Do you ever see those people at Costco schlepping Tsunami sized shopping carts loaded with everything under the foodie sky and wonder what they’re doing?
That’d be Chef Jeremy!
“When they see me coming, they yell out, ‘Chef to the Mariners!’ and sometimes open another line for me.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to hang out with Renton Chef Jeremy Bryant at two locations: his Renton home base with co-owner Kenny Rogers at Rain City Catering located next door to the Renton Chamber of Commerce and the Clubhouse Kitchen at Safeco Field, where he has been the official cook of the Mariners for 17 years.
We started at Rain City, where the ovens were filled with enough barbecue ribs to feed an army and I learned that Chefs Jeremy and Kenny finish each other’s sentences, read each other’s minds and know their strengths and weaknesses. It’s not surprising, they’ve only been hanging out since childhood: Kenny’s family moved next door to Jeremy’s Skyway home nearly 40 years ago.
In addition to being the official caterers of the Renton Pavilion Event Center, Rain City has catering jobs all over the Pacific Northwest.
But perhaps most famously there is the Mariners. During the season, Chef Jeremy preps the food in Renton and then drives it all down to Safeco Field.
And this season Kenny is the Yin to Jeremy’s Yang as the chef for the opposing team at Safeco Field.
But the story of how Chef Jeremy began cooking for the Mariners begins even before there was a Safeco Field.
“First and foremost, I started off as a Seattle sports fan. I love the Mariners,” he said, showing me around the Mariner’s Club House Kitchen at Safeco Field, usually off limits to media.
While there, Chef J showed me how to cook two of his famous Mariner recipes: Edgar Martinez’s favorite pasta and Ichiro’s superstitiously delicious “Ichy Wings.”
For a bigger guy (“Never trust a skinny chef,” he says), there’s a nimbleness to Chef Jeremy. He has the demeanor of someone whose natural environment is cooking comfort food over a flaming gas grill and freely tells his stories of 17 years in the big leagues of cooking.
And he has come a long way since his “rookie years.”
His first few days of cooking for the team he wore a paper chef’s hat and whites and made gourmet food, with carefully carved rosettes from apples.
On his fourth day, Jay Buhner gave it to him straight. Buhner knocked off his paper chef hat, the story goes, and said something like “Dude, what’s up with the fancy roses? Can you just make me some meatloaf?”
Since then, Jeremy has a little more salt and pepper in his goatee and even received a custom No. 27 (for his age when he first started cooking in the Clubhouse) Mariner’s jersey, a gift from the players. He also earned the nickname, “Papi,” bestowed upon him by Edgar Martinez, who requested a special meal from the chef that Jeremy shared with me.
“This dish happened when Edgar came into the kitchen and said, ‘Papi, make me some pasta,’” Chef Jeremy said as he and I stood cooking side-by-side in the same kitchen where the team lines up to get some grub.
It’s a pretty fortunate spot to be in and when asked, Chef Jeremy still looks a little surprised by his own story.
Jeremy went to a game at the Kingdome in 1997 and ran into a kid from his neighborhood who had become a bat boy. The kid snuck him into the clubhouse, a no-no in the biz.
Jeremy ended up meeting most of the players until Clubhouse Manager Scotty Gilbert came over and asked, “I’m sorry, but who are you?”
Without skipping a beat, Chef Jeremy stuck out his hand and said, “I’m a chef and I want to cook for the Mariners.”
For the next two years he kept on Gilbert, eventually offering to cook a meal for free.
“I told Scotty I wouldn’t charge him a dollar, I just wanted the chance to show him what I could do,” Jeremy recounted. “I cooked amazing food for them and the players loved it.”
After two years of wooing, Chef Jeremy got the call to come cook for the Mariners at Safeco Field.
The Clubhouse kitchen is a small intimate kitchen and though Safeco Field is quite a bit larger than most homes, I had no problem imagining Jeremy’s Kitchen as a focal point for players to eat and unwind, like any kitchen.
As we cooked, Jeremy shared stories of guests who stopped in over the years for a snack: the turkey sandwich for rock star Eddie Vedder; the “Kyle Seager Sandwich” for Joe Montana; a plate of chicken for Snoop Dog.
I got the impression that Jeremy might still be pinching himself as we stood in the Clubhouse Kitchen, had he not been holding tongs used to make Ichiro’s “Ichy Wings.”
When Chef Jeremy found out that Ichiro was coming to Seattle he tried to learn how to make sushi, though the player had another order in mind.
“The first day in the kitchen Ichiro asked me, ‘do you have a cheeseburger?’”
Chef Jeremy offered hot wings. Only they weren’t hot wings, exactly.
He’d been preparing a batch of Mexican inspired chicken wings and at the last minute added some teriyaki flavor, fresh ginger and Asian-inspired seasonings.
After eating the wings Ichiro went out to make a huge play and from then on he would only eat Chef Jeremy’s wings before every game. Nine wings, to be exact and always on the same plate.
Chef Jeremy’s story is one I never get tired of listening to, especially while eating pasta with a simple sautéed preparation of melted butter, garlic, onions, in a cream and tomato base with fresh herbs, parmesan and surprisingly, pepperoni with penne noodles.
“I love it when Edgar let me cook him pasta,” Chef J said, “A lot of the new players are more nutritionally conscience, so my cooking has evolved.”
But like most things I was learning about, Jeremy he has a knack for evolution, turning happenstance situations into opportunities.
It’s that knack, plus a little hustle here, a lot of hard work there and the ability to adapt on the fly that’s led to this Renton boy fulfilling his dreams in the big leagues.