The Chef's Favorites

Chef Paul Mancebo

Agate Restaurant chef and owner Paul Mancebo
Agate Restaurant chef and owner Paul Mancebo

Agate Restaurant offers an efficient and tempting menu in an attractive, craftsman-style space next to the Bainbridge Museum. Crafted by chef and owner Paul Mancebo, the menu uses ingredients sourced from local farms and seafood suppliers, then is “influenced by flavors from around the world.” The result is a creative, yet harmonious selection of dishes. The food is supported with whimsical cocktails and a well-thought-out wine list.

Tell us what brought you to where you are today.

My dad was a civilian engineer in the Navy and was transferred from Mare Island (Vallejo, California) to Bremerton. My parents chose Bainbridge because of the good schools. I went through high school here and then to Washington State University. After one year of studying math, I told my parents I wanted to go to culinary school. It wasn’t taken well by my parents, but they came around.

The Content ScoutI went to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in New York and did my internship in Napa at Bouchon. That was the best experience! After I finished at CIA, I lived in New York City for almost 10 years and worked in a bunch of restaurants. After I met my wife and we had our first child, we moved to Denver, but returned to Bainbridge after a year to be close to my family and its support system.

What was your biggest lesson while studying and working in NYC?

That’s tough — there are so many. One thing that was valuable was learning how to step into any kitchen and be proficient. At the CIA, you change classes every three weeks. You’ll take cuisines of the Americas from one teacher and then you’ll switch to a breakfast class with a new teacher, a new kitchen, a new menu, as if you were switching restaurants. In New York, line cooks traditionally have a very short shelf life, so it’s really important to be able to step in and be valuable in any kitchen.

Agate RestaurantWhy did Agate move here from Suquamish a few years ago?

The move and design of this space was the brainchild of previous owner, Susanna Turner. She built this space out and I bought it from her last year.

How would you define Agate’s menu style?

A lot of people call it fine dining, but we try to fit between casual and upscale. We cater to a wide variety of people here. We have a lot of regulars who come in weekly, so we don’t want to be so upscale that they’re going to have to spend a ton on steak and truffles every week. But then, a lot of people come here to celebrate a special occasion, so it has to also feel upscale enough for that. It can be tricky.

Tell us about the striking difference of moving from head chef to chef and owner.

There’s just so much to do all the time, so many responsibilities aside from creating and serving food. From maintenance to fire inspections to cleaning to dealing with health insurance and taxes, on and on.

Agate RestaurantHow many hours did you work last week?

Oh man, I stopped counting!

If your daughter comes to you and says, “I want to be a chef,” what do you tell her?

That’s scary. I’ve thought about that a lot because I bring my 7-year-old daughter when I come in on Monday, when we are closed. While I do orders for the week and plan out the menu, she’ll start filling up water glasses, pretending to be a server, and I think, “Oh, no!”

Were you interested in food and cooking at that age?

I didn’t have any interaction or interest in working in restaurants growing up. My interest started when I was discontented in college. Living in Pullman, there wasn’t that much to do, and I wasn’t a big partier, so I would go to the bookstore and read cookbooks for fun.

I started just flipping through and reading them. Thomas Keller’s “French Laundry” cookbook struck a chord; it was really inspiring. So that was the rabbit hole. Growing up, I was like a typical kid who just wanted pizza and mac and cheese.

Was there one person who had the largest influence on your career?

There are three chefs who have been really formative from my career: Phillip Tessier, Shea Gallante and Olivier Muller. I worked under Chef Muller at Daniel restaurant in NYC. He was the most intense person, old-school French. That was my first job out of culinary school in Manhattan and it was a very demanding environment, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Agate RestaurantIs there a food or dish that you’d like to put on the menu, but you just don’t think would sell?

I like to challenge our diners to try things that they might not be totally comfortable with. We’ve tried foie gras now and then. We’ve made a salsa using Chicatana ants (a Mexican delicacy) and served it with scallops and Mexican sopa. They have a mushroom or truffle note and a very rich, umami flavor. People really enjoyed it. You always try to get people to expand their horizons.

Do you offer a “special?”

We try to, but it’s hard to keep up. We’ll try on weekends if we have the bandwidth, but it doesn’t always happen.

Do you have a comfort food?

I have come around to enjoy Filipino food; my mom makes a great chicken adobo. I eat mostly Mexican food. That’s probably because I ate so much when I worked in Napa.

What does your mother say about where you are at today?

She’s happy now. She didn’t take it well (my decision to go to culinary school). It took her a while to come around, but she’s definitely on board and happy with where I’m at.

Agate Restaurant

500 Winslow Way E, Bainbridge Island • 206-855-3737 •