The lights dim, the music begins its thud-thud, the tantalizing fragrance of sweet summer berries wafts through the air… your senses have been welcomed. You have entered another world, a world I call home: Teatro ZinZanni. I am Erik D. Carlson, Executive Chef, and the creator of the food for your otherworldly experience.
The decision to run away and join the circus came easy for me, and in 2011. I jumped in with both feet and never looked back. And let me tell you it has been one wild ride! I am excited for a chance to share with you the view from the kitchen. The best place to begin is with a little bit about myself, and my inspiration to make it all flow together under the hoods of the kitchen and to bright lights of the tent.
When asked what genre I fall into within the large world of chefs, I’d say perhaps somewhere between the crazy kid in a candy store and a seasoned cook who lives and breathes in extreme kitchen conditions. I began at culinary school, where I learned French basics at South Seattle Community College. After graduation I spent time apprenticing for some ground breaking local chefs such as Brian Poor and Emily Moore, then working my way around the Seattle area.
My tutelage is not a fancy pedigree of fine dining houses and prix fixe menus; please don’t hold it against me. Instead I spent the last 30-years working in environments that taught me about restaurants and food culture, instilling a constant wonder at all the fantastic foods available around the world, especially here in the Pacific Northwest. Admittedly this makes me a food geek but by no means a foodie elitist. The dishes I create come from a comfortable, unpretentious place that our guests will love and relate to with gusto.
Here at Teatro ZinZanni, it is my privilege to create a new menu every four months for each new show. I start with a general synopsis of the upcoming show. Inspired by a theme and a time period or locale, the real fun begins with homework, homework, and more homework. It is a very exciting place for a chef to be! That kid in the candy store reference. Using the unbridled freedom to take guests on a gastronomical journey, as a character would in our show, I tinker with ideas silly and strange. The culmination is a menu designed with fun in mind, offering up a unique way to approach dining that is slightly divergent of the norm.
There are, however, some interesting challenges here at Teatro ZinZanni that needs to be taken into account. How does one make sure the dessert doesn’t fly off the plate as it shoots down a 12-foot slide? How will the food rest on a plate when our excellent service staff “tango” it to your table? In the end these challenges only make it more fun, more Teatro ZinZanni. I cannot imagine doing anything else anywhere else.
That’s my spiel my friends. Moving forward, I will use this forum, as a bit of a window in to the world that is our Teatro ZinZanni kitchen. With some humor, some insights and a few recipes too, join me in our culinary travel down this rabbit hole of love, dinner and chaos.
Chef Erik D Carlson