Ron Zimmerman, who co-founded the legendary farm-to-table Washington restaurant The Herbfarm and pioneered a style of cuisine that’s become ubiquitous in the Northwest, died last week of liver cancer at the age of 75, the Seattle Times reports.
When Zimmerman and his wife, Carrie Van Dyck, took over the original Fall City property from Zimmerman’s parents in 1986, it was an actual herb farm. The couple added classes in herb gardening and cooking with herbs, which led them to start serving lunch. “When we started with the nursery, it was unusual and very hippielike to have herbs and know how to cook with them. So we started teaching people — that was the purpose of the luncheons, it was to help promote sales of the herbs,” Van Dyck told the Times.
Over the years The Herbfarm added dinner (it now only does dinner, and only one seating a night) and became one of the most celebrated restaurants in the entire country. It routinely won accolades for its nine-course meals, typically built around a theme that varies based on what was in season. This focus on local, seasonal ingredients made The Herbfarm a pillar of the Slow Food movement.
As it turned into one of the state’s most famous (and also expensive) dining destinations, it maintained a connection with its educational roots, with the chef delivering a lecture on the night’s menu before dinner and Zimmerman and Van Dyck giving guests tours of the farm. (To this day you can book a package that allows you to help out in the fields before eating.)
In 1997 the Fall City restaurant burned down, and it reopened in 2001 in Woodinville. In 2018, Zimmerman and Van Dyck began looking to sell The Herbfarm as they considered the next phase of their lives, and in 2021 it was bought by Chris Weber and Jack Gingrich, the restaurant’s chef and sous chef, respectively. (Gingrich is now general manager.)
Zimmerman’s death marks the passing of one of the Northwest’s food pioneers, though there’s a chance that his story may not be over yet. Van Dyck told the Times that her husband was working on a book before his death and she plans to finish it.