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October 22, 2008 at 10:50 PM

Canlis holds press conference: reservations required [UPDATED]

I’ve never been to a press conference, but I got an email today urging me to attend one at Canlis tomorrow at 11 a.m. I immediately thought: Should I take a page from the Helen Thomas presidential playbook and wear a red dress? Actually, that’s a lie. What I thought was, “Aha! Now they’re talking!”

That media alert swiftly got Seattlest talking, too, with blogmeister Ron Holden noting he’d been cordially invited to join brothers Mark and Brian Canlis to hear some “momentous news.” And the news of the news led Ron to muse, “What can it be? Are they selling? Hiring their own new GM with an unpronounceable name?” Other food-focused scribes on the receiving end of that summons to the mount were left asking, “What could those charming Canlis boys possibly have up their well-pressed sleeves?”

And I’m certain my cohort were scratching their heads, as I was, when a second email arrived via Canlis’ PR-gals, asking us to R.S.V.P. by 9 a.m. Thursday (R.S.V.P.? To a press conference? Oh, I get it! Gentleman, I’ll have my Wagyu ribeye medium-rare, and my eggs over easy, please!) But seriously folks: I wasn’t surprised at all that Canlis was calling its first-ever press conference. However, I was surprised about the timing.

You see, I’ve been hearing word regarding changes at Canlis, and when I called Tuesday to confirm what I’d learned — that chef Aaron Wright is being considered for an executive chef’s position at a new luxury resort in Napa — Mark Canlis pleaded the Fifth. Just as I’m going to zip my lip after telling you Wright wasn’t the only Seattle chef under consideration. (I can’t say who else was looking for sunshine in Napa, but trust me: your jaw would drop.)

Mark did explain that he and Brian have been working hard during the past year making changes at Canlis, infusing new life into their eponomous restaurant by hiring a new bartender and pastry chef to help burnish the Canlis image. Which has never dimmed, in my view. Since the third generation has come aboard, I’ve been incredibly impressed with how much more exciting and contemporary the 58-year-old landmark has become. Part of the credit certainly goes to Aaron Wright, who’s been leading the kitchen since 2002, and remains at the helm today, where he works in concert with chef de cuisine Jeff Taton — who’s been with Canlis for a quarter century:

Pressing Mark for more details Tuesday, I came up empty-handed. He said I’d have to wait a few weeks, at which point he and Brian would be announcing some very big news. “This will be the most exciting thing we’ve done,” he insisted.

Alright, already. I’m excited. And now, with 24 hours to go before tomorrow’s press conference, I’m going to play the guessing game: Could it be, as I’ve also heard-tell, that Mark has tapped his New York City contacts and lured a chef away from one of NYC’s top restaurants? I couldn’t verify that, but I did place a phone call today to the restaurant in question, asking to speak with their executive sous-chef. Sorry, I was told. He was out of town — till Friday.

UPDATE: Right I was. Canlis just announced that Jason Franey, executive sous-chef at Eleven Madison Park, will come on board December 1st. The 31-year-old chef was introduced during this morning’s press conference — after which he served those assembled sunchoke panna cotta topped with (surprise!) foam and fresh-shaved black truffles:

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