Michael Gifford, stars in the kitchen at Ballard’s Marine Hardware
By Lindsay Peyton
Michael Gifford was one of those kids who always knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.
He learned to cook from his grandmother and mother, and one of his earliest memories was making éclairs from a recipe in “Joy of Cooking,” at only 9 years old.
In high school, Gifford took home economics and then made his way to vocational-technical school. “It was a half day of regular high school, general education classes and then the rest of the day, I was in the kitchen,” he recalled.
Gifford worked his way up from washing dishes to the line, while still a teenager. After graduation, he attended to the Academy of Culinary Arts on a full scholarship.
He graduated second in his class and has been moving full speed ahead ever since.
Now Gifford runs the show in Ballard’s Marine Hardware. His cuisine still has the influence from his native south Jersey, but now he focuses more on ingredients from the Pacific Northwest.
The menu features oysters with pickled watermelon mignonette, polenta fritters with ricotta and chestnut honey, Dungeness crab salad with avocado and baby beets, pasta with calamari and mussels with crème fraiche and fennel pollen.
Marine Hardware is one of the family of restaurants owned by Ethan Stowell, who is Gifford’s long-time friend. The two met not long after Gifford drove out west in his late 20s.
Gifford first took a job at the Painted Table in the Alexis Hotel. He then switched to sous chef at Nell’s, where he would be replacing Stowell. “He was taking my job at Painted Table, and I was taking his job at Nell’s,” Gifford said. “We just clicked.”
Later, Gifford would become the first person hired for Stowell’s first restaurant, Union. He eventually left the city for a couple of stents in Portland and Boston, but soon returned to the west coast and Stowell, helping the restaurateur open Ballard Pizza Co.
Gifford went on to work at Stowell’s How to Cook a Wolf, then Brambling Cross and finally Marine Hardware, a small restaurant where he feels right at home.
Gifford said that the restaurant’s intimate setting allows him to get to know his customers. “Making people happy is pretty cool,” he said. “That’s really what keeps me going.”
For more information about Marine Hardware, visit www.ethanstowellrestaurants.com/locations/marine-hardware.