Executive Chef Jerry Traunfeld dishes about his success at The Herbfarm and his two shiba inu, Lulu and Ruggles.
In a small corner of Washington State’s wine country, lies The Herbfarm, one of the nation’s most unique culinary destinations. This small restaurant, with its on-premise herb farm, is one of the toughest reservations to snag and one of the most singular meals to experience.
The Herbfarm was orginally a family-run herb business started by Bill and Lola Zimmerman and is now run by their son Ron and wife Carrie. The executive chef is Jerry Traunfeld, a James Beard Award winner and author of The Herbfarm Cookbook. The guest history reads like a who’s who, from Microsoft moguls and world leaders to top chefs.
The Herbfarm serves a nine-course menu paired with wines each night. Each course features herbs from the restaurant garden and, more importantly, the menu focuses on the seasonal foods of the Pacific Northwest. The menus change every week and the themes of the dinners change every few weeks.
“In the spring, we would present a forager’s dinner, basil menus in the summer or a mushroom menu in the Fall,” said Jerry. The menus have themes like autumn’s “A Mycologist’s Dream,” “The Hunter’s Table,” or “A Witch’s Brew.”
“The restaurant was designed to have an eclectic warmth – elegant and comfortable,” said Jerry. But it is more than that. There is the incredible detail and personalized service that surrounds the customers. During a visit in June – wild Chinook salmon was the seasonal feature – I took a solo visit to the restaurant. I sat at a special “family table” of 10 with some fascinating customers who were as excited as I was to try the food. Each of us was presented a small menu detailing the dishes. After the first course was served, Jerry and his staff came out to greet everyone and talk about the menu. Each member of the restaurant staff was introduced to us.
“We talk about the restaurant’s philosophy and its history, the food and the wine. After that, we introduce all the staff, from the dishwasher to the Sommelier. Many have interesting backgrounds. In the kitchen, there is a woman who is a professional saxophone player, an artist and an art curator from New York, some one who did 401K rollovers for seven years, and a woman who spent two years working in the Peace Corps in Bosnia,” said Jerry.
Jerry shares his home with Stephen, his partner of 22 years, and Ruggles, 8, and Lulu, 7, who are both shiba inu, an ancient Japanese breed of dog. They are small rugged dogs with double coats like huskies and faces like foxes. Both came to live with Jerry and Stephen when they were eight weeks old. Ruggles and Lulu used to hang out at The Herbfarm when they were young; now they are stay-at-home dogs.
On a daily basis, Ruggles and Lulu eat dry food in the morning and homemade stew at night, and Jerry occasionally bakes them biscuits. However, Jerry noted that Ruggles is quite the gourmand.
“Ruggles doesn’t eat a lot, but he savors his food more than any dog I’ve known. When you offer him something especially tasty from your hand he never gobbles it. Instead he sniffs it, gently bites into it and chews it thoroughly with an attitude of great appreciation. Lulu, on the other hand, just gobbles it up. Ruggles loves ripe cheese, the stinkier the better, grilled meats, pasta, fruit gels, licorice and caviar (he’s tasted it just once). He’s particularly graceful eating with chopsticks. When you feed him a morsel with chopsticks, he gingerly takes it off without touching the chopsticks with his teeth or mouth.”
According to Jerry, the dogs also like to sing. “Their favorite song is The Carpenters’ ‘Sing a Song.’ Whenever we start singing it Ruggles tilts back his head and starts singing along; then Lulu joins in. Needless to say, it is not our favorite song, so we keep it to a minimum.”
Ruggles and Lulu provided Jerry much needed comfort in 1997 when an electrical short started a devastating fire, which destroyed the original restaurant, located in Fall City.
“Getting back on our feet was a struggle. I used the time while we were rebuilding to write The Herbfarm Cookbook, and since I wrote it at home, the dogs provided excellent and much needed company on those days sitting in front of my computer or testing recipes,” said Jerry.
The Herbfarm Cookbook was published in 1999, and critics just ate it up. It contains 200 recipes inspired by the food prepared at the restaurant plus a thorough reference section on growing herbs and handling them in the kitchen. Jerry said that he plans to begin work on another cookbook in late 2002.
The Herbfarm re-opened at a new location in Woodinville in 2001. The restaurant is slightly larger with 65 seats. Guests are offered tours before their meals. The Herbfarm shares its grounds with an 88-room luxury inn called The Willows Lodge. The inn is separately owned but does feature two special “Herbfarm Suites” which the restaurant will gladly reserve for you. The Herbfarm Suites overlook the herb garden and are decorated with original art and antiques in the same eclectic country style as the restaurant. The remaining rooms have a clean, spare Zen-like feel with large windows, luxurious beds, fireplaces and stone showers. The Willows Inn is pet friendly and the surrounding grounds are perfect for taking your pooch out for a run. The inn also offers on-premise spa facilities and can arrange tours to nearby wineries, bicycles, and other recreational activities.
The Herbfarm The Willows Lodge
14590 NE 145th Street 14580 NE 145 Street
Woodinville, WA 98072 Woodinville, WA 98072
206-784-2222 425-424-3900/ 877-424-3930
Room rates: $220 – $350 deluxe $350- $750 – suites
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