Raymond Southern’s hands-on approach to the dining room prompts customers to book a table at Kingfish on Orcas Island. That, and the great farm-to-table food that comes out of the kitchen.
This boss is not shy
Outside of the over-the-top Food Network personalities, most chefs tend to be on the reserved side. They prefer to spend time in the kitchen chatting with guests. Making great food is how they express themselves, isn’t it?
Well, not always.
Take Chef Raymond Southern to the destination restaurant on Orcas Island. When the restaurant is open, you’ll find the affable chef front and center in the cozy dining room of the place he opened with his wife, Holly, shortly before the pandemic changed everything. “I tell people the first year of running a restaurant is the hardest, so I’m not lying,” he said.
You will probably hear him introduce himself to diners as a chef, owner and concierge. He also answers the phone and takes reservations, holds the door for guests and eloquently describes the dishes he delivers to the table. He is rightly proud to detail the tasty madeleine amuse bouche that invites patrons to dive into the finest details of the restaurant’s sweet finale: that dessert you didn’t think you could find room for, but then the bowl of nutty, roasted butternut squash ice cream is gone.
Chef Raymond is Canadian, his hometown on Vancouver Island. As the crow flies, it’s not far from his current home on the horseshoe-shaped island of San Juans, a three-hour drive from Seattle. His resume is packed with accolades and accolades, but there is nothing haughty about Southern’s demeanor that could reveal it.
After a few years in the kitchen at the Rosario Resort he helped him make a following on the island, those kind of relationships encouraged him to open his own place on the less frequented side of the Orcs.
He and his wife have created a chilly, island-like atmosphere with an expansive outdoor patio overlooking West Sound. The menu reflects the chef’s personal tastes: “I’m a meat and potato guy,” he explains, accompanying diners through the ever-changing menu.
He’s also a perfectionist in pasta making, relying on Cairnspring Mills’ high gluten flour to produce a range of noodles that complement traditional and New World sauces well. This includes a goat meat bolognese that tastes like it fits perfectly in a trattoria in Italy.
There is nothing extraordinary about the food that comes out of the kitchen. No tweezers were used for plating the meal. Yet customers notice the care taken, especially when it comes to sourcing locally.
A rich agricultural tradition
When the Salish Sea Island was first settled, it became a patchwork of fields covered with crops or pastures. Much of this agrarian landscape still exists. In recent years, a new generation of ambitious farmers and ranchers have started to orient production to meet the needs of chefs looking to showcase local ingredients.
Kingfish’s menu reflects this approach as references to neighboring farms appear throughout. OrcaSong Farm is a supplier that shares the goal of sustainable practices aimed at solving the problems caused by climate change.
Lum Farm raises goats and lamb, the latter slowly roasted and served as carnitas to share on a recent menu, while Valley Farm provides the braised rabbit in a red blend of Orcas Wine Co. Oysters from nearby Judd Cove are super fresh and hit that right-handed, more naturally sweet spot salmon that make plump bivalves a suitable starter for a Northwestern treat. Various mushrooms tangled in the pappardelle ragu come from North Beach Mushrooms.
On the Pacific Northwest-centric wine list, love spreads throughout the state with particular attention to respected Walla Walla winemakers such as Dunham Cellars, Blacksmith, Woodward Canyon and the Pursued by Bear label. by Kyle MacLachlan.
Southern roots are reflected in the selection of organic teas, assorted flavors from the Denman Island Tea Company of British Columbia.
Looking forward to
While there is no doubt that Kingfish’s first year has been difficult, since reopening the restaurant has been inundated with reservation requests.
“The problem is to maintain a 50 percent occupancy, not to fill up,” said Southern, although most of the seats were already occupied by 6 on a recent rainy Wednesday. “There are a lot of locals who like to eat in restaurants.”
To make more room for the hostel, the team will expand the outdoor seating for the busy summer season. For those who wish to eat indoors, the menu clearly states, “Please respect your fellow travelers and our staff by wearing a mask at all times when you are not eating.”
Diners who do not want to interact with the gregarious leader need not worry that he will interfere in the conversations. Like those seasoned veterans of the house, Southern knows when to linger for a moment, spelling out the details of the dish he just delivered and when to move on. Because no one appreciates a carefully crafted and carefully crafted plate of food that’s left to cool while the waiter chats over and over.
Kingfish serves dinner Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations are strongly recommended.
Know before you go
Most visitors travel to the San Juan Islands from Anacortes on Washington state ferries, and reservations are essential during the summer months. San Juan Airlines flies nonstop to Seattle and rental cars are available on the island.
Check the Visit San Juan Islands website for suggestions on accommodation, dining options, and seasonal activities.