Welcome to Tomorrow's Tastemakers, a recurring column that focuses on Seattle's new guard of culinary influencers.
Jonathan Proville, 31, is one of the rockstar cooks at Il Corvo. He was born in Los Angeles to French parents, who moved the family back to France when J.J. was 10. He went to college in Montreal for five years, where he majored in business. “I think I always had that entrepreneurship kind of bug,” he says. He moved to New York city right after graduation in 2005 and started a finance company with a friend. “We were in currency trading.” The two had an office in midtown and all seemed right with the world except for one problem: “We weren’t making any money.”
Two and a half years into the business, Proville started an internship with StarChefs, where he got to combine his loves for both food and writing. He quickly climbed the ranks becoming an editorial assistant, a title he held for nearly three years. He was even nominated for a James Beard Award for a series he helped write called The Art and Economics of Charcuterie. "I started feeling so guilty that I had never worked in a restaurant a day in my life. I was just drawn to it, but to take the plunge...I knew how tough it would be.” He was invited to do a trail at Gramercy Tavern, where he literally just stood and observed a night’s service. Executive chef Mike Anthony offered him a job right after. “I guess he saw something in me.” Proville worked at the restaurant for about two years. "I got my ass kicked. I don’t know why people go to culinary school. Just go to the best restaurant you can and beg until they give you a job. And they will.”
Gramercy is where Proville picked up a lot of techniques that he uses today, like the style of plating and his natural aesthetic that he describes as "not too tweezed." After Gramercy, he went on to work at Fort Defiance near his home in Brooklyn. Then, after some serious convincing by a friend (and Hurricane Sandy), Proville moved to Seattle in December 2012. Serendipitously. He met owner Mike Easton during a trip to Seattle in September of 2012 and then again in October when the two cooked a dinner together in New York. Shortly after Proville landed in Seattle, he unkowingly moved into an apartment right next door to Easton, who offered him a job at his then forthcoming Pioneer Square pasta mecca. “In the space of a week, I had a sweet apartment five minutes away from where I worked and a job!” His cooking style: “I don’t like to label it. If you wanted to, you could call it Contemporary American, but that’s a mouthful. It’s seasonal. It’s seasonal cuisine. I’m definitely a ‘whatever is there’ kind of guy. I’ll go to the market and that’s what inspires me.”
"What I don’t do is start throwing ethnic terms in the descriptions of the menu. I won’t say, ‘harissa and chickpeas with local squid.’ If anything it would be, ‘squid, pepper sauce (laughs), chickpeas.’ And even then, I’m not a huge user of Middle Eastern spices and stuff like that. It’s farmers market produce with Pacific NW seafood, because that’s what we do best here. So, that’s the restaurant I want to open.
What's Next: He's keeping his eyes and ears open for available spaces for his own restaurant. “How did I think I was just going to show up here and open a restaurant in six months? That’s insane!" Proville's business partner is moving to Seattle in September. He'll do the drinks, Proville will do the food. His ideal neighborhood? “I fell in love with Pioneer Square the second I got here.”
Proville just launched a dinner series at 95 Yesler, and is doing some other private stuff here-and-there. From personal experience, it's always a screaming deal never disappoints! Get on his mailing list by visiting his website.