Last Updated on May 17, 2023
Chef Brendan McGill grew up in the kitchen. At 14, he started washing dishes and prepping vegetables in a family friend’s restaurant in Fairbanks, AK. His love of nature and affair with food led him to Seattle – first for formal culinary education, then to hone his skills in the city’s best restaurants.
His journey was recognized by the industry in 2014 when he earned a nomination for Best Chef Northwest by the James Beard Award Foundation.
Restaurants on Bainbridge Island, Washington
As McGill was grinding in Seattle kitchens, he learned first-hand how the food he prepared made a long voyage from purveyor to plate. That’s when he decided to “follow the food,” moving his family out to Bainbridge Island in 2010 to forge relationships with local, organic farmers for vegetables, meat, and that glorious Pacific Northwest seafood.
Many of these folks had never sold produce to a restaurant before.
Chef Brendan McGill’s wife Heidi had deep family roots on Bainbridge Island, so it was only natural that his career took this turn. Now he sources food from farms within three to thirty miles of his five restaurants under the umbrella of Hitchcock Restaurant Group.
His philosophy grew as he became ultra-local, choosing ingredients to honor the seasons with flavor and freshness. He also became a farmer, opening Shady Acres Farm on the island. McGill collaborated with another local farmer to manage the operation, growing crops such as arugula and basil and humanely raising hogs for his restaurants.
While he still has eateries in Seattle–Bar Solea and the original Café Hitchcock–his flagship seafood restaurant Seabird is on Bainbridge Island. He also manages two more there – Bruciato and a casual all-day spot also called Café Hitchcock.
At Seabird, McGill elevates local seafood and forages for mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, watercress, nettles, and seaweed grown by his friend and Bainbridge Island purveyor Caleb Davis of Baywater Shellfish.
Baywater Shellfish on Thorndyke Bay
Caleb Davis graduated from college and went into finance. His true calling was back on Bainbridge Island’s Thorndyke Bay, where his father, Dr. Joth Davis, a marine biologist, started an oyster business in 1990. Baywater Shellfish is a family enterprise cultivating oysters, a sustainable and water-cleansing shellfish.
The company is known for its healthy production and harvesting of oysters, clams, geoduck, and now seaweed, with their partner company– Blue Dot Sea Farms. At Blue Dot, they grow shellfish with seaweed on the northern part of Hood Canal. Here they created a five-acre aquaculture farm that not only improves the habitat for the growing oysters, but also provides a cost-effective and ecologically sustainable food source in the seaweed.
Seaweed filters ocean water, absorbing carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, much like trees in a forest. Combining the seaweed (specifically sugar kelp) with the oyster farm makes the ocean water less acidic, allowing the oysters to form their shells and develop properly.
A Sustainable Lunch on Thorndyke Bay
I had the privilege of enjoying a lunch prepared by Chef Brendan McGill for a group of friends and writers demonstrating the sustainable seafood and produce found in the waters and fields around Bainbridge Island. He partnered with Baywater Shellfish for the location and meal, highlighting sustainability measures in his restaurants.
The table was set right in front of Thorndyke Bay, where both Baywater Indigo and Baywater Sweet oyster are harvested. They were our starters, and the succulent clams he dug from the beach when the tide receded were added to the main entrée.
The Indigos were grilled with a compound butter infused with sugar kelp from Blue Dot Sea Farm. Chef Brendan forages trimmed branches from local apple orchards and uses the discarded wood for fire when grilling at his restaurants to “Complete the Loop.”
Our next course was a colorful salad with organic chicories from Red Dog Farm and miners’ lettuce foraged in the woods. He shaved salty, dried tuna over top the salad adding another flavor to the profile.
We passed homemade focaccia from Hitchcock Bakery with flour infused by flecks of sugar kelp and slathered with seaweed compound butter. Chef Brendan sources his flour from a local mill that grinds grain grown – you guessed it – locally. The crusty bread was light, but chewy, and the browned crust gave a satisfying crunch. I wanted to gobble a second slice, but there were several more courses to sample.
Our main featured a mélange of vegetables, including sunchokes and leeks, stirred with butter and wine in a huge paella pan over the wood-burning flame. The final addition of Baywater clams and Dungeness Crab sourced from the local Suquamish Tribe was the crowning addition to the stew.
When Chef Brendan McGill brought the feast to the table, we learned how to crack crab and dug in. The dish was light and flavorful, with fresh seafood plucked right from the waters in Puget Sound.
Everyone went back in for seconds.
Finally, Chef created a Washington apple tart baked in a Dutch oven set over the flames. We dug into this simple dessert topped with fresh whipped cream.
It was pure heaven.
Bainbridge Vineyards Wine
Bainbridge Vineyards is an organic and sustainable vineyard on Day Road. Our hosts paired the food with Bainbridge Vineyards wine, specifically Pinot Gris, Müller-Thurgau, and Siegerrebe varietals. We enjoyed the crisp, award winning white wine from this women-led business.
The subtle, clean flavors paired perfectly with the food and gave us an authentic taste of Washington State.
Our experience with Chef Brendan honored our lunch site and completed a circle that celebrated the entire state. While these specific entrees were conceived for this meal, you can find his philosophy in all the dishes served across Hitchcock Restaurant Group. The seafood and produce changes seasonally, but you will enjoy the freshest products from local sources no matter when you visit.
Enjoying this bounty of local products made me rethink how I consume food. The simple, yet elevated lunch was just one example of how we can all choose to purchase vegetables in season and support local farms and purveyors whenever possible. You’ll not only be helping the planet by reducing your carbon footprint and supporting family-owned businesses, but the proof of superior quality is in the flavor!