Chef Jerry Traunfeld is portrayed sitting among the many cookbooks that he has been collecting since the mid-70s at his home on Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in Seattle.
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Chef Jerry Traunfeld is portrayed sitting among the many cookbooks that he has been collecting since the mid-70s at his home on Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Poppy, Chef Jerry Traunfeld's final Seattle sensation, is closing. Now what to do with all these cookbooks?

Jerry Traunfeld, one of Seattle’s influential chefs, is leaving town.

His popular restaurant Poppy will close Sunday after 11 years. He recently sold the restaurant and plans to move to Palm Springs, California, this fall.

Traunfeld’s Capitol Hill home that he shares with husband Stephen and their dog Monty isn’t far from the restaurant. They won’t be moving until November, but there’s lots to sort through, including his cookbook collection.

“I’ve always loved cookbooks,” he said. “I started buying when I was a young teenager.”

There’s one from his youth that’s beat up and lost its cover.

“This is the Vegetarian Epicure," he said. "When I was a teenager, I was kind of like a hippie kid… This was from 1972 and I cooked every single recipe from this book.”

The cookbooks are a timeline of Traunfeld’s career.

There are books from his pastry chef days, books on wild and foraged foods from his time at the Herbfarm.

There are Chinese and Indian cookbooks he consulted while researching for his Capitol Hill restaurants.

He has a few left from his time at the Alexis Hotel in the '80s. Back then, Seattle was still trying to find its identity as a regional cuisine.

“The idea of Northwest cuisine was starting to be bantered around,” he said. “All the chefs were asked to go to a meeting with some press people at the Sheraton to talk about what is Northwest cuisine.”

It was the start of chefs promoting local ingredients.

Around that time, Traunfeld was invited to teach a class at the Herbfarm in Woodinville, a farm garage converted into a restaurant that seated 24.

When he was offered a job as executive chef, he was intrigued.

“I love to garden as much as I love to cook," he said. "It was super appealing to me to work in this little restaurant that was on a working nursery where they had such cool plants, not just herbs, but all kinds of perennials and just really interesting plants.”

One time he created a menu focused on one herb, basic. It was called the "basil banquet."

“I had to think about all the different ways to use basil,"' he said, "so it was infusing it, making pesto; it was taking the stems and drying them and using that smoke the fish, and like, candy the leaves.”

For Traunfeld, it was a fun challenge. His creative use of herbs became his signature.

Herbs, if they were used at all, were often a supporting role in dish. But in Traunfeld’s hands, they got equal billing as the main ingredient.

“I always think of Jerry as a little bit like the Pacific Northwest’s answer to Alice Waters,” said Providence Cicero, the former Seattle Times restaurant critic. Alice Waters introduced diners to the farm to table movement through her restaurant Chez Panisse in California.

“What Jerry was doing at the Herbfarm was really similar to what Alice was doing just in general with things from the garden and raw materials," she said. "But he was focused on herbs.”

Cicero said Traunfeld's cookbooks introduced America to a whole new world of herbs and showed them how to cook with them. His adventures with herbs continued when he left Herbfarm and opened Poppy in 2008, inspired by his travel to India.

But now, after 11 years, Poppy will serve its last Indian thali on Sunday.

Traunfeld said it was a tough decision to sell. Last winter’s snowstorm set things in motion—the cold weather and having lost two weeks of business. It was time to move on.

“My husband is retirement age," he said. "I’m not actually that far off, so we just thought this was the right time to do this.”

Traunfeld doesn’t have any specific plans for what’s next, but he has some ideas.

“I’m going to start some sort of a blog, share with people what I’m cooking at home,” he said. “I won’t be as spoiled in terms of being able to get all these great ingredients up here, but I’m sure I’ll be able to survive.”

And who knows? Maybe he’ll write another cookbook.