by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Sully McGinnis waxes poetic over some purple wax beans at the Broadway Sunday Farmer’s Market. “Look at all this stuff,” he says in front of tables brimming with field vegetables, “This is really beautiful.” He’s shopping for his kitchen at home, but that’s not why he knows so many of the vendors. McGinnis has been an advocate for Farm-to-Table food culture for years and made many of his connections with western Washington’s producers while residing in Bellingham. In his time there, Sully helped build a community of farmers, cooks and restaurant folk just as concepts like localism were taking hold throughout the Cascade region. Now, he has a new mission plugged into the sensibilities of Seattle’s booming food business. That mission is the Kitchen Sink Project.
The Kitchen Sink Project is, in essence, part catering service and part social outreach. Patrons invite McGinnis into their homes and businesses to teach them about the food they eat and to introduce them to foods they’ve never tried. His lessons aren’t just cooking classes, either. McGinnis talks to his patrons about the farmer who grew the food, what the cultivation process is like, and how the food comes to market, among other things.
“If I can tell the story of where their food comes from and who I sourced it from, and to reduce that gap between producer and eater, then maybe the next time someone sits down to eat, they slow down and appreciate where it comes from,” he says.
Sully McGinnis found meaning in food early in his life. He spent a lot of time in the kitchen with his parents when he was growing up. Diagnosed with several learning disabilities, McGinnis got everything from math tutoring to history lessons through cooking. He ended up developing a love for the culinary arts that put him on a career path he maintains to this day. He first got his hands dirty at a bar called Miller’s Crossing in Helena, Mont. He describes his work under the unrelenting tutelage of owner Bonnie Miller:
“She would really work me. She never let me get away with anything. If it wasn’t perfect, it was like, ‘Go back and start it again.’”
McGinnis moved from Montana to Bellingham in 2002, where much of his mother’s family lived. After spending several years as a preschool teacher, he made the switch to Seattle in August of 2010 to be a part of the city’s emerging food scene. He was the chef at Prospect Enrichment Preschool just a few blocks from Volunteer Park. After two school years, Sully McGinnis transitioned to a mix of cottage industry with the Kitchen Sink Project and a special role at the soon-to-reopen Vessel Restaurant downtown. He will be Vessel’s cheesemonger.
McGinnis’ understanding of cheese goes far beyond the academic level. Starting in Bellingham’s Farm-to-Table program, he developed a relationship with some of western Washington’s up-and-coming dairy producers. He has worked on these farms and gotten to know the farmers, cows, sheep and goats responsible for some seriously delicious curds and whey. McGinnis knows the Broadway Market vendors from Mt. Townsend Creamery in Port Townsend, Samish Bay Cheese in Bow, and Willapa Hills Farmstead in Doty. They all bring their goods to the long line of stalls in front of Seattle Central Community College. Sully McGinnis knows the story of every wedge and wheel.
“See how it’s got that subtle earthiness and a little bit of extra salt?” he says while the vendor at the Mt. Townsend Creamery booth cuts samples of their Seastack soft cheese. Together, McGinnis and the vendor walk customers through everything from the regional aesthetics of the flavor to the unique use of vegetable ash in the Seastack. McGinnis is eager to experiment with a new line of ale-washed cheeses at the booth, though he has new ideas at every stop he makes from one end of the market to the other.
The love Sully McGinnis feels for his city and its food is easy to see, but he’s not content to just make new cheese dishes at Vessel. He actually expresses as much, if not more, enthusiasm for Popcycl.es, a local micro-business that launched this year with a unique approach: They vend frozen treats out of bicycle carts. McGinnis loves this concept not just because it’s funny and memorable, but also because it’s inexpensive and relies on public events.
“We’re starting to see more chefs and food people who can’t afford permanent spaces,” McGinnis observes. “We’re utilizing rental kitchens and doing what I do with these demos and going into people’s homes, doing events.”
The average price of a Kitchen Sink Project experience is $20 to $25 dollars per person, but McGinnis recognizes the need for a sliding scale in his business.
“If we do a caviar tasting, it’s going to be a little bit pricier,” he says, “But a bubblegum tasting? That’ll maybe cost you $10 or $15.”
It was neither caviar nor bubblegum that introduced Seattle to the Kitchen Sink Project. Instead, it was sack lunches. In May of 2012, the Kitchen Sink Project provided approximately 100 free sack lunches to people at Flo Ware Park in the Central District. It was the park’s 30th anniversary, a holiday dedicated to community activist Flo Ware, who died in 1981. Sully McGinnis was the man behind the celebration and the hand that fed 100 people on May 8.
The Kitchen Sink Project books events throughout the greater Seattle area. All gratuity paid for KSP events goes into the Kitchen Sink Foundation fund for scholarships and community improvement.