Food & Drink

Tulalip Resort’s Chef David Buchanan Talks Salmon & Humility

Make your reservations for this upcoming Guest Chef Night on Thursday, July 30

By Alene Bouranova July 22, 2015


This post is sponsored.

Sponsored by FareStart

Chef David Buchanan traveled a long way to end up in the Pacific Northwest. Originally from Minneapolis, a high school-aged Buchanan moved to Bellingham, Wash., in 1976 and he’s stayed in and around the area ever since. “I miss the stunning colors of autumn,” he says, “but not the five months of snow!”

Flash forward 40 years to Tulalip Resort Casino, where Buchanan is now the chef de cuisine at its Blackfish Wild Salmon Grill & Bar.

His more than 30-year career in the restaurant industry has taken him on a wild ride from a young, eager dishwasher to a bonafide culinary expert; in addition to specializing in Northwest cuisine, he also owns and operates the industry website 

On July 30, chef Buchanan will participate in FareStart’s Guest Chef Night, a Thursday institution in which a local revered chef coaches students to prepare a three-course dinner for almost 300 in the downtown FareStart restaurant. Reservations are encouraged; if your tastebuds are itching for a top-notch meal, book a table here.

Until then, learn a little bit more about this do-it-all chef:

Where did you study cooking?

I spent 30 years in professional kitchens working with some excellent chefs, and one year of professional culinary training at New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt. I started as a dishwasher at Denny’s in Bellingham, Wash., and wanted to learn to cook, but the manager wouldn’t train me. So I would bust my tail to get all caught up in the dish area, then go on the line where the lead cook named Art taught me the ropes.

After 10 years in kitchens I finally got my taste of fine dining at the Oyster Bar on Chuckanut drive. I loved it! Making everything from scratch, interesting foods, creative presentations…so much fun!

After five years training with several chefs there, I went to New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt., for a year of higher education. Since then I continue to learn by working with other chefs, reading, and most importantly experimenting with new things such as molecular gastronomy and sous vide cooking.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Conceptualizing the flavor profiles of a dish and then trying to present all of its components in an artistic manner. I want people to say, “That looks so beautiful I don’t want to eat it.” And then watch their smiles broaden as they take a bite.

What about your least favorite?

All the paperwork that goes with creating a new recipe. I have to put the recipes into the software program, cost them out, write recipes for the staff, write a pretty description for the menu… everything that’s needed to make it work in a busy restaurant.

What’s so special about Pacific Northwest cuisine?

Pacific Northwest cuisine is primarily known for its seafood, but also its local produce (apples, cherries, berries, asparagus, potatoes, etc.). And in recent years beef from the Northwest has also begun to play a big role in defining our cuisine and menu selections.

While many other cuisines are known by the accompanying preparations associated with their food (Thai for its curries, East Indian for its exotic spice blends, Italian for its pastas, etc), Pacific Northwest cuisine is known more for its local bounty. And preparations typically highlight the flavors of the food served. Spices, condiments and sauces are meant to complement or enhance the natural flavors of the dish, not mask or overpower it. If I’m having halibut then I want to taste the fresh, sweet flavor of halibut, not all the stuff put on it to dress it up.

What are your favorite ingredients to cook with?

Like many chefs, it’s not really that I have favorite ingredients, but rather what is the coolest thing out there right now that I can play with? Fiddlehead ferns and nettles in the spring, Copper River king and sockeye salmon in May, Rainier and bing cherries in the summer, and so on.

What is your favorite dish to make?

Like favorite ingredients, favorite dishes change with time. My current favorite is also my newest creation: “Salmon – a Taste of Summer,” which is Copper River king & sockeye sous vide 110°; roasted peach-Chardonnay puree; sorrel beurre blanc.

Buchanan's Salmon - a Taste of Summer
Umm, yum: Buchanan’s most recent culinary creation; photo: David Buchanan

What led you to create

The site was born out of both a passion and a need. I enjoy studying topics so as to be the master of my domain when it comes to the culinary and chef topics I want/should know about. But I have a lousy memory! Six months after I study something if I don’t use it on a daily basis I forget it.

I was constantly having to re-study a topic, having left information at home, or on a different computer, or perhaps at my previous job. Creating the website gave me the opportunity to always have it at hand via the Internet and my cell phone.

Now it has evolved into more than that; it is becoming a sort of mentoring tool for me to share some of the knowledge that I have with other chefs and future chefs.

What’s the biggest life lesson you’ve learned from being a chef?

There are two sides to every story.

A chef is also a manager of people and as such you will repeatedly run into crew members who have strong, passionate disagreements. Our tendency is to side with the first person who speaks with us… until we hear the perspective of the other person! More often than not, disagreements are the result of poor or in adequate communication. Improved self-awareness coupled with better communication skills results in less conflict.

What advice would you give someone entering the restaurant industry?

Humility is better than, and superior to ego.

Always strive to become better at what you do, while remembering that superior skills do not make you a superior person. A chef with a big ego is too full of himself to learn from others.

Favorite place to eat out right now?

The Willows Inn on Lummi Island.

What do you do when you’re not cooking or working on your website?

Playing video games (Destiny or Halo PvP), hiking, mountain biking and spending time with my family.


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