Seattle Chef Rachel Yang Talks About Being a Mom & Kid Food
Rachel Yang has become a household name in Seattle food circles and beyond. Together with her husband and business partner, Seif Chirchi, she has three restaurants in Seattle and a fourth in Portland. Their first restaurant, Joule, earned the pair a James Beard nomination and a nod from Bon Appetit (the magazine ranked the Korean steakhouse #9 on its annual Best Restaurant in America in 2013). Frank Bruni featured the asparagus rice bowl at Revel on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and Trove — a four-in-one restaurant, complete with a frozen custard stand — is no small feat (which is to say, incredibly impressive).
But whether people are talking about eating her Korean-inspired rice bowls on the breezy porch at Revel or comparing noodle favorites from the bright noodle bar at Trove, there’s something they might not realize: While she and Seif are building a successful restaurant empire, they’re also raising two adorable boys, Pike and Rye.
She says the boys keep her sane, reminding her that while it may seem crazy to own restaurants in two cities, she has a reason to remain grounded and available at home.
The boys are becoming adept at making Korean-style dumplings — the family just finished shooting a cookbook (coming out this fall) that features the kids’ dough-crafting abilities. And while they don’t have the flexibility to cook dinner at home together every night, the couple does make an effort to eat dinner with their kids as often as possible. Rachel has created a go-to list of places she takes her kids — places she knows they’ll all like — so they can avoid dinner battles and instead focus on spending time together.
Chef Rachel Yang Talks Kid Food and Seattle
Let’s start with you. What kind of food are your restaurants known for?
We make our own very offbeat combination of Korean food and international flavors. It’s not anything that falls easily into any specific category, but it’s real fusion, backed up by the more formal French training both Seif and I have.
We consider Joule a Korean steakhouse. Revel is a casual restaurant where we do Korean-style dumplings, pancakes, and noodles. Trove is really four things under one roof: a Korean barbecue spot with a noodle bar, a bar, and a frozen custard truck built into the front of the restaurant. Revelry, in Portland, has become more of a late-night place, with a DJ booth and really funky music-inspired décor — and it has the best Korean fried chicken.
But because nothing we do really replicates what most people think of as “Korean food,” we’ve become our own thing. We like to think of it as unexpected and delicious first, and Korean second (or maybe even further down the line).
That doesn’t sound like typical kid food. What do your boys like to eat?
Well, they’re restaurant kids for sure, so they do know how to taste food. We have a rule that they take a bite of everything, and they’re pretty good about following it.
That said, they’re also kids — they have their particular preferences and food personalities. Rye, the younger one, is pretty adventuresome, and is always asking for kimchi or hot sauce to spice up his food. Pike is definitely my picky eater. But they are both crazy about noodles, and will eat anything in a dumpling wrapper.
Which of your restaurants is best for other kids?
Noodles and savory pancakes are, perhaps unsurprisingly, an easy sell for kids, so I usually recommend Revel for the little ones. When I’m cooking there I notice a lot of parents coming in early with their kids. I think the loud music and the super-casual setting makes it okay for kids to go a little crazy, and parents like that they can get food they really love at the same time. They’re doing the same thing we do — just finding an easier way to spend time with family on a night when cooking seems like a little too much.
When you go out for dinner as a family, where do you go?
Oddly, the best family spot for us is right across the street, at Delancey. They have the best toppings for grown-ups, but they also do a mean cheese pizza, which our kids love. It does tend to be busy, but often if we’re doing dinner all together, we eat early, so we can beat the crowd. I love their Jersey salad.
You both obviously have to spend time in the restaurants. Where do you go for quick meals with the kids?
When I’m solo with the boys, if Seif is cooking on the line, I often take them to Issian, which is an izakaya-style spot in Wallingford that specializes in yakitori. Pike and Rye aren’t that big yet, but they can easily put away five skewers each — which is why I go at happy hour when each skewer is a dollar.
What’s your favorite morning meal with the kids?
Because we often work late on the weekends, we take advantage of weekday mornings whenever we can, like on days when the kids don’t have school.
Our family favorite is The Fat Hen, which has a bright, airy atmosphere, and food that’s scrumptious but simple enough that it doesn’t intimidate the kids. The boys usually finish their breakfasts and then work on ours — and we always get a chocolate chip cookie for later!
And where is their favorite spot for dessert?
Honestly, it’s probably the ice cream truck built into the entrance at Trove. I mean, it’s frozen custard. What kid doesn’t like that? For me, I don’t mind letting them order parfaits, because they always introduce them to new flavors and textures — things like purple ube ice cream, house-made lime pop rocks, and other fun stuff. Also, there’s this tiny little peephole at kids’ head height that they love to look in on every time they come.
Rachel Yang is owner of Seattle’s Joule, Revel, and Trove restaurants, and Portland’s Revelry, author of the upcoming book, My Rice Bowl.