JVP: First, congratulations on great success so far! I've been twice to Belle Clementine and know I'll be back again and again to see what you're cooking! Tell us the inspiration behind the name?
DS: Thank you! Belle Clementine is named for my paternal grandmother - Belle Clementine Sanford. She was an artist professionally, and I grew up surrounded by her artwork in my parents' home. Nana Belle, as we called her, always inspired me creatively, and I know that she would have appreciated the creative process that I pursued to bring this place into being. I thought it would only be fitting to name it for her. She also was a bit of a social butterfly, and would have totally loved the 'dinner party' experience that we create each night. Of course, it didn't hurt that she had a very beautiful name.
JVP: Many people know your name from the Corson Building. When and how did you make the transition over? What inspired you to open Belle Clementine?
DS: I'm really proud of the work that I did to help get Corson up and running. I feel fortunate to have worked with and learned a ton from Matt, Wylie, and my co-workers - the restaurant and the people will always have a special place in my heart. I started working in earnest on Belle Clementine late Summer of 2010, but I'd say that it's really the culmination of thoughts and ideas that I'd been generating over the last 7 years or so. Inspiration for Belle Clementine comes from many places, including my travels abroad.
In the País Vasco of Northern Spain in particular, there is an incredibly rich culinary tradition of eating together. During a number of trips to the region, I was fortunate enough to experience the unique "sociedades gastronomicas" (gastronomic societies) - essentially dining halls where people gather to eat and socialize, oftentimes sharing in the sourcing of ingredients and the cooking too. In addition, both personally and professionally I've often found myself bridging diverse social worlds, and seeking ways to bring people from each of those worlds together. Over the years, I came to the realization that a shared meal is one of the best ways to do just that. Culinarily speaking, I find inspiration in the incredible diversity of ingredients available here in the Pacific Northwest.
JVP: Tell us about the family style portions and why you feel it helps create community?
DS: Almost everything that we serve at Belle Clementine arrives on platters for guests at each table to share. We also create a single menu for each night and have specific meal times, because they are conducive to everyone eating together - a shared experience. Whether at home or abroad, we probably all have stories of a meal experiences that seem to transcend language, cultural, or geographical differences. At the end of the day, we are all human and we all have to eat. Even if we have nothing else in common, we all share that need, so satisfying it together taps into a universal human experience on a very core level. Beyond that, who doesn't love a dinner party?
JVP: We know you only use local organic ingredients. A partciular favorite farm or ingredient you can't live without?
DS: Almost all of our ingredients come from close to home, yes. It's a challenge to pick just one ingredient, as the beauty of eating with the seasons is that you're always enjoying each ingredient at its respective peak AND always in a state of eager anticipation for that first bite of the next crop to come to harvest. Personally, I find myself craving the chicories that Jason and Siri grow at Local Roots Farm in Duvall. Chicories are a whole family of bitter lettuces, like radicchio, escarole, and endive. Local Root's radicchio di Treviso variety is a personal favorite.
Belle Clementine is open Thursday-Sunday for dinner & Sunday brunch. Click HERE for reservations.