What's Cooking With Former 'Top Chef' Contestant Robin Leventhal?
When Top Chef was still in its heyday, before becoming less about contestants and more about product placement, hometown gal and former Crave chef-owner Robin Leventhal quickly became the underdog everyone in Seattle wanted to take home the season six win. She didn’t, but she’s winning in a way bigger way these days.
Late last summer, she accepted a job as chef instructor at the Wine Country Culinary Institute at Walla Walla Community College (voted the number one community college in the country two years in a row).
I sat down with her yesterday afternoon to ask her how she’s settling in and if she'd ever open another restaurant (Crave closed its doors on Capitol Hill in 2008).
What drew you to Walla Walla?
I needed a break from the city and the opportunity presented itself after 22 years in Seattle. And I’m an Idaho girl so there’s just…I’m surrounded by these beautiful rolling hills, this lush vegetation. There’s serenity and a beauty here and a stillness and yet, it’s a thriving food scene.
Would you open a restaurant here?
My response to that question will always be: “I’ve done it.” I don’t want to own another restaurant again. I know I’ve fantasized about doing another place after Crave for a while. There’s a part of the business that I absolutely love, but one of the amazing things about my job is that I get to do both, so every other quarter I’m teaching a class that a la carte cooking, menu development and service management. And with that, we open a restaurant to the public. So I run a restaurant about four months out of the year, but it gives me a connection to the community and the public in the same way I loved with Crave. Teaching students instead of managing staff—I think that’s really the difference for me. I don’t love management, I love the creative process.
What does Walla Walla have to offer you that Seattle did not?
Quality of life. I don’t spend an hour plus driving on the road and getting stressed out with traffic. I have a half-acre beautiful garden and a huge space to do my art. So, balance. I was at a point in my life where “What’s next?” was in my brain and I knew where I was at in Seattle wasn’t making me happy. And what I love is that Seattle is four hours down the road.
Where do you always try to go when you’re in Seattle?
RockCreek. I make sure to go to RockCreek every time I’m in Seattle. One of the things we don’t have here, in addition to great Asian food, is seafood. I miss my seafood. I’m really excited about what [chef-owner] Eric [Donnelly] is doing and to me, to see someone branch out and do their own business and do it so successfully—I just couldn’t be happier and more thrilled for him.