Food & Drink

Q&A: Checking in with Tacoma Chef Hudson Slater

The first cookbook he owned was penned by Seattle restaurant owner Tom Douglas.

He can tell you three ways to prepare salmon — in under three minutes.

He brews craft beer with bacon.

Chef Hudson Slater of Maxwell’s Speakeasy and Lounge, is one of those quintessential Northwest guys — and a Tacoma chef drawing regional attention for winning just about any cookoff to which he’s invited.

In the past year, Slater has won a cooking smackdown organized by Seattle’s most noteworthy restaurateur Ethan Stowell. This summer, Slater helped Wingman Brewers earn a Washington state beer award for that aforementioned bacon beer.

He also took top honors at an under-the-radar South Sound competition that’s become a bit of a private Fight Club smackdown for South Sound chefs (but with no face punching).

Most recently, Slater’s receiving buzz for his recipes in “A Taste of Washington,” the new cookbook from food writer Michele Morris.

And he’s not even 30.

The UP resident, and father of two with wife Tanya, hasn’t been to culinary school, yet he’s been taught by some of the region’s finest restaurateurs. He began his career working for Gordon and Steve Naccarato at The Beach House at Purdy and wound up a cook at Maxwell’s Speakeasy and Lounge, a St. Helens neighborhood restaurant with an elegant atmosphere and a menu to match. It took just two years for him to move from cook to executive chef at Maxwell’s, owned by Steve Anderson.

I spoke by phone with Slater about his awards and the recipes in the newly released “A Taste of Washington: Favorite Recipes from the Evergreen State.” Here are edited excerpts.

Q: You’re becoming Tacoma’s celebrity chef. In the last few years, you’ve won an Ethan Stowell charity cook-off for fried chicken and the Museum of Glass slider cook-off twice — you must really like to compete.

A: The slider competition three years ago, that was the first one. That was it for me. That one Steve (Anderson, Maxwell’s owner) entered us for it. He had the recipe, I just executed it for him. ... Then there was the Ethan Stowell event that was for a good cause. I just like to do it. I guess I’m pretty competitive — but I’m nice about it.

Q: What is it about the competitions that you really like?

A: I like going out and meeting people and seeing what people think about your food. I like the whole aspect of it.

Q: You’re known for using local products — you use the Lynnae’s pickles on one of your Maxwell’s sandwiches, don’t you?

A: We have them in the burger. And on our beef slider. At the last competition (Museum of Glass slider cook-off), I asked them to use the pickles and we won with that slider. Interesting to see how it was. Pickles are like bacon — it’s like cheating, they’re so good.

Q: How did you get invited to contribute recipes to “A Taste of Washington?”

A: Michele Morris (the author) just called the restaurant and talked to one of the servers and said she was writing a cookbook. I was just passing by the bar when they were talking to her on the phone and I got on the phone with her. And she said to give me some recipes and they might be in the cookbook. I sent in three and she ended up using all three.

Q: You’re one of just a few chefs with multiple recipes in the book. Tell readers what you submitted.

A: We have the halibut with pea risotto with a coulis, and ginger cake with local honey and candied bacon. She (author Michele Morris) uses that recipe now at family get-togethers. And our fish taco recipe, that one too.

Q: I’m so used to seeing fish tacos made here with white fish. In your Northwest fish taco recipe, why did you select coho salmon as the base?

A: I just liked the fatty kind of content to it. It’s usually a really nice color and it’s really tasty. It’s a really nice piece of fish.

Q: What I appreciate about your food is the yin-yang of your menus. Sometimes it’s refined, sometimes it’s homey comfort food. Explain the Maxwell’s cooking philosophy to readers.

A: I think that’s the result of the city. You have to have sliders and ribs and burgers, otherwise people are just not going to come try you. It’s a working man’s town. … It kind of reflects Tacoma. Sometimes you want to dress up and go to a show. Sometimes you want a burger and a beer. Steve and I mainly work on the menu. I’ll come up with ideas. He’ll throw his ideas in the hat. It’s usually a good mix of his ideas and my ideas and we put it all together. This fall menu is going to be fun. We’re rolling it out at the end of September. We’ll have a similar dichotomy, but with a little more refinement.