Lindsay Peyton
Ballard chef Sam West works with his father, restaurateur and consultant Tim Baker, at San Fermo.

Sam West shines at San Fermo

By Lindsay Peyton

Many children rebel against their parents – but Ballard chef Sam West chose to follow in his father’s footsteps instead.

“It made perfect sense,” West said. “There’s no other thing I should be doing.”

His father Tim Baker is a long-time restaurateur and consultant in the industry. He has been a force in a number of popular Seattle establishments – and now is one of the partners running San Fermo Restaurant, 5341Ballard Ave NW.

The project was something father and son had dreamt about for years. And when the Italian eatery serving up comfort food and seasonal dishes opened in May, their vision became a reality.

West grew up in Ballard – and stepped into the kitchen at an early age.

“My dad has been cooking us great meals since I was a little kid,” West said. “I always helped him, whether I wanted to or not.”

It didn’t take long to realize he wanted be in the kitchen more often than not. When he was 16 years old, he took his first job – making pizzas in a neighborhood joint.

“I loved it there,” West said. “It was my first time being part of a team that cares so much about what they do. It was a blast. I realized that when this is done right, it’s what I love to do.”

Since then, the chef has held posts in kitchens around the city, including Staple & Fancy Mercantile and Oddfellows Café + Bar – and even moved to New York to stage for restaurants there for a while.

“I picked up everything I know as I went,” he said. “I’ve been working in kitchens ever since.”

West also took a couple of trips to Italy to explore one of his favorite cuisines firsthand.

About three years ago, he began working at Anchovies and Olives, an Italian-focused seafood restaurant. While there, West got a call from his father, asking him to join him in opening San Fermo.

Then, last year, West worked at Percy’s, a popular spot for cocktails and bites on Ballard Ave. – while his father finished up the design and development of the restaurant.

Now West is busy serving up cod with lentils and watercress, squash risotto with fried rosemary and walnuts and spaghetti Bolognese with pork, veal, fennel and rosemary.

He enjoys working with his father nearby.

“It’s been great,” West said. “We’re able to help each other.”

West describes his current culinary style as “homey and comforting Italian.”

“I don’t take things too seriously,” he said. “I try not to overthink things. I want to keep it simple.”

Working with local farmers and experimenting with new ingredients are his favorite part of his job at San Fermo so far.

And, of course, he also likes showcasing Italian cuisine.

“I’ve always had this desire to be a part of Italian culture,” he said. “Their devotion to family, togetherness and food – it all just fits together.”

For this article, he selected a seafood recipe to share with our readers.

Rockfish with lentils, guanciale, and salsify
(Serves four)

For the lentils:
1 cup diced odori (onions, carrots, celery, and fennel)
1 pint puy lentils
4 pints crab stock (or chicken stock)
white wine
salt
chili flake

Sweat the odori in olive oil with a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of chili flake. Deglaze the pan with 3 ounces white wine. Then add stock and lentils and bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes or until slightly soft. Set them aside.

For salsify:
10 oz salsify (roughly four to five pieces)
1pint heavy cream
salt
black pepper

Bring a small pot of salted water to boil on the stove. Peel and dice salsify, drop in boiling water and cook until soft. Drain water, add cream and bring to a simmer. Cook down by half and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste

To finish:
1-1.5 pounds rockfish
7oz guanciale
1 clove garlic (sliced thin)
1 shallot (brunoised)
white wine
Italian parsley
salt
lemon juice

The rockfish should be pinboned beforehand and depending on size, portioned out a bit smaller then one filet. You can also substitute in any fish you prefer. Pansear the fish in butter, a sprig of thyme and a crushed clove of garlic.

Thinly slice the guanciale (or bacon/pork belly if you prefer) and rendered it slowly in a sauté pan until crisp. Add garlic and shallots and sweat for 10 seconds. Deglaze with 2 oz white wine, add the lentils and season with salt and lemon juice. Add roughly chopped parsley.

Plate with salsify puree first, lentils and guanciale next, then rockfish. Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh wild watercress for color.

For more information about San Fermo, visit www.sanfermoseattle.com.

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