A Southern Touch: Chef Calesa Introduces the Winter Menu at bin on the lake
Authentic Southern cuisine is a rarity in the Pacific Northwest. So at The Woodmark, where our seafood is regional and the views distinctly Washington, Southern-inspired dishes like shrimp and grits are a welcome addition to the curated menu at bin on the lake.
The Southern offerings come from Sous Chef Natasha Calesa, a native of Charleston, South Carolina who has always been drawn to the Seattle area. Upon her arrival in May 2016, she began filling our kitchens with Southern essentials like collard greens, pimento cheese croquettes, and brown sugar bourbon sauce over Berkshire pork chops – making us reevaluate our idea of comfort food.
The classic yet refined recipes join regional favorites like oysters on the half shell and wild king salmon for an encompassing culinary experience at bin on the lake. (The restaurant also offers more than 40 wines by the glass, showcased artistically on the wall and in the innovative wine storage system, and is a recipient of Wine Spectator’s Award-Winning Wine List Award of Excellence.)
Accompanying the food and warm, sophisticated atmosphere are stunning vistas of Lake Washington and the mountains, which are visible from every table due to the restaurant’s horseshoe shape. It’s all very unlike the South, Chef Natasha notes, saying, “Charleston is known as the low country. We don’t have any mountains. Out here – it’s so beautiful.”
But the scenery isn’t all that inspires her. When it came to creating the winter menu, Chef Natasha decided to cook what she knew, infusing each dish with Southern flavor while keeping in mind seasonal ingredients from the Pacific Northwest. The young chef believes that her recipes are representative of what you would find in the South, finding inspiration in homey classics and saying “Southern is simple.”
Perhaps her most well-known dish – said even to be the restaurant’s new signature dish – is the shrimp and grits, made with andouille sausage, Cajun cream sauce, and scallions. Appropriately, it is her favorite dish to prepare (“It’s so Charleston, and it reminds me of home”). But she also loves traditional collard greens and the relaxing feeling that comes with cooking them in Washington (“Even though I’m far from home, I’m not too far”).
The Southern fare has gone over well with Chef Natasha’s guests, who are generally surprised to see it on the menu and often ask where the chef originated.
As the seasons change, bin on the lake will debut new menu items in keeping with what is locally and sustainably sourced (Not to mention several other exciting developments, like live musicians in the coming year). But Chef Natasha expects the Southern influence to remain. Those reminders of home have become an inherent part of her cooking style, even in the ever-changing kitchen at bin on the lake – where the bustling nature of the job motivates the culinary team.
“Ultimately, it’s the challenge that drives me when I cook,” she says. “You never know what you’re going to walk into every day. It’s always different, which is one of the best things about it.”