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Chef Spotlight: Michael Wiley of Wiley’s Downtown Bistro

Michael Wiley is chef and owner of Wiley's Downtown Bistro 115 N. Washington Street in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Michael Wiley is chef and owner of Wiley's Downtown Bistro 115 N. Washington Street in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Michael Wiley started his career in the restaurant business at 17 in 1994 at the Spaghetti Factory in downtown Spokane.

“I shiver doing the math,” the 41-year-old the chef-turned-restaurateur noted.

Wiley spent most of his career in the front of the house but recently returned to the kitchen as the chef and owner of Wiley’s Downtown Bistro. (See related story.)

Here, he shares his recipe for Dungeness crab cioppino and a few more personal details.

What’s your favorite dish to cook at home? My son and I have a tradition of trying new foods every weekend for a month. One month it might be jelly. The next month it might be broccoli. Exploring food with him makes my kitchen glow with happiness.

Where do you eat when you eat out? Anywhere that serves amazing sushi. Highlights: Syringa, Sushi-I and Sushi.com. I feel blessed to choose from so many great locations.

Who or what inspired you to become a chef, and how? Necessity is the mother of invention. Most of my inspiration stems from my desire to please the people I serve. Regardless of which side of the line I am on, it is all about the guest.

What are your go-to ingredients? Seasonal ingredients are really fun, and I love to play with what just came out of the garden. My go-to ingredients to cook them with are: butter, oils, garlic, shallots, ginger, wine, salt, pepper, fresh herbs, chilis.

What was the first dish a customer ever sent back to you, and how did you handle it? There’s no way I can remember what dish earned that place. I am sure I handled it the same way I always do. Listen to the guest, whether directly or through the server that took care of the guest. Find out how to create a positive experience for them and deliver it in the best way possible. Some of my favorite relationships started with a disappointing experience. When a guest knows that you sincerely want them to have a great experience, it is powerful.

What’s a dish you’ve never made but would like to, and why? If I desire to make something, I make it. If it takes me 10 or 20 tries to get it right, I keep trying until I like it. Currently on the list: vegan creme brûlée, because I haven’t encountered one yet.

What dish or ingredient best represents you? Pizza! Pizza does it all. Somber, whimsical, classic, creative, comforting, daring, nurturing, blatantly unhealthy. It’s everything that I have been, am, and will be, plus so much more. I am pizza.

Dungeness Crab Cioppino

This old family recipe comes from my Portuguese side, poor fishermen in the San Francisco Bay Area. This dish was traditionally made with the fish that couldn’t be sold at the market. The ingredients were prolific in the area or were cheap, and the acid in the tomato sauce acted as a natural preservative, keeping it relatively safe to eat for many days in a row. Once they had a nice base going, they would just add seafood that didn’t sell at the market.

This is messy. There is nothing dainty about this dish. And, if somebody gets up to wash their hands after harvesting their pile of crab, eat as much of it as possible while they are gone.

4 Dungeness crabs, cleaned, cracked, and separated into segments

10 cloves of garlic, minced coarse (The original recipe called for only 4.)

2 (10-ounce) cans of tomato paste

2 (15-ounce) cans of tomato sauce

1/4 cup dried parsley

1/8 cup dried basil

1 tablespoon cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all ingredients into a large stock pot or slow cooker. Add water until the crab is completely submerged. Bring to minimum simmer. Simmer for eight hours. You are waiting for the aromas to change; they sweeten up quite a bit.

Serve with crusty sourdough bread, and as much garlic butter as you can slather on.


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