Chef Blaine Wetzel has one rule for his 18-course dinners at Washington’s remote Willows Inn. Whether it’s geoduck or fried moss, everything is foraged, fished, or farmed on a nine-square-mile patch of rocky coast.
In the winter of 2010, Riley Starks was in trouble. A fisherman and organic farmer, the 59-year-old owned a small inn on Washington State’s Lummi Island, a nine-mile ridge of fir and hemlock rising out of the sea near the Canadian border, with a year-round population of 964 weathered souls. Starks and his wife had bought the eight-room Willows Inn in 2001, and for a while they lived out their fantasy. Starks supplied fish and veggies to the restaurant, while his wife handled the inn and the cooking. But the economic downturn had clobbered both the inn and their marriage. His wife left in 2009, and Starks was forced to place an ad for a chef on Craigslist. He wasn’t looking for anything special, just a warm body to keep the place alive, and that was largely what he got among the 25 responses. Most were from restaurant-crazed Seattle, as he’d expected, but one reply jumped out at him. It was from Copenhagen, Denmark.