Francophile Fever: A day with Chef Renee Erickson of Boat Street Cafe

End of summer. Too much zucchini. What’s a chef to do? If you’re Renee Erickson, chef/co

Category: Eat + Drink Articles


The Plan: Spend the day experimenting with leftover zucchini

The Dish: Zucchini Gratin with Beecher’s Flagship Cheese

THE HOME FRONT: Erickson’s house is in Ballard, not France, but you can imagine yourself there with minimal daydreaming (or a couple of glasses of wine). She travels to France once a year, relishing the cuisine and returning with cool French artifacts that decorate her space. In the backyard is a garden (a potager, if you will) with tomatoes, radishes, arugula. She shares the house with a dog and two cats, one of whom, Mitza, is a hand-me-down from Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic.

THE HOSTESS: Erickson slices up radishes from her garden and makes radish tartines with toasted Columbia City Bakery bread and slabs of butter. “My favorite thing in the world,” she says.She turns to her assembled guests, who include her boyfriend Matt, neighbor (and sometime Boat Street employee) Pat and a couple of Seattle magazine contributors whose names don’t rhyme (including yours truly). “You want some dates? You guys all hungry?” She heats olive oil in a pan, tosses in some plump dates, cooks them for about a minute and sprinkles them with sea salt.

THE SECRET: Erickson reaches into her eco-friendly ConServ refrigerator (adorned only with a few farm animal magnets) and pulls out a half gallon of extra-rich heavy cream. “Boat Street kind of runs on heavy cream,” she says, adding some to a pile of grated zucchini. She eyeballs it. “I rarely measure anything. I’ll kind of squeeze out the zucchini and add cream, tarragon, salt and pepper, and then cheese on top. Classic.”

THE USUAL: At Boat Street, a gratin (kale in winter, fennel in spring, zucchini in summer) is always served alongside the pork chop. Today, Erickson’s putting it in the oven next to a chicken seasoned with Espelette pepper. “I never tie my chicken,” she says, “which is bad, but I’m always too busy.” It’s a typical day-off dish for Erickson, who eats a lot of roast chicken and tends, on her days off, to combine lunch and dinner into a single meal. “I eat, like, at 4, drink some wine and then I’m sleepy.”

THE EATING: We dig into the bubbly gratin. “You can’t beat browned cheese,” says Erickson. Indeed, one bite and my brain is off to France again.


Zucchini Gratin with Beecher’s Flagship Cheese
Renee Erickson, Boat Street Cafe
Serves 4.
1 pound of zucchini (about 4 medium), ends trimmed
1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt, divided
Pepper to taste
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons of roughly chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1/2 cup of heavy cream
4 ounces of Beecher’s Flagship cheese, shredded
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grate the zucchini with a food processor’s grating disc (preferred) or a box grater. Toss with 1 teaspoon of salt and set aside for at least 15 minutes.
2. Squeeze the zucchini between your hands over the sink to remove excess water. Blot with paper towels. Toss with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, nutmeg and tarragon, and place in an 8-by-8-inch baking pan.
3. Pour the cream over the zucchini mixture and top with cheese. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until well browned and bubbly. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.