We recently joined Dan Mallahan, Executive Chef of Seattle’s Rider restaurant, for a crabbing adventure in Birch Bay, Washington.
It was the last day of the local recreational summer crabbing season. The weather had surprisingly cleared from the week of solid rain. Call it one last summer hurrah or an unforgettable start to Fall.
We set out on the Mallahans’ family’s boat – joined by Dan’s twin brother Jeff (who often forages for the restaurant) and the other Geof, Rider’s kitchen manager/head of all things bread, pasta and Instagram – to pull some crab pots that they’d set out earlier in the day.
When Dan first suggested crabbing and doing a little cooking on the beach, I pictured sitting on the beach over a pot of boiling water, eating freshly caught Dungeness crab — his all-time favourite thing to eat. Lovely. But no, there was more. When we returned to the beach with our haul, we were welcomed by Dan’s family, who had everything set up with a roaring fire for what was to be an absolutely epic beach cookout.
Rider is a restaurant in the heart of Downtown Seattle that celebrates the bounty of the Pacific Northwest, by working with local farmers, producers, and purveyors in an elevated yet approachable way. It’s an exciting spot with an open wood-fired grill at the heart of the restaurant, something lacto-fermenting in the kitchen at all times, and local ingredients constantly coming through the kitchen. Among big box restaurants, the countless shops and tourist attractions, Dan considers Rider to be a “neighbourhood restaurant that’s doing local food”. He sees it as an opportunity to be a real representation of what Pacific Northwest food is and what it means to have this abundance of ingredients in your backyard.
We started with clam chowder and bread topped with crab butter, which Rider makes in-house by cooking down crab shells in clarified butter for 15 hours. Then came grilled spot prawns with roe on Douglas Fir skewers (the fir thanks to Jeff). A salad of sungolds, arugula, flower petals, jelly melon (grown by Dan’s friend), pickled and caper-like nasturtium buds, and goats cheese.
And then the crab: Asian-style chilli crab using Italian ingredients. He started with house-made chorizo, lots of garlic, lightly fermented Calabrian chilis, sliced fennel, fennel flowers, lemon zest, finished with crab butter, and topped with beach mustard flowers — tiny purple flowers picked right on the beach. The crab was succulent and sweet and the sauce packed with flavour. There was a second round of crab — more chorizo, chilis, white wine, lots of crab butter. Everything was cooked directly over the coals. We hung out, ate really good food – and I mean really good food – and he took care of us like family, which is how Dan describes Rider — just hanging out, eating good food.
Birch Bay holds a lot of memories for Dan, as his family would vacation there every summer, spending two weeks crabbing. Growing up in Everett, WA, he recounts stories of foraging, fishing, learning of edible flowers—like the nasturtium or “radish flower” he used to call it, “because it tastes just like radishes”—from wandering in his grandmother’s backyard, and visiting places like Birch Bay. His connection to the Pacific Northwest is very much reflected in his cuisine, what you see and taste on the plate is an expression of experiences from his youth.
After studying Business Management at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Dan moved to San Francisco to attend the California Cooking Academy and subsequently spent 8 years in the Bay Area working in notable kitchens such as at FIVE in Berkeley, and Michelin-starred Boulevard restaurant in San Francisco. He spent a year in Rome working under renowned chef Cristina Bowerman, and only relatively recently moved back to the Pacific Northwest. In 2017, Dan joined the opening team at Rider as Chef de Cuisine, and in 2018, took on the role of Executive Chef.
TEN QUESTIONS WITH DAN MALLAHAN
You have a rare night off, where do you go eat?
If I have the time to actually dine, Tarsan I Jane. Perfecte and Alia are doing some pretty special things — one of the best meals I have had in Seattle. If I am grabbing something quick, it’s definitely Supreme Pizza in West Seattle. It’s my absolute favorite. “The Ric and Morty” (ricotta and mortadella) and classic Double Pepperoni with lost of parm and chili flakes. And the crust! Tops.
Best spot for late night drinks?
I’m a big bourbon, whiskey and rye fan so it would have to be Canon. One of the best lists I have ever seen.
What was your first cooking job?
I was 15 ½ and worked at the Everett AquaSox in downtown Everett. They were the lowest level of baseball that you could play; short season, 3 months. I started as a register host, ringing up your cracker jacks and popcorn, but was really interested in all the stuff that was happening in the back—where they made cotton candy, popped the popcorn. In the end, I started making burgers, on a high-heat barbecue grill outside. That was the first job I had in a quasi-professional kitchen environment.
Do you have a morning ritual, are you an early riser?
Totally. Kind of by force. I open three times a week and have to be up at 3AM. I like to give myself an hour, drink lots of coffee, and I like to go outside. Sometimes I’ll dip down into the woods and walk around if I have some time. I take the bus in from Everett, which takes about an hour, so I do a lot of decompression on the bus. And breakfast, I’m a big Raisin Bran Crunch guy.
Favourite ingredient in the Fall/Winter?
Mushrooms. There are so many varietals and they’re so abundant. Porcinis, matsutake, chanterelles are all growing right now—white chanterelles, blue chanterelles, chanterelles florets or flowers. We do tons pickling in the restaurant, long-term fermentations, to try to archive things in an interesting way to use in the wintertime.
Who would you like to collaborate with in Seattle?
Eduardo [Jordan]’s awesome. Perfecte Rocher from Tarsan I Jane — they’re doing really cool things over there. Those are probably the top two people that I’d want to do something with. There’s also Opus Co. in Phinney Ridge, FlintCreek, Rachel Yang of Joule and Revel; she’s awesome — they make some really cool food.
Ashi Hamono Gyuto, 240mm, in Swedish stainless steel. Like butter.
Favourite activity (not cooking)?
Fishing and I love to ski. I also like playing pool.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I would probably do what my brother does. He works for an environmental consulting firm. He is always outside hiking and exploring for his work. I wish I could do that more sometimes.
What’s coming up for you and Rider?
We’re going to keep doing our thing, we’re hitting our stride now. We want to keep doing what we’re doing, not compromise on quality, and be original as much as we can. To keep pushing to be successful. That’s my plan.
If you haven’t eaten at Rider it’s a must! You’ll eat delicious food prepared in a way you’ve never had it before!