Maximillian Petty knew the next step for his culinary career would be to open a restaurant of his own.
The heralded chef had received rave reviews for his work in Austin, and was working last year for a private family in Washington, D.C., when he came to Seattle to visit his sister.
It so happened that she lived near what was then Entre Amis on Queen Anne Avenue. The French bistro caught the eye of Petty as he walked by.
“Wherever I go, I’m always looking for restaurants,” he said.
So, he stepped inside.
The owner, Benjamin Bernard-Luneau, was sitting at the bar, and Petty asked him how business was doing.
As it turned out, Bernard-Luneau had to return to his native France, leaving the fate of the restaurant up in the air.
Petty turned back to his wife, Jennifer, who was waiting outside.
“It was too serendipitous, so I turned back to him, and I’m like, ‘I’ll buy it. I’ll buy it right now,’” he said.
Two months later, they were back in Seattle as business partners, opening Eden Hill in September of 2015. It was also a homecoming for Petty, who grew up in Bothell and Port Angeles.
For the second consecutive year, Petty is a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation, as a chef under the age of 30 whom, “displays an impressive talent and who is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come.”
Petty said he’s honored to be under consideration again, but learning of his nomination was a different experience than it was last time.
When the nominations came out last year, he set an alarm to be up when they were posted.
“I sat there and refreshed the page and was — I never thought it would ever happen, but I was just excited to see my friends from Texas and like, the chance that it could happen,” he said. “And I saw it, and I teared up, and I freaked out.”
This year was something else entirely.
After leaving the restaurant in the wee hours of Feb. 15, Petty woke up to a text from a co-worker saying congrats. He assumed it was in reference to getting through a busy Valentine’s Day at the restaurant. After some initial confusion, with the help of his wife he realized it was nomination day.
“It was very anticlimactic, because my brain was so tired, and I was so exhausted from that week of getting ready for Valentine’s Day,” he said. “It was the busiest week we’ve ever had, being before and after Valentine’s Day, and a holiday week, so my brain was so frazzled it didn’t even register until I finally had to go look it up myself.”
Petty’s 24-seat restaurant (open Tuesday-Sunday, 5-10 p.m.) has received broad community support since its’ opening, with a format that has diners share each dish.
Petty said that his menu is meant to “challenge people and get them out of their comfort zone, take them out of their normal — sometimes boring — lifestyle to take some chances, have some fun, and I’m able to facilitate that. That’s a beautiful thing.”
The menu changes often, depending on the availability of certain items.
“The farmers will drive their truck up to the back alley, and they’ll unload a bunch of radicchio or parsnips, and the squash is now out of season, or starting to go out, or not as good, so we’ll take the squashes off and replace it with a grilled radicchio dish. We don’t write the menu based around what I want, I base it around what I can get.”
Particularly popular is the five-course blind tasting menu, which Petty said is chosen by 80-to-90 percent of diners on weekends, when the kitchen crafts an off-menu meal that caters to a group’s dietary needs.
“Four people can come in, and one can be vegan, one can be a meat-lover, one can be dairy-free, and one can be a penguin, it doesn’t matter,” Petty said. “We’ll work around it.”
Petty said the biggest challenge of running the restaurant hasn’t come in the kitchen (though the size of the space, which he compared to that of a food cart, comes in second).
“The biggest challenge is balancing what I love, and who I love,” he said, noting the birth of his son less than a year after the restaurant opened. However, that experience also showed him the connection he had built with the community, and his regulars.
“We were just showered with baby gifts, which was not something you really think about when you open a restaurant,” he said. “The impact you have on them, and them reciprocating it back and showing their support for you and your family.”
While he loves the restaurant he’s created, Petty said there are a “few big ideas” for what to do next. But, he says, he’ll play it by ear. Perhaps another serendipitous moment is in the offing.
“That’s kind of how everything in my life has always worked,” he said. So I just make sure I treat people well, and take care of everyone else. … Something works, something I do works because, it always just kind of happens. Luck, I guess. But I also work really hard.”
The list of final nominees for the James Beard Awards will be released on March 15, and winners will be announced on May 1 at a gala in Chicago.
For more information on Eden Hill, visit www.edenhillrestaurant.com.