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Comeback Chef 

After the pressures of culinary success nearly cost him his life, Ian Wingate delivers Table 13

click to enlarge Table 13 chef Ian Wingate - YOUNG KWAK
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  • Table 13 chef Ian Wingate

It was Memorial Day weekend of 2012 and Ian Wingate was feeling slow. Something wasn't right.

The past few days, he'd been exhausted at work. By 11 am, his breathing would be labored and he'd be tired enough to need a nap. He was supposed to get on a plane for Los Angeles, but his ailments kept him in Spokane. Soon he was in the emergency room. Doctors said his heart was working at about 18 percent.

It was the stress, they said, of working more than 70 hours a week. The work ethic that led Wingate to open Moxie, Agave Bistro, Blue Fish, the Inn at Sand Creek in Sandpoint, and also work with the Davenport Hotel to bring their Palm Court Grill to life, had been his downfall.

He spent two weeks in the hospital. During that time, his sister made the decision to shutter Moxie, his popular downtown Spokane restaurant where he was the chef and owner. He didn't blame her, and still doesn't to this day. It was the right thing to do. He needed, for the first time in almost a decade, to take his focus out of the kitchen and work on something more important — his health.

"They basically told me I had a year to live if I didn't change," recalls Wingate, 44, last week, sitting in the dining room before dinner service at the newly opened Table 13 tapas restaurant at the Davenport Grand Hotel.

The note on Moxie's door not long after Wingate was hospitalized read: "With sadness, Chef Ian Wingate has closed Moxie Restaurant permanently due to health reasons. We would truly like to thank our loyal customers over the years."

Since then, most food lovers in Spokane haven't heard much about Wingate, leaving some to wonder if one of the region's most respected chefs had retired or moved out of town. It was as if he'd disappeared. But Wingate never thought his culinary career was over.

"I didn't look at it as a failure. If you go through a hurricane and you lose your house, you rebuild and you move on," he says. "It sucks that it happens, but what are you going to do?"

Now Wingate is again a Spokane culinary personality with Table 13, doing what he knows how to do best — opening a restaurant.

Wingate grew up on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, with his dad and his brother. He never got arrested or into drugs, but did the sort of dumb things creative kids without much direction tend to do. He landed in California at Chico State to study art, but that didn't last. Instead, he worked his way up the line at a Sicilian restaurant, an experience that inspired him to enroll in a San Francisco culinary school. From there, he worked in fine dining kitchens in the Bay Area before coming to Spokane in 1994 to help with his ailing father, who soon thereafter passed away.

In those days, Spokane lacked the sort of culinary scene he'd worked in, and his skills didn't necessarily translate to what local restaurant owners were looking for. He landed a spot at the restaurant inside of Harry O's, a now-defunct boutique market, then opened Moxie in a tiny location in Liberty Lake before moving it to the heart of downtown Spokane, where he attracted a loyal following and myriad of honors, including some from the Inlander's reader polls.

Wingate laughs when he realizes a certain trend in his career.

"I basically had to buy myself a job to do the food I wanted to do," he says.

The exception was when Walt and Karen Worthy, the owners of the Davenport Hotel collection, tapped Wingate to get their Palm Court Grill off the ground in 2004. It was that relationship with the Worthy family that got him back on his feet after his health scare.

"They've always been family to me. They were there for me, and Walt just told me whatever you'd like to do, you can do, even if it's valet parking or whatever," Wingate says. But he couldn't stay out of the kitchen.

Instead, he took a low-stress job working on banquets. Eventually, he became the banquet chef, learning how to cook restaurant-quality food for a couple of hundred people.

So when the Davenport Grand's opening date neared, the Worthys knew who they'd pick to launch its restaurants.

When you make the left turn at the end of the lobby into Table 13, you forget you're in the hotel. The restaurant has an independent, rustic-meets-modern feel created by Coeur d'Alene designer Eric Hedlund. It's a well-tempered hipness that stops short of pretension. In the rear of the space, behind rolling, barn-style doors, there's a sleek but spartan whiskey bar; its lack of windows and tall chairs make it feel appropriate for a place that specializes in whiskey.

The menu is populated by an extensive list of small plates, ranging from street tacos and stir-fried quinoa to a charcuterie board and ceviche, with nothing surpassing the $13 mark. There's also a collection of Asian fusion dishes, like the poke and Korean short ribs, which Wingate fans may recognize from his other restaurants. It's a subconscious influence from his island upbringing, he says.

Wingate says that Table 13, now in its second month, is humming along smoothly. It's a busy kitchen, because the small plates mean that customers are ordering more food — making his crew work about three times as hard as a traditional restaurant. Still, the stress is low. Wingate is taking care of himself and soon will no longer need medication for his heart. Part of taking care of himself, it seems, is giving the people of Spokane a new restaurant.

"I like the excitement of opening a restaurant," he says. "I think I take more ownership that way. It's something I need and feed off of." ♦

Table 13 • 333 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., inside the Davenport Grand Hotel • Open Tue-Sat, 5 pm to close • 598-4300 •

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