Chef Spotlight - Blake Kaba
It hasn’t been often that I’ve been so overwhelmed by a chef’s story, but getting to spend time with Blake Kaba at 1898 Public House which has become her new culinary home still has me in my feelings. I am compelled to take a deep, steadying breath when I think of not only her impressive level of skill but also the immense power of the story of how she came to be a chef. Her intensity and dedication to the profession and her guests is apparent in every fiber of her being.
This Guild-award winning restaurant is the premier dining spot in North Spokane, and tucked away on the Kalispel Golf and Country Club property. It’s a lovely and relaxing space, designed with entertaining in mind and large floor to ceiling windows to let the outside in. With the current requirements of restaurants to shift to a take-out model, however, they are a fantastic destination for your dinner or a date night at home. Getting to peruse the menu is an experience in itself - there is so much diversity in the offerings that you’ll be sure to find something that will become a new go-to dish. The best part - you can get a perfectly cooked filet mingon steak or a series of appetizers for your very own happy hour at home.
As we chatted, Chef Kaba selected her favorite menu items on the menu to share with me; the burrata (with hazelnuts, arugula and a strawberry jam), halibut (with citrus rice, creamy peppadew sauce and crisp french green beans) and wicked shrimp. I still cannot stop thinking about those giant, juicy prawns with mascarpone polenta, harissa sauce and freshly grilled crostini. Each of the dishes were beautifully conceptualized with interesting plays on flavor. Don't sleep on the burrata, either - I could eat it alone as a full meal. You may think you've already tried this cheese before, but you haven't really had it quite like this. The gooey mozzarella curd encased within the smooth fresh cheese exterior is thoughtfully paired with seasonal ingredients to add a snap of acid, a little heat from the arugula and the rich toasted nuts with an extra crunch somehow make the already decadent burrata even BETTER.
As executive chef, she was still very much on the job and during our conversation, she was kindly expressing her expectations with staff and using the empty restaurant as an opportunity to enrich their skill level, too. I always admire chefs who are as dedicated to bringing their staff up to their level while doing so in a way that builds others up. That’s leadership. The impressive level to which she performs her job has inspired me since the day we first met. At the second Restaurant Wars event, she won in vegan category I was judging with her smoked watermelon dish. Her fervent hope is to be a competitor on Chopped, and I am certain she would give the other contestants a run for their money. We laughed and discussed the nuances of the show, and Blake has definitely done her homework on the judges and the platform itself. As a long-time Food Network watcher like me, we reminisced on our favorite original shows from when the platform first came out.
Her backstory explained so much of the personal resilience and empathy with which she operates her restaurant. She gained her stripes in New York, Arizona, and Alaska, and her Albanian heritage heavily influences her cooking style and love of hospitality. “I’ve had my trials and errors, but it’s been great to continue to progress in the culinary industry and showcase the diversity of where I’ve been,” she said. Her life changed rapidly after immigrating from Europe in 1999, during the war between Kosovo and Serbia. She lived in Macedonia, and the people who were in those areas started migrating toward her city, and then the war followed. “It became very unsafe to say the least, but I really love my country. It’s a very simple life. I never felt stress there, even with going through everything we did go through. I mean, sometimes we didn’t have enough to eat, but we always had each other. I will always remember how simple life was.”
The warmth and love she has for her family is very moving. Despite the challenges that came from moving to a new country, learning a new language and chasing new opportunities, the adoration for them that she had as a child continued to be a driving force in her career. When I asked her what it would be like to enter an Albanian home, she lit up immediately. “When you walk in, you are offered to sit with a serving tray to have a beverage, then they will feed you - 100%. It’s not just one plate, it’s a FULL table of food. Then, once you’re done with that you’ll have some snacks or some fruit, and then we finish with coffee or tea. In fact, I just gave this experience to my managers last week, and they were floored. This was just a part of my life, and it is probably the reason that being a chef is such a natural thing for me.”
Now as a mom and an executive chef, she has a rich and rewarding life where she can live the truth that is apparent to everyone who is fortunate enough to know her well - the desire to make meaningful connections and instill a little extra warmth through sharing her story on a plate and giving equal respect to all who enter her doors. After the many challenges she's overcome, the wisdom that has accumulated exudes in everything she does.
From the diverse menu options to the compelling story of this local rising star chef, you won’t want to miss out on this excellent destination dining spot up north. Give them a call and make a point to experience the impressive hospitality expressed by this award-winning chef and her team yourself. You can peruse their current offerings using the menu on the website here, and they’ll have them ready for you when you walk in the door. If you want a little extra foodie VIP treatment - tell them I sent you.
by Erin Peterson
Erin is a professional educator by day and a food blogger by night. She is a devoted wife, loving mother of three boys, and enjoys traveling around the region she calls home. Her hobbies include tending her cut flower garden, playing with her pet Corgi, drinking Washington wine, and thrifting for treasured vintage goods. You can follow her on Instagram here.