Last fall was a heartbreaking time for Maria Hines. After months spent trying to stay afloat during the pandemic, the James Beard Award-winning chef closed her trailblazing Wallingford restaurant Tilth permanently at the end of October, ending its 14-year-run as a forerunner of the organic and sustainable food movement. “It was just really hard,” she tells Eater Seattle.
She took some time to process the closure, but didn’t stay idle for very long, and is already delving into new projects for 2021. One of those, a pop-up with Seattle-based wine club XOBC Cellars, is about to debut around Valentine’s Day, with a multi-course menu of vegetarian comfort food, and proceeds going to charity.
Hines says the collaboration happened quickly, but feels like a great fit. Launched in 2019, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile operates XOBC with her wife, Catherine, and business partners and friends, Amy and Jeri Andrews (all co-owners) — and the team connected with Hines about two weeks ago to discuss the project.
“We wanted to expand and create something special during COVID to give people a little light,” says Jeri Andrews. “We’ve celebrated so many birthdays and anniversaries at Tilth over the years, and Maria was the first chef we thought of when we were planning the Valentine’s Day event.”
Even without a lot of time to prepare, Hines put together a three-course vegetarian and gluten-free heat-at-home menu for February 13 and 14, paired with two bottles of wine (reservations are available through the XOBC website, with pickup at SoDo Urban Works; XOBC membership is not required for purchase). The meal features creamy carrot soup, smoked heirloom bean cassoulet, and dark milk chocolate budino for dessert, and proceeds will go towards the Looking Out Foundation, a nonprofit that supports a wide array of organizations, including programs that empower women globally.
“It’s been really energizing and revitalizing to work with these really successful leaders in our community, who have a really strong mission alignment,” says Hines. “XOBC is a local, women-owned company, with really beautiful wines, and we have been having a blast putting [the pop-up] together.”
It sounds like this won’t just be a one-off event. XOBC’s Amy and Jeri say they’ve heard from several other chefs in the city, and may develop the pop-up further down the line with food from Hines and others. “It will be driven by what the community wants,” says Jeri.
Hines also has a couple of other new projects in the works for later in 2021 — one “food-related” and one more “hospitality-driven in general,” she says, promising to elaborate once details come into greater focus.
In the meantime, she’s trying to help other restaurateurs and chefs endure what’s been a brutal year. Hines currently promotes a local restaurant each week in her newsletter and on social media, encouraging people to go out to support local businesses with “calls to action,” such as buying a gift card or ordering full takeout meals (recent restaurants featured include JuneBaby, Stateside, and Brimmer & Heeltap).
“When my restaurant went down, I talked to my friends, hearing about all the struggles and everything they’re still having to endure, and I was like, ‘I can’t just stay on the sidelines and do nothing,’” she says.