From the Kraken Congee website

You’ve heard of pop-up restaurants, right? It’s the concept wherein a temporary restaurant “pops up” inside a different restaurant. Sometimes the food is prepared by people from that restaurant, and sometimes it’s more similar to a catered event, with a culinary team coming from elsewhere. The concept is really fun – guests of the restaurant have the opportunity to try a new cuisine, and the cooks get to serve meals that are not standards of the restaurant. It’s a great opportunity to see if the type of cuisine being explored has viability to become a stand-alone restaurant.

Courtesy of Kraken Congee

Well, three chefs (Shane Robinson, Garrett Doherty, Irbille Donia) whom I respect a great deal have been running a popular pop-up restaurant – Kraken Congee – for the past year, and they are on the cusp of opening a brick-and-mortar (aka I’m-a-real-boy! restaurant).

Maybe you’ve only heard of Kraken or even stood in line for its food (which sells out within 3 hours)? Probably –  there has been a lot of media and social media coverage of them lately, including CNBC’s Restaurant Startup.
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My connection to Kraken? Through “the Industry,” duh. I’ve also rolled spring rolls, debeaked octopuses, fried scallion pancakes, and plucked cilantro for these guys.

I met Chef Shane Robinson in 2010 when I was a first quarter culinary student, still learning the blade end from the handle of a knife. He was the opening sous chef at Stopsky’s Delicatessen, a Northwest twist on well-loved Jewish food. When the opening chef, Robin Leventhal, left, Chef Shane stepped into the chef-GM position and led the team.

Chef Shane
Courtesy of Kraken Congee

He introduced me to Garrett Doherty and Irbille Donia, two chefs he met when they were all newbies in that same aforementioned culinary school. Chef Garrett is a chef at The Ruins, a membership-based dining club in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood. Chef Shane – and more recently, Chef Irbille – work at Bon Appetit Management Company, serving lunch to 3000 Amazon employees every weekday.

Congee was a cuisine idea that Chef Shane had been exploring, and it originally started as a congee-
cart concept. How nice would it be to tuck into a bowl of steaming congee on a blustery, wet and rainy day in Seattle? Very nice. Chef Shane wanted to bring congee from its obscure, after-thought positioning into the forefront by modernizing the types of meats, vegetables, and condiments used to season and bulk the dish. Chefs Irbille and Garrett contributed their knowledge and expertise, and what you get is a congee unlike anything you’ve had before.

Chef Garrett
Courtesy of Kraken Congee

Congee is a porridge of rice and water cooked to a thick soup consistency. I’ve seen it most often served as a breakfast item, though I’ve ordered it at dinner, too.  The beauty and the misery of congee is the simplicity of the ingredients. The key component is the selection of mix-ins or condiments, and they can range from pickled vegetables and century eggs to salted fish or pork, in Cantonese cuisine – and they really make or break it. At Kraken Congee, you’ll find Pork Belly Adobo Congee, Tempura-fried Calamari in tamarind-base congee, and Octopus and Kimchi Congee. Like I said: unlike anything you’ve had before.

Kraken Congee has been open for a little over one year, and it has had a strong following, pretty much from the beginning. On possibly the warmest day of May 2013, Kraken opened its doors in Grub in Queen Anne to a long line of excited Seattlelites and quickly had a full house within the hour. After just two hours, they were practically sold out of everything. Seattle was hooked, and every month after the first pop up, customers have lined up to get congee – even in the summer.

Courtesy of Kraken Congee

After just 9 months of operation, they were invited by CNBC to compete in Restaurant Startup, a new television series that features Joe Bastianich and Tim Love hearing business pitches and choosing to invest start up capital. Kraken was the opening act, and they did quite well, wowing both Joe and Tim with the well-balanced flavors and creative renditions.

The episode, of course, is riddled with drama and is set up to stress the chefs, but with each curveball – yes, there’s more than one – the chefs remembered that they were a team of best friends and faced the challenges in a unified way, especially when the opportunity to fight or backstab is presented. the facts that they were edited to look one way and that the show sets obstacles before them at every step make for good television and for an engaging episode.  In the end though, they prevailed!

Chef Irbille
Courtesy of Kraken Congee

Watch the whole episode and other cool articles and media coverage by following the links through Kraken’s Facebook page and website.

Can’t wait for the monthly pop-ups and eventual brick-and-mortar? Check out Kraken Congee’s offerings through the chefs on Lish, the newest Seattle-born home delivery program of chef-created meals. Both Chef Garrett and Chef Shane can be found on the website, where you can download the app and start ordering.

Courtesy of Kraken Congee