in the food industry?
I've always liked to cook. In grad school I gave up on my dissertation. I was supposed to be working on that but I spent more time in the library looking at cookbooks. I started cooking more seriously, as much as I could when I was supposed to be doing something else. And that was kind of it. I went to culinary school for a semester but it was a total train wreck.

It was actually a a community college in the hinterlands of L.A., and they were training people to work in hospitals and cafeterias and that sort of thing. It wasn't exactly the best fit. I did that for a semester and then I dropped out of that also and started a catering business and a farmers market stand called Bean and Thyme. So a lot of on the job training.

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What's your philosophy with Porkchop & Co.?
Making really delicious food. We make everything from scratch. We use the best quality ingredients that we can and we just try to put out good food in a really casual way. I don't think we're trying to reinvent anything, we're just trying to serve really good food. We see people coming in a couple times a week. We actually see people coming in for dinner and then coming in for brunch the next morning.

The first time that happened I thought 'Wow, this is really weird,' but then it kept happening, and it's been awesome to see that. But we're not just a neighborhood restaurant. We are, of course, but we're also more ambitious than that. I think we're doing something unique here, and it makes us more than just a place to eat if you live nearby. How many other delis make everything on their menu from scratch? How many other restaurants that use comparable product and technique (is there a classification for that?) are informal enough to frequent?

And one more point: Our food is awesome. Seriously. Porchetta? Pastrami? Porkchops? Spicy Cauliflower? Smoked beets? All ridiculous.

What inspired or influenced the deli concept?
My family used to be in the kosher meat business, so I guess that's where it comes from. I grew up around deli meat. There was always a box of salami in my grandmother's refrigerator so I grew up eating it. It's not just that it comes from something I want to cook, or what's available at the market. I'm really lucky to have hooked up with a great team, and I'd be remiss if I didn't give endless credit to them.

Dane Baratta, my sous chef, and the other guys in the kitchen do a great job of coming up with ideas for things to throw on the menu for a day or two, generally based on what's around or what they want to tinker with. Case in point: yesterday Dane walked in asking about pig tails. They're extremely talented and eager to defy expectations of what can be done in a small place like this.

Will your menu change with the seasons, since you're sourcing so locally?
Yeah, the menu will be changing, definitely. The idea is to have a good percentage of the menu that stays the same year round. We go through a lot of cauliflower, and cauliflower is always good. But also to have as many specials as we can based on what's coming in and what looks good. There will always be a mix of stuff that is standard and seasonal. Right now we have a ton of tomatoes, some fruit coming in, summer squash, that sort of thing. In fall, we'll see what happens.

I'm totally spoiled coming from California. I was able to source really everything from the farmers market. It was pretty insane. In L.A. you can buy fresh, local asparagus 11 months of the year. Moving up here in the winter, it was kind of a rude awakening. Seasonal I think has slightly more meaning up here. I don't know what to expect this winter but it will be fun. A lot of kale and potatoes.

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You're doing three meals a day at Porkchop. You must be pretty slammed.
I pretty much live at the restaurant. I'm here for about 14 hours a day. It's a lot. Luckily, I live nearby, so I can pretty much open the door and fall into bed.

Are you too busy to eat at other restaurants?
I don't get out a lot, but I have to give a hat tip to Bloom. It's directly on my walk home, and their ramen is the most perfect way to end a long day. Their deviled eggs rule, by the way.
—Megan Hill
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