January and February are often months of culinary news: word of new restaurants opening, old favorites moving to new locations, changing menus and staff. This year is no different. And the big news is that Wayne Johnson, Andaluca’s Executive Chef, is leaving to take over the kitchen at Ray’s Boathouse.
Andaluca with its vivid décor – purples and burnt ombre — has long been a special place for insiders. It’s a restaurant that locals know well – eclectic and intimate – but are a little hesitant about sharing with newcomers. It’s been nominated time after time as “Seattle’s Most Romantic Restaurant. “ Chef Johnson arrived at Andaluca a dozen years ago. By then, he’d won his stripes as executive chef at the Parc 55 in San Francisco. With him, he brought his innovative approach to Mediteranean cuisine: paellas and shareable Spanish dishes known as pintxos.
Like many of our Seattle chefs, Johnson also brought keen dedication to public service. You can find him four times a year at the University Family UMCA cooking a free meal for homeless teens. He donates his time at FareStart, the restaurant that trains homeless for the restaurant industry, and he also typically prepares a festive meal for residents at the Admiral Assisted Living facility.
I have enjoyed many a meal at Andaluca, delighted to be in Johnson’s capable hands. One memorable meal last summer brought together a group of friends. We were lucky enough to have Chef Johnson show up at our table to tell us about the cuisine and share news from his recent appearance on “Iron Chef America” (he lost to Chef Michael Symon, but won plaudits for his irresistible smile). The menu that delightful evening at Andaluca was typically gourmet, starting with a stunning chilled green gazpacho with crab. There were delectable duck cakes with apricot chutney and a main course that featured fantastic halibut, smothered in piquant sauces and finished (as if one needed it) with liquid chocolate cake.
Andaluca will miss Chef Johnson, but his colleague Sarah Lorenzen, with whom he has worked for many years, will be taking his place in the kitchen. So, instead of losing a four-star guy, we’ll be gaining a trusted culinary star at Ray’s, a Seattle institution, while still enjoying our most romantic restaurant in Chef Lorenzen’s capable hands. Our cups and our plates overflow.