Foodie Friday with Gig Harbor's Thad Lyman

Photo by Jill Wambold

Today on Foodie Friday, meet Thad Lyman, chef and owner of three restaurants in Gig Harbor, Washington, a small former fishing town where Mary Deming Barber enjoys life. Brix 25° Restaurant, NetShed no. 9 and Brimstone PNW are popular spots in the Harbor, each offering a different setting for amazing local food and craft cocktails. Thad’s vibrant personality and commitment to sustainable cooking and local purveyors is evident in his philosophy shown here. And you might also find your next vacation destination in Gig Harbor.

What is your role in the food industry?

Officially chef/owner, which really means – part mechanic, part plumber, part electrician, part HR, part IT and anything else that need done outside of the office. Katie takes care of the office! (Katie is Thad’s partner in life and at the restaurant. She makes some crazy good craft cocktails, too.)

How did you first get involved in the food industry?

I lived in Spokane during my junior and senior years of high school. At that time I read about, and enrolled in, a culinary program at a vocational skills-center. At the same time, I started working nights in local kitchens. After graduation I moved back to Anchorage and attended the culinary arts program at the University of Alaska.

If you had one message for people who don’t live and breathe food like we do, what would that message be?

Relax in the kitchen. You’re not an Iron Chef? Who cares, it’s just a meal. You have a lot more time to practice getting it right. Did you over cook a piece of halibut? That’s ok, I’ve done the same thing, try to adjust next time.

Don’t just throw away a recipe that you may have messed up on. Ask yourself what you could do differently and try it again. If you thought it was good enough to try the first time, it’s probably worth a second chance.

What food trends are most influential in what you do?

We really try hard to avoid trends in our cooking. Ingredients can change but techniques are classic and timeless. My earliest chefs beat a mantra into all of the young cooks that we needed to learn the basics before getting creative with their food -- more or less a variation of Picasso’s saying - “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

What is the most significant change you’ve seen in the food industry?

The need to change our overall outlook on the food chain. When I started cooking there was no such word as sustainable. It has developed over time and I believe it’s how we as chefs can make the biggest impact. By 2023 there are expected to be over 8 billion people on this planet. You can’t feed that many people with the traditional regional-ecosystems like our parents or grandparents did.

With the introduction of homogeneous monocrops, we’ve lost our ability to keep our livestock and farms healthy. We use more pesticides than ever before and right now we have epidemics of autism, severe allergies and obesity in America. No one really knows why, but I believe it’s a combination of sedentary lifestyles and convenience foods.

I can’t do anything about lifestyles, but I can quietly make changes in the food supply that you may eat. The impact of a single restaurant’s yearly purchases is the equivalent to the purchases of hundreds of families. I think that’s significant.

Describe a food fad/trend you would love to start.

Believe it or not, family time in the kitchen. I wish our culture could find its way back to the recipes of our grandparents. I feel an entire generation of America is missing out on learning how to cook real food from scratch. I didn’t learn about my passion for food from a frozen pizza or a packet of applesauce. It was from being in the kitchen with family and watching someone make food for people they loved. If we could get back to cooking like that, I believe we could fix a lot of the social disorders children are facing right now. More of that quality time with their parents is something our kids need.

What's your big splurge food item? Any particular brand you're willing to pay more for?

Good cheese. I love washed-rind cheese from any animal; Cow Girl Creamery makes a cheese called Red Hawk that is made in Pt. Reyes Station, California, and it has a distinctively pungent aroma and nutty flavor. Here in Washington, Mt. Townsend Creamery makes Off Kilter that’s washed with Pike Brewing Co.’s Kilt Lifter scotch ale giving it a malty stink.

The rhythmic chopping is a peaceful sound, usually heard in the early afternoon in the kitchen. Their commitment to the perfect dice, brunoise, chiffonade, julienne. Photo credit: Christy Ash Photography

What keeps you motivated as a food professional?

The next project.

What do you view as your greatest achievement to-date as a food professional?

Looking back and seeing all of the progress people who worked for us have made. It’s a collection of driven individuals that made the most of what we were able to teach them.

What’s your favorite meal to order in a restaurant?

Burgers. I’m always looking for the best burger in town. In no particular order I think the best “chefy burgers” in Tacoma are DOA, Asado and Wooden City. Lefty's Burgers, Pick-Quick, Shake-Shake-Shake and Red Wagon are my low-brow favorites.

Tell us about a memorable meal you’ve had.

I’ve eaten in some amazing restaurants over the years but surprisingly the best meals of my life weren’t in restaurants. Their commonality is that they were all in the immediate location of where the ingredients were sourced:

  • In Whittier, Alaska, cooking beer-battered fish and chips on the boat and spritzing it with lemon 10 minutes after the halibut was caught.

  • Local wine, oysters, baguette and cheese on the northern California coast.

  • Nudging the boat up on the beach of Alaska’s Little Susitna River and roasting a salmon on a bed of coals with onions and garlic.

4-star food and service can’t beat those meals!

Tell us about food or ingredient would you never use or eat.

Monkfish, Chilean seabass and Atlantic swordfish. We are destroying our oceans for these fish. Some fisheries are heathier than others but these three are some of the worst.

What cookbooks or cooking classes are most important to you? Why?

The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz is the most tattered, dogeared and use book in our restaurant. We use his recipes as a starting point to create almost any flavor of gelato or sorbet, like our famous dark-chocolate ghost-pepper sorbet.

Where would you most like to live? Why?

I think Gig Harbor is pretty close. The checklist isn’t too long: close to or in the mountains, has lakes, rivers, or ocean, still close to a major city, good food scene, good schools.

Tell us about your favorite vacation destination.

I’d like to eat my way through Japan.

Connect with Thad:

Website: Brix 25; Brimstone PNW

Instagram: Netshed No. 9; Brix 25; Brimstone PNW

Facebook: Brix 25; Netshed No. 9; Brimstone PNW

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Food photo credit: Becky Fogelberg Photography

The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington


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