What's in Your Pantry: A Conversation with Bookstore Bar and Cafe's Caprial Pence

The James Beard Award winner is back and better than ever with a new gig
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When a Seattleite discusses why he or she moved here, it usually involves two things: a new job and Amazon. For chef Caprial Pence (and husband/chef John Pence), such is the case--just without the Amazon part.

After 20 years of being away from the Emerald City (her work at the now-shuttered Fullers restaurant in the Sheraton Seattle Hotel earned her a James Beard Award), catering and doing TV (PBS' Caprial and John's Kitchen), the Portland-based cooking couple was stewing so they put out some feelers around the Northwest for the right opportunity. That's when boutique hotel company Kimpton reached out with a chance for Caprial to come back to Seattle and re-imagine The Bookstore Bar and Cafe that fronts its Alexis Hotel.

With Pence at the helm as the general manager and executive chef, the Bookstore Bar and Cafe has a new menu and a whole new dining area for those who prefer a chair over a bar stool. Expect the likes of a fried chicken sandwich ($15), and an in-house cured pork pastrami Rueben ($15) along with changing specials. The brunch/lunch menu is available all day everyday, but don't miss dinner: Pence has put together classic options for evening diners, including the house chowder ($14), braised short rib ($18), and plump, gooey burrata cheese with vincotto syrup (think balsalmic), pickled mushrooms and house-made crackers ($18).  

During my interview, I tried a smoky prime rib sandwich packed with caramelized onions, mushrooms and pieces of meat that were cut thinner than I thought possible. Wanting to find out more about her thoughts behind the menu, and of course, what's in her pantry, I pulled up a bar stool next to the chef herself. 

Jon Meyer: So you've been back in Seattle for a bit now...what have you seen change in the city since you last lived here?

Caprial Pence: The city feels much bigger to me than it did 22 years ago. As far as the culinary scene goes, I have been working and moving into a new house so I haven’t had too much time for that. John and I have gone to a few places and it still feels very much like it did in the '90s. Young, energetic, creative.

JM: Fuller's was my first very nice meal on the town back in the early '90s.  My brother and I had to prove our table manners were on point at home before eventually dining there.  I remember wearing a Garfield tie and ordering your duck. Is there anything from those Fuller's days that you still integrate into your cooking?

 CP: Quality and a love of great seasonal products.

JM: You've done plenty of television.  What's your favorite memory from TV and did it even make it on air?

 CP: My favorite times with the TV show were when we were goofing around with the crew. I love practical jokes so I had all kind of tricks up my sleeve.  

JM: You're cooking something impromptu on a fall night. What are you making?

 CP: I love make this Italian bread soup. I start with a great homemade chicken stock and every kind of vegetable I have in the house, potatoes, pasta and fresh herbs. That soup gets served in a big bowl with toasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with parmesan cheese. The soup starts to soak into the bread but the edges are still crispy. Good for whatever ails you!

JM: What's your favorite item on the Bookstore Bar and Cafe menu right now?

 CP: Right now I really love the fried crispy cauliflower on soft polenta with Gorgonzola cheese. Very simple but so yummy.

JM: What are your favorite things in the restaurant's pantry?

 CP: There is tons of stuff in my pantry but here are 10 of my favorites:

1.       Vincotto

2.       Sea salt

3.       Anchovies

4.       Calabrian Chilies

5.       House-made Worcestershire Sauce

6.       House-made Hot sauce (kind of like a Franks Red hot)

7.       Miso

8.       Dried beans (all kinds)

9.       Extra virgin olive oil

10.    Soy sauce


The Bookstore Bar and Cafe, 92 Madison Street; 206.624.3646