Vinegar Flats Farm & Inland Pacific Kitchen
What started out as a first job at age 16 quickly became a passion for Chef Austin Conklin, head chef of Inland Pacific Kitchen. He fell in love with scratch cooking as he began to explore simple recipes, playing with flavors and elevating common foods.
On a calm Monday morning in May, Conklin started his day in a corner nettle patch at Vinegar Flats Farm, formerly Urban Eden Farm, located less than three miles from Inland Pacific Kitchen. Tarawyn Waters, operations manager of this small piece of historical farmland, graciously provided bins, shears, gloves and even a farmhand for his little expedition. Conklin quickly made himself at home harvesting nettles while answering questions.
Asked which seasonal ingredient started it all, Conklin answered, “I was working at Art of the Table in Seattle, when the head chef handed me squash blossoms, freshly picked that morning”. It’d be the first of many seasonal dishes Conklin would go on to make.
Conklin’s inspiration to create innovative cuisine comes from many places, but one of the most interesting is the convenience store. From horchata, to a cookie from a popular chain that sells signature slushies, Conklin takes ordinary flavors and turns them into elevated, artistic and out-of-the-box cuisine.
With the nettles harvested, he headed into the farm’s cold storage with Tarawyn. They conversed like old friends, gushing over nettles and talking produce when Tarawyn walked over to the cooler and brought out beautiful red and white sunchokes, which Conklin excitedly added to his haul. The young chef has found the farm a fantastic resource for the restaurant’s fare, and a quick call or trip has allowed him to source ingredients like currants, purslane, and sunchokes for his seasonal menus.
Back at the kitchen, Conklin made an assembly line of ingredients while casually explaining this artistic and complex dessert. Aptly, and jokingly named “That Stings”, stinging nettle sorbet is only one of 13 components.
Sprinkling the plate with carrot dust before adding ginger financiers as the base, Conklin continued to construct the dessert with apple slices poached in champagne, scoops of buttery apple curd, chewy honeycomb, and nutty oat tuiles. The star of the dish came next, stinging nettle sorbet carefully placed in the center, all garnished with Meyer lemon gel, sugar cookie crumble, shaved rhubarb, fennel fronds, Nasturtium flowers, coarse flake salt, and drops of locally sourced honey.
The completed dish delivers a unique sensorial experience from the first bite to the last. Each bite contains different textures and flavors that are unexpected but pleasantly refreshing.
Check out Inland Pacific Kitchen here.
This Article Was Written By Jamie Aquino