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November 2, 2010 at 7:57 AM

Kailash: chef celebs bring vegetarian fine-dining to Seattle

Seattle has vegetarian restaurants. And we’ve got fine-dining restaurants. But what we don’t have is a temple of high cuisine built to offer the best of both worlds. That’s about to change — according to the team behind Kailash, a brave new vision expected to open in Seattle’s Rainier Square by early spring.

“This is a very big deal,” says Greg Atkinson, who’ll step down from his post at chef instructor at Seattle Culinary Academy this week to take on the position of executive chef at Kailash (rhymes with eyelash), named for a sacred mountain in the Tibetan Himalayas. “I think a growing international awareness about a new vegetarianism makes this a really unique moment in time to launch a high-end vegetarian restaurant.” “It’s taking vegetarianism to a new level,” locally and nationally, foresees chef Kathy Casey, who’ll put her bold signature on the cocktail menu, set to feature “a lot of local spirits, housemade infusions, elixirs, bitters, tinctures and all that crazy stuff.”

Chef, author and culinary instructor Greg Atkinson will team up with Liquid Kitchen-consultant Kathy Casey — a pioneer in the bar chef movement — to help create Kailash. [photos courtesy Greg Atkinson/Kathy Casey]

There are deep pockets behind the effort to transform the erstwhile Crepe de Paris restaurant space into a sophisticated, 175-seat showcase for vegetarian cuisine: silent partners on a mission (and with the means) to take vegetarian dining to the next level. To that end, they’ll install an edible garden out on a newly landscaped terrace and install Atkinson in an exhibition kitchen outfitted with high-tech gear and green technologies, offering him free-rein to tap his culinary creativity. “Fortunately,” says the chef, “they’re not vegan, so we’ll still have some sexy duck eggs and artisanal cheeses. We’re just not going to be serving anything with a face.”

Atkinson, a cookbook author (who writes regularly for The Seattle Times) admits “it’s an unexpected direction” for him to take “because it’s vegetarian — and I’m not,” but he’s excited to be starting something he perceives as new and important. “At the college, I’ve been teaching sustainability classes, and in a way it follows a natural sequence of events.”

That sequence began with his seasonally inspired menus at Friday Harbor House in the San Juan Islands, and later brought him national acclaim when he breathed new life into the menu as chef-exec at Canlis, a job he took on in 1996. Prior to the new milleneum, says Atkinson, “Canlis was perceived, mostly, as a steakhouse, but I wanted it to be perceived more as a state-of-the-art contemporary American restaurant. Approaching 2000, what that meant was to serve seasonal regional food with a consideration of the environmental impact of that food.”

Later, as the food and beverage director of the Bainbridge Island environmental center, IslandWood, “I became increasingly aware of how we eat, and how that impacts the world around us. I think a big part of that is choosing to eat less meat.”

He’s not the only meat-lover who thinks so, he says, citing Mario Batali and other hard-core carnivores who’ve embraced “Meatless Mondays.” And he and his team hope to extend a hand to chefs and cookbook authors nationwide, with plans to have them cook in-house at special events. He and the owners have been in discussions with Heidi Hanson of Warner-Hanson, the award-winning producer of the PBS series “Chefs A’ Field,” about producing a televised show involving the visiting chefs. “I really love the visiting chefs-piece,” says Atkinson. “It’s an opportunity to grow and learn, and to keep the place fresh and exciting.”

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