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Willows Inn Sous Chef Jason Aldous Takes Eating Local to a New Level

His wildly successful pop-up, Wild Roots, is setting the stage for an upcoming Seattle restaurant.

Jason Aldous
Jason Aldous
Jason Aldous

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

Jason Aldous caught Seattle's attention when he launched a Kickstarter to fund a pop-up restaurant called Wild Roots. His locally-sourced and foraged Valentine's Day  dinner was sold out within just a few days, and new fans clamored for word on the next opportunity to try Aldous's food.

The Willows Inn sous chef is hoping to build buzz ahead of opening a restaurant in Seattle that will showcase the best of the Northwest's ingredientswhether they're caught in local waters, farmed in the region, or plucked from a nearby forest. Aldous plans to continue working at the Willows Inn while he continues to host pop-ups and move towards opening a permanent restaurant. He hopes to open in early 2016.

Eater caught up with the rising start to talk about his background and future plans.

How did you get started cooking?

I always enjoyed cooking, and when I was young, I remember it thinking I wanted to be a chef, and people said, that’s not a very easy job, you know, that’s not really what you wanna be doing. Why don’t you be a doctor or something? And so for a very long time, I was thinking, something in business. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and have my own business, and as I was going through school, I kept trying to think, what kind of business do I want to have? And I just kept thinking, I love to cook. And so this is a way—it’s something that I’ve always been passionate about and I’ve always wanted to do, and having a restaurant fulfills both goals of having my own business and wanting to be in the kitchen.

Tell me more about your concept for your restaurant and pop-ups.

I like the idea of food being reflective of the area that we’re in, and having a meal that’s unique to this area right now, and it makes more sense for a menu to be based on ingredients that are growing and seasonal right now. Part of doing local food is just about sourcing the very best ingredients. When you’re getting ingredients that were grown 20 miles away, they’re gonna be a lot fresher and a lot better than ones that were shipped from California or Mexico or something like that. And so, I like to base my cuisine on ingredients and I kinda come at it a different way than most people, and I try to find the best ingredients, and come up with preparations for those ingredients, instead of trying to fit an ingredient into an idea I already have.

For opening a restaurant like that, the Willows Inn is a great place to cut your teeth.

Yeah, so I’ve been working at the Willows for over a year and a half now, and before that, I was actually working at a restaurant called Forage in Salt Lake City, UT. I spent over a couple years there, so both similar in style, but I’ve got quite a bit of experience doing food in this style, and obviously my menus will reflect me as a chef a little bit more, and it’s not gonna be just what I’ve already done in previous restaurants.

Can you tell me more about the process of foraging for ingredients?

It’s something I can go out and get myself and it is a little bit limiting on the number of people that you can have at a time. You can’t be doing 500 dinners a night and be picking all the wild herbs yourself, and they’re harder to find. You can’t cultivate the wild ingredients, but the nice thing about them is they’ve got a unique flavor and there’s a lot of ingredients that were never mainstream, never bred for production, and they’re really interesting, and 100 years ago, people were eating this stuff all this time, and now it’s inconvenient because you can’t just buy it at the grocery store. But there’s some great ingredients out there.

How are the pop-ups going to be structured?

It is gonna be a prix-fixe tasting menu, and I am capping the number of seats. I’ve had a lot of requests for reservations for some of the dinners I’ve sold out already, and some from good friends and things like that who wants to get in, but it’s just, it’s more important to not stretch it beyond the limits. I want to make sure that the people that are coming have the best possible experience, and that I’m able to source enough ingredients for that. So it is a little bit limiting, but I think it’s worth it.

Do you think that those details will carry over into your eventual brick and mortar restaurant? Will it be a fixed menu every night?

Right now I’m thinking about doing a fixed menu restaurant. I haven’t really come across anything similar in Seattle, and judging by the response so far, it seems like it will do well. And it’ll be unique and there’s a lot of people looking for a unique dining experience, and not just going out to eat food. And so, my initial plan is to have a tasting menu restaurant.

Are there other dinners scheduled?

The Valentine’s Day dinner sold out within just a couple days, and so I scheduled a few more events actually for April. I’ve got a baby on the way in March, so I kind of blocked out that month. My wife forbade me from committing to anything in the month of March, so I’ve got three more events scheduled for April, and then, that’s a ways out, but obviously there will be more events beyond that.

For the latest pop-up announcements, check the Wild Roots Facebook page.