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Chef's Kitchen

Each month we bring a guest chef into our Chef's Kitchen column to give us a tip that elevates their cooking (and hopefully ours). They also provide a recipe that showcases their tip. Our guest chef this month is icon Grill GM and Corporate Executive Chef Nick Musser. icon Grill is located in downtown Seattle and is known for their eclectic decor and elevated comfort food ('Aroused Americana'). Menu items range from the casual sandwich or mac and cheese to steak, prime rib, or salmon. The lounge is a great place to sit, watch the world outside, and enjoy all the glass art inside.

A Boise boy, Nick moved to the Seattle area in 1986 to continue his music education (he still plays viola). To pay for school, he started working at the Rusty Pelican, moving into the kitchen manager position. He went on to McCormick & Schmick's, working as sous chef for Chef Christine Keff, then to sous chef at McCormick's Fish House. In 1994, he moved to the Yarrow Bay Beach Cafe as head chef. When Keff opened Flying Fish, she asked Nick to join the team as her chef d'cuisine. He stayed until he was offered the executive chef position for the new icon Grill which opened in 1998. Ownership of the icon changed in 2002 and Nick stayed on. In 2004, the Zephyr concept was launched and he helped make the Livermore location a big success. In 2006, Zephyr opened in Kent (now closed). Nick oversees kitchens and menus at both locations. He is a true giver and gets involved with many fundraising events, including Cooking with Class, FareStart and the Multiple Sclerosis Society.


Creating fun and tasty holiday traditions, by Corporate Executive Chef Nick Musser

Creating great food is first and foremost about taste. If it doesn't taste good, it isn't good, right? In the restaurant business, it's not all about taste. Appearance is important as well. How many times have you had a meal that tasted great, but didn't look good when it came to the table? Did you enjoy it any less? Maybe, maybe not. But you have to admit that you noticed. How about a plate that looked amazing but the flavor was just so-so? Disappointing, right? When these two variables are in concert, there is nothing more enjoyable! During the holiday season, lights and decorations compete with your food for visual attention. In 1998, we decided to make icon Grill a holiday celebration destination. We created a lavish wonderland; truly a feat considering our already over-the-top décor. As a chef, my first thought was "Okay, now I have to compete with this?" But I've always been a Christmas kind of guy, so I took this as a challenge, not a chore. Here are some fun things I've come up with that you can include with your traditions:


  • One garnish we use on desserts (and sometimes entrees), is a combination of mint leaves and maraschino cherries. We call it the "holly effect." It's a great solution if you don't have a holly bush in your backyard or are risk averse to putting a poisonous berry in your mouth. Using the broader mint leaves below the bud, select a two-leaf section of the mint sprig. Remove the stems from two maraschino cherries. Place the mint leaves first at the garnish location of your choice, then place the cherries between the mint leaves. Beautiful and edible!


  • It's fun to turn holiday cookie decorating into a family tradition. After making your cookies, make a batch of frosting. Divide the frosting into three equal parts, dying one red, one green and leaving one white. Place about one cup of each color into a sandwich-sized Ziploc bag. Push the frosting to one corner of the bag. Cut a 1/4 inch hole in that corner and you have an unlimited supply of personal pastry bags. Include some candies and sprinkles and let the kids go crazy! Don't forget to put some newspaper around the floor to catch any falling...exuberance.


  • A fun idea for a spectacular holiday cake is to make half batches of red velvet and white vanilla cake. Cut each cake in half horizontally. When frosting, alternate between red and white layers, creating a vibrant candy cane effect. Use a little peppermint flavoring in your frosting and press crushed candy canes onto the outside of the cake to send it over the top. Don't forget to add some "holly effect."


  • Finally, with a little time and patience, you can create your own holiday masterpiece. Years ago I created a fun menu called "Foods of the North Pole." The menu was a take on foods that invoke Christmas stories and memories. The fan favorite Holiday Wreath Salad has become the centerpiece of icon's holiday menu extravaganza. People have told me this has become one of their family traditions. The salad is a mix of recognizable ingredients presented with seasonal flair. A blend of chiffonade lettuces, smoked chicken, hazelnuts and diced Granny Smith apples are tossed with tart pomegranate vinaigrette. Using an upside-down soup cup or coffee mug in the center of a large serving platter and placing the dressed salad mix around it gives the wreath effect. Remove the mug, being careful to maintain the shape and open center. Sprinkle the salad with crumbled bleu cheese and pomegranate seeds. Garnish with three cherry tomatoes accompanied by two sprigs of rosemary. Your edible holiday wreath is ready for presentation and...eating! Happy Holidays!!!


icon Grill
1933 4th Ave
Seattle, WA 98101

Click here to see Nick's recipes

Reprinted December 2016

December 2008

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