Jeremy Hansen, born and raised in Spokane, Wash., got into his car a few weeks ago and set out for Philadelphia, where this week he starts as executive chef at Fork, the destination bistro in Old City.
For Hansen, 43, this is more than just a cross-country move: For the last decade, he and his wife, Kate, have been the culinary stars of Eastern Washington. They now own three restaurants, all in the process of being sold: Smoke & Mirrors Saloon, and the upstairs-downstairs operation Inland Pacific Kitchen and Hogwash Whiskey Den. Hansen was a semifinalist in 2015 for the James Beard Foundation’s best chef Northwest, and he was named chef of the year last year by the Spokane Culinary Arts Guild.
But Hansen had become restless. While in New York City earlier this summer helping a friend open Luthun in the East Village, he got a call from a headhunter trying to fill the job at Fork. John Patterson, who held the position a little over three years, decided last spring to relocate to Vermont to become chef at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, and he had recently made the move permanent.
Hansen brings a varied background to Fork, which has touted local sourcing from its start in 1997. It’s only a coincidence that co-owner Eli Kulp is also a Washington native. Co-owner Ellen Yin says Hansen’s first menu will begin in October.
Hansen started as a teen cooking in a scratch kitchen at a Mexican restaurant, followed by cooking in another scratch kitchen at a Chinese restaurant. He suffered a crushing blow at 18 when his brother died. “That put me in a kind of a dark place for a couple of years,” he said. “And then I realized one day that that’s not where I really wanted to be.”
A job at an Italian restaurant whose chef used French techniques was “mind-blowing,” he said. "Blue cheese blew my mind. I’d been cooking for 14 years and it was like, “what is this?” He enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, Ore., set out for a year (2005-2006) at the now-closed Cafe Gray in New York, and then returned to the Pacific Northwest to run seven kitchens at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood before working at 23Hoyt in Portland, followed by other stops. Many other stops. He says he counted 17 W-2s in one year in Portland.
He returned to Spokane.
The next jobs were unfulfilling. He said that although owners of one restaurant touted farm-to-table ethos, they fell far short. "Everything was pre-made stuff. Like you can buy clarified butter, you could buy demi-glace. It comes in several different forms apparently. Something called liquid smoke they had, I took a shot of. It blew my mind. What is this stuff? So anyways, I was only there for three or four months because it was a total sham.
He told his wife that they had to be owners, and in 2008, Santé opened. Kate and their children are wrapping up their lives in Spokane and hope to relocate to Philadelphia this fall.
We were poor kids, and I needed to get football cleats. My mom said, “Go get a job,” so I did and I started cooking the day I turned 15. I applied at a Mexican restaurant called Taco Toro, kind of a fast-foodie thing [at the time]. They hired me on as a dishwasher. I walked in and, classic restaurant style, two cooks walked out the day before. So they told me I was cooking. I was like, OK. I never did wash dishes. I started rolling burritos and making taco meat.
I moved out probably a dozen times. I love, I love, I love Spokane. It’s a nice little city but I thrive better in a cultural-forward city. I love art. I love film. I love people. Sports. I love everything. And in my town there really isn’t much of that. We have the Gonzaga Bulldogs. ... When we moved back to Spokane [in 2008], my wife and I planned to leave, no matter what. We didn’t know when. But then we started getting rooted and rooted and getting all these offers to do other things. Like every day, there’s something happening, and we ended up opening up a couple more things: a bakery biscuit shop, then the Whiskey Den, and then the Pacific Kitchen. But my friends opened up a restaurant in New York. Every time I come to New York, I was like, “This is it. I’m going to stay.” Every time I leave Spokane, I say that actually. I like the culture, the hustle and bustle — just everything about being in a bigger city where I can go eat anywhere. Everyday I can go out to new place to eat. I can go experience something new. You run into different people from all over the world and in Spokane you can’t do that. I don’t want to beat it up too bad because it is a good town if that’s what you’re into. I need a little more.
At the time [of the phone call], I’d never been to Philly, and never really thought about coming here. It was always like straight to New York City. But is it feasible? Is it good? You know, I can go there and suffer for a while and try to make it, maybe not. I started researching what [Fork] was, where Philly is, and just by the research, was like, all right, this could be a good place to be. Then I came here for a day and kind of realized that yeah, I like it, really quick. Just walking around, I love the oldness of it. I love the history.
I felt really good about it. I’ve been to San Francisco, I’ve been to Chicago, L.A., Austin, Texas. San Francisco is a pretty neat town. Chicago, I’m not so into. New York City, I totally love it. L.A. No thanks. Denver is neat. Austin is a pretty good town. But when I came here I was like, this feels really good. You could belong. Like I could live here for the rest of my life. I felt like that’s home. I got that same feeling when I showed up to Philly, which is odd because the only thing I know about Philly are the Eagles. And there’s the Liberty Bell here somewhere.