He’s taken a long and winding road, but Seattle native Luke Kolpin is back in his hometown after stints on TV and working for the world’s best restaurant. The chef is taking over the kitchen at the Lodge at St. Edward Park in Kenmore, a four-star hotel located in the middle of lush greenery.
“The building is absolutely gorgeous. The park itself is amazing,” says Kolpin, who went on frequent hikes in Discovery Park with his dad when he was growing up. “It feels comfortable to me, it feels like something that is inspiring.”
Kolpin went to Roosevelt High School and then Seattle Central Community College’s culinary program before working at some local restaurants, most notably Canlis. But he didn’t feel like he was moving in the right direction. “I was having somewhat of a hard time in the Northwest of being a younger cook, feeling like you had to have a mentor that really taught you everything,” he says. “And I just really felt like I didn’t have that and that no one really wanted to teach you.”
An old girlfriend got him the Noma cookbook and he was struck by the similarities between the ingredients used by chef René Redzepi and the ingredients Kolpin and other Seattle chefs worked with — but Redzepi seemed to transform them. It was different, and inspiring. “I actually pointed to that book, and I said to her that I will be here one day,” Kolpin says.
After emailing Matt Orlando, then Noma’s head chef, Kolpin started at the famous Copenhagen restaurant (which is closing next year) in 2008 and worked there for eight years. He took a break after Noma, which turned into a longer than anticipated break thanks to the pandemic. In 2021, when Bravo picked him to be on Top Chef, it wasn’t the kind of spotlight-seeking thing he’d normally do, he says, but “coming out of the pandemic, I thought, let’s shake things up.”
He’s still settling into his role at the Lodge, where he’s particularly focused on the dinner service at Cedar + Elm, the hotel’s main restaurant. (Food at the Lodge was previously overseen by James Beard Award winner Jason Wilson, who left in 2021 and was replaced by Kevin Benner, who has since moved on to Wilson’s restaurant the Lakehouse.) He’s working on building up his team and tweaking the menu, a process that will take time, but he know what he’s prioritizing: fun.
“At the end of the day, what are we cooking for? We’re trying to have fun with it,” Kolpin says. Not that he’s going to have low standards (this is a restaurant where a halibut is currently $42, after all), but he thinks that too formal of an environment can be restrictive and even affect the quality of the food. “If we’re not having fun while we cook, everyone’s going to be able to taste it.”
Kolpin plans to come out of the kitchen and say hi to guests and wants his chefs to have the same freedom, rather than maintaining a high wall between the front and back of house. Kolpin likes seeing the people who are eating the food, and taking the energy from his interactions with guests back into the kitchen.
He’s bringing back a wealth of experience with him as he’s cooking in Seattle once more. But he’s also bringing an optimistic attitude, maybe with the hopes of being the mentor that he wished he had at one point. “I want to walk in every day and feel positive,” he says. “Not every seed grows, but you want to keep planting those seeds of positivity.”