German-born but Seattle-raised, Ethan Stowell is a study in rising from catering obscurity to acclaimed chef and restaurateur. His portfolio includes nine Italian-inspired fine eateries (all differing in size, ambiance and menu, all in or around his home in Seattle), a specialty food line (Lagana Foods), a pizzeria (Ballard Pizza Company), a private wine cellar event space (ESR Cellar) and a charity run (Eat Run Hope).

But the chef loves what he does and the people he does it with. For Stowell, it’s not simply the food that drives his restaurants; it’s the relationships he builds. “Gathering around a table is so much more about the people you’re with than the food you’re eating”, he says. We caught up with him to talk about inspiration, food and why it wouldn’t matter what his last drink on earth is.

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Q.
What’s one thing every man should know?
A.
How to fail. Tough to say, but it’s a great lesson.

Q.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A.
Professionally, open and operate my first restaurant. Personally, something much harder: learn to live with heartbreaking loss.

Q.
What are you working on right now?
A.
Getting the infrastructure of our company solid. We just went through a big growth spurt and I want to make sure our employees and customers are happy.

I just love the food and I think you should do what you love.

Q.
Name one thing you can’t live without.
A.
Easy: my family.

Q:
Who or what influences you?
A:
Work influence, my coworkers. Personal influence, my wife.

Q.
What are you reading right now?
A.
Cookbooks, P&Ls, and coworkers’ weekly reports.

Q.
Name one thing no one knows about you.
A.
I love ’80s music!

Q.
It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A.
Who cares! I’m freaking out that I’m either dying or getting launched into outer space!

Q.
If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A.
Finish college. It [not finishing school] worked out okay for me, but it’s not the message I want to send to my kids.

Q.
How do you want to be remembered?
A.
That I was a good person, nothing more or less.

Q.
What drew you to food in the first place?
A.
My dad. Cooking was his hobby and his way of unwinding after a hard day at work.

Q.
Why have you focused on Italian cuisine at so many of your restaurants?
A.
I just love the food and I think you should do what you love.

Q.
What’s your one best tip for aspiring chefs?
A.
Travel. Go see the world! It will influence the way you cook. Not just from a cuisine perspective, but from a cultural perspective as well.

Q.
How does your cooking change when you are cooking for your family rather than patrons?
A.
Not much, but I do tend to make simpler food. I want dinner at home to be simple enough so that I can spend time with my dining companions.

Q.
What regions and/or cuisines are you most excited about right now, and why?
A.
I’m most excited about the Northwest region and Pacific Northwest cuisine. We are so lucky to have an abundance of fish, shellfish, forged items, farms and orchards available here. I think we are leading the country in eating and cooking locally and seasonally, and that is pretty awesome.