These days, the fries at No-Li come with orange carrot ketchup instead of the traditional tomato variety, and the signature American Kobe beef burger is topped with a harissa pepper sauce.
The loaded tri-tip chili comes with chipotle sour cream, red onion brûlé, Tillamook smoked cheddar and scallions on top of everything else: black beans, tomato, jalapeño, Anaheim peppers and an Amber Ale beer biscuit.
And for dessert, the ice cream is churned in-house with the brewery’s own Wrecking Ball Stout, the favorite No-Li beer of the new executive chef and the man behind its new menu.
“It’s the food I like to eat,” he said. “My thumbprint, I guess, is eclectic flavors.”
Branden Moreau joined No-Li Brewhouse as executive chef in mid-August. By the end of September, he debuted his new menu, putting his personal touch on what he calls the restaurant’s “upscale pub fare.” Diners will recognize his stamp in new sauces and twists on traditional dishes and pub grub. (Same pretzel, different mustard, for example.)
They’ll also recognize him.
With his signature handlebar mustache and upper-arm sleeve of vegetable-shaped tattoos, Moreau is a recognizable character in kitchens from Seattle to Spokane. His modern-meets-vintage look is a sort of steampunk version of a caricature of a classic French chef.
“Chefs in cartoons always have a trademark mustache,” said Moreau, who swears by Woodsman mustache wax. (It’s the only brand he uses to sculpt his ’stache.) “I think they have some culinary power. It definitely enhances the experience.”
And, Moreau said, “I want to stand out.”
That philosophy carries into the kitchen, where Moreau – who turns 27 on Oct. 30 – oversees a staff of about a dozen.
“I’m passionate about everything on my menu,” he said. “It’s not just about putting food on the plate. It’s about texture, temperature, smells, flavors.”
Like No-Li’s IPA – it’s called Born & Raised – Moreau is locally grown.
His Twitter profile describes him as – among other things – a “Professional Mustache Grower” and “Yo-yo/Skilltoy Enthusiast,” and he has competed in facial hair as well as yo-yo competitions. (His first tattoo, at 17, was a yo-yo.)
Although he “retired” from competition yo-yoing in 2005, he still judges contests. But food and family take up most of his time.
“I love what I do,” Moreau said. “I have to be engaged with food to be happy. I love everything about it.”
He began cooking as a kid, making eggs for breakfast for his family, then started his formal culinary training in high school at the Spokane Skills Center. After that, he attended Western Culinary Institute of Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, completing his internship at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro at the Venetian Las Vegas.
He was a protégé of the executive chef at Spokane’s Wild Sage Bistro, then served as sous chef at Twigs’ Wandermere location. During a three-year stint in Seattle, he was sous chef at Place Pigalle, a longtime, Northwest-tinged French bistro in Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market.
But his hometown lured him back.
He and his wife – she also works in the food industry – wanted to raise their sons, ages 1 and 5, here. In Spokane, Moreau finds comfort and a sense of community.
“I will never move away again,” he said.
Moreau returned last year to work as the executive chef at Manito Taphouse. And that’s where No-Li owners Mark Irvin, 49, and John Bryant, 47, learned of his culinary talent.
“He was highly recommended,” said brewmaster Irvin, who founded No-Li in 1993 as Northern Lights. The name was shortened during re-branding last year when Bryant came on board. He, too, was impressed with Moreau. And, after a brief stint at Santé, Moreau started at No-Li and got to work reimagining the menu, which features eggs, flour and lentils from Washington state as well as bread from local bakeries.
“The craft beer industry, I think, is incredibly interesting,” Moreau said. “I’m intrigued.”
He plans to change the menu four times a year, with additional, subtle changes between seasonal revamps.
“I like to explore my options,” Moreau said. “It’s a progression. How can I do this better the next day? It’s continually improving.”
And while he likes to experiment, Moreau plans to stick with the craft of cooking.
“I’m in it for life,” he said.
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