The name Maria Hines has been synonymous with inventive food and high-quality service since she first appeared on the Seattle restaurant scene in 2003. After a brief stint at Earth & Ocean, she went on to open three critically acclaimed, all-organic restaurants and win numerous honors. We chatted with her recently to find out more about her passion for organic food, what she looks for on the rare occasion she eats at someone else’s restaurant, and what it’s like being a woman in a field that’s still dominated by men.
Chef Maria Hines grew up in San Diego and attended culinary school at San Diego Mesa College. After building her skills in France, she cooked in major cities such as Washington and New York. But she’s always loved he Northwest, she says, and she jumped at the chance to move to Seattle in 2003.
Hines owns three very different restaurants: Tilth, which focuses on New American cuisine, Golden Beetle, which offers craft cocktails and eastern Mediterranean food inspired by her travels in Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon, and Agrodolce, where lovers of southern Italian and Sicilian food can enjoy a memorable meal. When asked why she doesn’t just stick with one type of cuisine, she says, “I’d get too bored. Cooking is a great creative outlet.”
There are common threads that run through all of these restaurants, however, namely a high-quality experience and a commitment to organic food. Tilth, Golden Beetle, and Agrodolce are all certified organic by Oregon Tilth, meaning at least 95 percent of the food has to be organic.
“Organic food is all we eat at home, so that’s what I wanted to do at the restaurant,” she says. To ensure she can meet these strict guidelines, Hines makes many condiments and sides from scratch, including ketchup, mustard, jam, harissa, butter, charcuterie, pasta, and cheese.
Organic foods taste better and are more sustainably grown, she says, both of which are very important to her. In fact, the commitment to sustainability goes beyond the kitchen and to all other parts of the business. All of her restaurants recycle and compost, purchase green cleaning and paper products, and utilize low-VOC paints on the interior.
When Hines dines out, she says she looks for “well-executed, consistent food and knowledgeable service. A nice room with great ambiance.” She tends to favor Korean or Asian restaurants but will try whatever strikes her fancy that day.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (as reported by Bloomberg Business) shows that only 39 percent of restaurant cooks are women, and less than 19 percent of head chefs are women. Since March is Women’s History Month, I asked Hines what opportunities and challenges exist for women in the restaurant industry. She immediately became animated.
“We all need to stop talking about how it’s hard to be a woman in the kitchen and just get in the kitchen,” she says. “If you put your head down and do the work, you’re going to move up the ladder like everyone else. The great thing about the kitchen is that everyone has a different colored skin and everyone has a different background. I’d say out of all industries, cooking is the most diverse. The ones who do the best job are the ones who move ahead.”
That approach has certainly worked well for her. She won the James Beard Award for the Best Chef Northwest in 2009 and was a finalist for the Outstanding Chef Award in 2013. Tilth was named one of the ten best restaurants in the country by The New York Times the year it opened and continues to be a hot foodie destination.
In addition to being a celebrity chef in her hometown, Hines has made several celebrity appearances over the years. She competed on Top Chefs America, beat Masaharu Morimoto in the “Battle of Pacific Cod” on Iron Chef America, and showed Martha Stewart how to make butter-poached spot prawns with Israeli couscous on the latter’s television show. Do people point at her on the street after these shows air? “Maybe for a couple of months, then they’re on to the next chef, so it’s not sustainable,” she says.
What’s next for Hines? “I love opening up restaurants, so I’m sure there will be more in my future,” she says. “As for when, I don’t have anything slated.” Whatever she does, it’s sure to be amazing – and sustainably minded.
To find out for yourself why foodies are buzzing about chef Maria Hines, book a table at Agrodolce, Golden Beetle, and Tilth to her unique brand of organic food. And be sure to share your dining experiences at these eateries here or Facebook, G+, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter.
Sophia McDonald is an Oregon-based food and beverage writer. Her work has appeared in over two dozen publications including AllAboutBeer.com, Acres USA, Wine Business Monthly, TeaTime, Oregon Business, and 1859 Oregon’s Magazine. Find Sophia at www.sophiathewriter.com and @sophiawriter1.
Photo credit: Frank Huster (Agrodolce).