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Paragon's new direction

Honoring the past and moving forward

When Kim and Eric Rogozienski bought Paragon in May 2019, Kim had many plans. Over the next year, they struggled to find their footing, find the right kitchen staff, and connect with the neighborhood that had loved the Paragon to its last day. It was a struggle, despite some successes. And then the pandemic hit.

Stephan Bourgond, a ballet dancer turned chef (read his background here), had been having his own struggles. Moving from France to Seattle incited a "series of unfortunate events." Once finally here, he took an Uber to see a ballet and was in a car accident. Although he was unhurt, on top of everything else he had just gone through, it was too much. He retired to the couch and Netflix.

Chef Stephan

Kim knew she needed someone new in the kitchen and placed an ad on Poached for a kitchen manager with a serious creative streak. Stephan responded, explaining that he probably wasn't qualified for the position, but was extremely creative. They connected on FaceTime and had a great conversation ("and I hate FaceTime!" says Kim). "We were aligned on our ideas, passion for food, what an amazing dinner feels like, what we like at restaurants," recalls Stephan. "I wanted to be clear that I didn't want to do this on my own, I have gaps in my knowledge, I'm not formally trained. I wanted to join a team." He started in May 2020.

"It was not a good situation when I arrived," says Stephan. "People weren't passionate. I suggested to Kim that we shut the restaurant completely for a few weeks, work on a new menu, hire new staff, clean everything up, throw things away. Kim was all for it. I had met Chef Zoi Antonitsas (Seattle, including Westward, San Francisco, Sonoma County, Top Chef contestant) through friends and she helped refine my ideas. It was so much fun. I watched her in the space, and it was like a one week Master Class in how to run a restaurant."

Since they reopened, it's been a slow, steady climb. "I couldn't have fallen into a better situation. The team is amazing. I wanted to work in a place where everyone contributes and gets credit. Everyone is valuable here." Then the second pandemic lockdown struck. "We went from 50% indoor dining to zero. I told Kim that I didn't want to lose anyone in the kitchen, so we figured out it could work if I handled the front of the house three days a week. We did it to save jobs, but it turned out to be great. I've gotten to know our customers and asked for feedback. I'll listen to everything. If they have a point, I'm glad to hear it. If I think they're wrong, I'll explain why we do it a certain way. And the team is so amazing, I don't have to be in the kitchen. I'm still seeing every dish as it goes out and can make suggestions as needed."

Pavlova

Stephan and Kim were also looking for ways to create interest during lockdown. Stephan started Supper Club. "Paragon has always been known for music and Kim wanted to continue that. But live music was restricted. Supper Club is a three-course meal that you pick up and take home. That evening, we have local musicians at the restaurant and treat them like they should be treated as essential artists. We set up microphones and lighting with social distancing. They're live streamed and you can have your meal while watching/listening to them."

Having been at Paragon nearly a year, during a pandemic, Stephan is still working on Paragon's food identity. "We're not a refined-palate-Michelin-star restaurant. We're a place to relax without frills and glitter. Okay, I do put some glitter on one dessert. It should be fun. I want to take things that people understand and add something. I love American bar food traditions and like to look at it differently and reinvent it. One side of my family is Italian, so I've created our own "Sloppy Joe," calling it Sloppy Giuseppe, inspired by vitello tonnato which is thinly-sliced veal with a creamy tonnato sauce. Our version is a veal Bolognese with a tonnato sauce garnish on homemade focaccia. People say, 'tuna sauce!' but this is a combination that's been around forever. I promise them if they don't like it, I'll make them something else. Everyone has loved it.

Sloppy Giuseppe

"Long-time Paragon customers talk about the salad with chicken and blue cheese that was a menu staple. I wanted to honor that but do it differently. I created a Chicken Caesar where we beat and flatten a chicken breast. It's a stupidly large cutlet. We bread and fry it, then top it with the salad that looks more like a garnish-grilled baby gem lettuce, shaved Parmesan, lemon, capers. The team has great ideas. Some of the things we're talking about for summer: instead of saying you can make a burger gluten free by using lettuce as the bun, we think we'll just have a gluten-free burger. You can make it gluten-full for $1 and add a bun. We have raw gin pickles, and we can put those on a burger and say it's a 21 and over burger only. We can use that same raw gin to make a vinaigrette and create a martini salad. We hear people say they like pork and beans, so we make a pork shank and pair with corona beans (because, you know, the pandemic).

Chicken Caesar

"At the end of the day, food and dance are more similar than we realize. At the theatre, you watch the ballet and leave. At a restaurant, you eat and leave. What you take with you is the feeling and experience. It's important that you feel like 'something just happened to me.' That's what fires me, trying to figure out the identity of food here as we move forward - next level bar food, and tapping into everyone's creativity."

Photos courtesy of Paragon Seattle

 

Paragon Seattle
2125 Queen Anne Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109
206-283-4539

www.paragonseattle.com 

Connie Adams/March 2021


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