Bob Parish opened Backstage Bistro back in the day when the most action downtown was a tumbleweed bouncing down Main Street. He’s since helped put fine dining on the map in Walla Walla, and new chef Caleb Moss is sure to keep it there.
The young chef’s cooking education reads like a story from the school of hard knocks and makes one appreciate his rise through the culinary ranks all the more. Moss earned his professionalism and refined palate by working in a plateful of restaurants in town.
And, he’s got Parish watching his back. “There’s a difference in the way he approaches the whole business of chefing that you don’t see very often,” Parish says. “He’s cooking for you. That’s different than the guy that sees the ticket come through and says, ‘Oh, I’ve got to make one of these.’ Every single ticket is important. Some people aren’t like that. And they don’t work here anymore.”
Did you always want to be a chef?
CHEF CALEB: No. I kind of stumbled into restaurant work at a young age because I needed a job. So I started bussing tables and doing dishes at Clarette’s.
Your big break?
Creektown. Bill and Tom are awesome. That’s when the passion kicked in.
There’s this sandwich there that changed my life. It used to be called the Tuscan Beef and now it’s…
(laughing) That was mine. Roast beef with a little tomato and roasted red pepper chutney and …
So you’ve brought that vision here …
I took the momentum Bob built with steaks, barbeque and pasta and jazzed it up. I jazzed it.
Kitchen personality vs. “street” personality?
Some people tell me I’m intimidating. When I’m in the kitchen I defi nitely have my game face on. I live for the busy nights. A 20-top? Bring it on.
Citrus. A little goes a long way. And snow peas, they’re so fresh and refreshing. I’ve used them in a slaw with carrots and leeks, slightly seared and put on top of a white fish and finish it with basil oil. It’s light and lovely.
Overrated item on menus these days?
Fois gras. Give it a rest.
Is there an unlikely food pairing or combination that’s really worked?
I made a puree of scallions, spinach, cilantro, chicken stock and sour cream and served it as an accompaniment to fi sh with fruit salsa. People thought, ‘Really?’ The bitterness of the greens with the sweetness of the salsa was incredible.
Music you cook to?
Whatever comes in on that little radio back there. Sometimes it’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and me and Eduardo just look at each other (laughing).
Style or motto for your style of cooking?
I don’t do snooty food. Rustic, fresh, light, simple, beautiful – let the food do its thing.
Menu item you’re most proud of?
(long pause and chin scratching) I did come up with this crab stuffed filet of sole. I marinate tomatoes in balsamic and extra virgin olive oil and mix them with other top secret ingredients (laughing) – a little bit of freshness right on top.
Best advice received?
It’s not about you.