We had the chance to meet up with Zachary, one of the brothers of Brother’s and Co, to ask him a few questions about his journey that led to cooking, community, and creativity. You may know Zachary from their beloved ramen and tacos at Seattle’s Farmers Markets across town. This is the story of how they found home and inspiration in the local agricultural scene.
What are your earliest memories of food?
I first remember really falling in love with food in junior high. But we used to spend our summers as kids in Hawaii with our grandmother and extended family. I vividly remember the elaborate feasts she would cook full of longanisa, lumpia, pancit, and other Filipino delights. We were raised by single working parents who were busy a lot of the time. This gave us the opportunity to explore and experiment in the kitchen by ourselves -- cooking, learning and trying things out. Our fascination with food grew over time and I eventually went to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Meanwhile, during Seth’s brief time spent studying in Spain, his passion for food was solidified through enjoying local staples and the tapas scene.
What has your journey through food and cooking looked like for you?
I eventually returned to Seattle and jumped into the fine dining scene working at Crush and Canlis. I learned so much more about our industry in the couple of years following culinary school than I did while enrolled. I started to understand what my role in the food system actually was. There was one farm in particular that would drive around with its truck full of freshly harvested vegetables. Chefs would hop in back and pick out what they wanted -- this was an early revelation and exposure to beautiful heirlooms, lush and locally grown produce unlike anything I’d ever seen or experienced. I remember seeing a purple bell pepper for this first time. This is probably one of the first experiences that caused me to pause and think about where our food really comes from, who was growing it, harvesting it, and bringing it in. Not only that, but in my off time I had begun exploring different visual and creative art forms and would collect materials from the kitchen to use. Working with food has been fascinating to me as it is the only art form that engages all 5 senses simultaneously. It is ephemeral in its physical form, yet the emotions and memories that we develop around food can last a lifetime.
How did you make the transition from working in fine dining to starting your own business?
After seeing so much waste within the restaurant industry and inspired by what we were seeing at the farmers market, we were interested in developing something where we could fully utilize the whole plant, using ingredients we got from the market. Our last job working for someone else was with a culinary research and development start up. We had the opportunity to work with modern cooking equipment and ingredients and a particular skill set for working more analytically and scientifically with food.
After leaving that job and being done with bosses we started a snack project at the Phinney Ridge Farmers Market using chickpeas sourced from Alvarez farms. We would boil the chickpeas and use the aquafaba, the cooking liquid, and house made jams, to make a meringue. We would then fry the chickpeas and mix them in a less sweet meringue coating to make a savory snack. It was a fun project, but at the end of our first season we re-evaluated. We thought about what we really wanted to do and what we were good at.
We had done a few pop ups over those first couple of years, and a few of them were ramen pop ups that featured fresh noodles made by Seth. At the same time he had developed a killer wheat tortilla recipe that he was just cooking for himself at home. We realized that every culture has its own thing with hot noodles in broth and something wrapped up in a little piece of bread. We were hesitant to call this ‘ramen and tacos’ as it wasn’t quite true to Japanese and Mexican fare, yet it was inspired by our time spent exposed to these cultures, learning about them, and our travels.
While we use the Japanese and Mexican framework for these dishes, we play a lot within these realms. Farmers market ingredients and what is available at the time really drives the content. We don’t discriminate between place or origin of flavor, we look at each dish like an equation or formula to mix, match, or adjust.
It wasn’t until we got to the University farmers market we began to understand what it really meant to be part of local agriculture. The exchange of resources is not always monetary. Everyone needs to eat! So we would offer food in trade for produce. Sometimes there were leftovers at the market and were at risk of going to waste. Or carrot tops or cauliflower leaves that would otherwise be tossed. We would rescue these and explore ways to make them work in our cuisine.
Everyone has to eat, not everyone has the time or energy or capacity to feed themselves, especially after a long day. So we would feed the farmers and in turn they would feed us and our business. A beautiful symbiosis of caring for eachother. This very quickly became an essential part of how we operate as a business.
What has it been like in this season of COVID-19 for you?
This season has given us the time to really build out our larder and play with flavors. We have always been really inspired by NOMA and using all parts of the plant and how to use it in its different stages. For example, we went from pickling strawberries to experimenting with a green strawberry “umeboshi”, which we used to make a dressing for some of our meal kits. We’ve done similar things with sweet rose pickled green apriums in the past as well!
Building a restaurant has always been the dream and the current health crisis has certainly thrown a wrench in our plans to find that place we could call our own. It has however put us in position to see what those menus would look like and explore different programs in our kitchen without the actual storefront. It hasn’t been easy at all, and has in some ways, afforded us new avenues for creativity, ingenuity, and making it work with friends and family.