A fresh batch of Orcas Island chefs

What’s cooking lately at Orcas Island restaurants?

Plenty.

Despite the economic gloom in the news lately, long-time island favorites continue to serve up their specialties, while others are welcoming new chefs to the kitchen.

Madrona Bar and Grill

Madrona Bar and Grill owners Steve Duthie and Monica Oberg recently hired chef Rich Koby to kick it up a notch behind the scenes. Koby, who came on board on April 7, brings 28 years of cooking experience to the grill. For six of those years he ran his own Tucson restaurant, and also cooked at the Loew’s Ventana Canyon Resort four-star dining room in Tucson. Over his past five years on Orcas, Koby has worked as Executive Chef at Rosario Resort, Island Market, Homegrown Market, and as a Cisco representative, vending groceries to local restaurants.

Koby, who gained most of his culinary training in his home county of Sonoma, Calif., said he will be cooking with fresh, local and sustainable foods, varying the menu to reflect seasonal availability of produce from island farms, oysters from Judd Cove, and wild fish, mussels and clams from Jones Family Farms on Lopez.

“We’ll be changing our menu up, adding to it, hoping to bring in more fresh seafood,” Koby said. “It’ll be a little more edgy, but still affordable.”

New Leaf Café

Sara and Adam Farish, owners of the New Leaf Café, have turned over a new leaf in the kitchen with Steve Debaste, hand-picked from a pool of 50 applicants. Debaste will be designing menu items highlighting local and seasonal produce and seafood.

“We met four or five of the top candidates in Seattle and we really liked Steve,” said manager Jon Kobayashi. “He brings a real maturity to the back of our kitchen. He’s got a tremendous amount of experience, both as a line cook and running administration for the back of the house, looking at books and building a menu program that makes sense for the space and the business.”

Kobayashi said he appreciates Debaste’s strong leadership skills.

“His temperament is really great for us, and he’s taken to island living,” he said.

Debaste worked in executive dining at Microsoft for the last 12 years, first as an executive chef and then as one of two district chefs overseeing menu programs, procedures and policies for 28 cafeterias on Microsoft’s Redmond campus. Prior to that he cooked at Seattle’s 1904, which became Tom Douglas’ Dahlia Lounge featured in the film “Sleepless in Seattle,” and also cooked at the very first restaurant of the successful Palomino chain.

Cascade Bay Grill

Theron Soderlund, owner of the Cascade Bay Grill, as well as Country Corner, has spruced up the kitchen with some familiar island faces. If you’ve been missing Sean Paul Frank’s delectable fare, you’re in luck: he’s back, along with his wife and business partner Suzey.

“We’re absolutely excited to have them,” said Soderlund. “Sean is probably one of the top five or six chefs in the county in my estimation, and Susie is probably one of the best front of the house you can get. She really gets what it’s all about, is very customer oriented, and has experience with cost controls and proper pricing; between the two of them they bring the whole package.”

Although Sean is well-known for whipping up delicacies like his smoked tomato spread on freshly baked bread, offerings will be limited by the scaled-down cooking equipment of the grill kitchen, located on the wharf at Rosario. Nonetheless, Suzey says guests can expect the menu style and offerings to reflect the familiar quality, consistency and service the two always strive to provide.

“Sean is a creative and talented chef and plans on incorporating ‘special’ nights at the Grill, offering fresh shellfish pots, clam bakes and possibly rib eye steak nights to add a little style and variety to the casual menu,” Suzey said.

The grill will expand its hours to seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner after this summer’s reopening of Rosario.