Chef Austin Conklin takes the helm at Spokane's Inland Pacific Kitchen

Chef Austin Conklin takes the helm at Spokane's Inland Pacific Kitchen
Young Kwak photo
Chef Austin Conklin simplified the menu a bit when he took over at Inland Pacific Kitchen. "I can focus on each dish being creative and flavorful," he says.

Inland Pacific Kitchen's chef Austin Conklin still remembers the first time he tasted a properly seared mushroom, expertly prepared by Seattle chef Dustin Ronspies, with whom he worked at the time. Conklin credits Ronspies with instilling in him a deep appreciation for local, seasonal, well-crafted dishes — mushrooms included.

"[Conklin's] one of the most talented people I've ever worked with," says Ronspies, who carries some clout with more than 30 years as a leader in Seattle's culinary scene. "His ability to — while prepping his station and going through his day at the same time — by 5 o'clock, drop a 23-component dish in front of me was just impressive," says Ronspies, who co-founded Seattle's Art of the Table in 2007 with his wife, chef Shannon Van Horn.

Ronspies gave Conklin a glowing referral when he relocated to Spokane in 2018, describing him as creative, meticulous, a go-getter. His wife suggested Conklin contact former IPK owner Jeremy Hansen, whom she worked with in the past.

click to enlarge Chef Austin Conklin takes the helm at Spokane's Inland Pacific Kitchen
Young Kwak photo

Born in Haiti, Conklin and his twin sister were adopted by a couple from Central Washington, where one of his high school teachers turned him on to the culinary industry. He got a job at Stones Gastro Pub in Wenatchee and was noticed by someone from the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute in Coos Bay, where he was then offered a scholarship. Still, he felt pulled toward something larger and relocated to Seattle, working at Art of the Table and another wine bar before an opportunity to move to Spokane with a friend presented itself.

Conklin joined IPK in early 2019, finding comfortable similarities between it and his former place of employment. The two restaurants shared similar formats: a la carte tasting menus of small plates that could be intensely season-sensitive, as well as a "chef's choice" option, and a small scale, with limited seating and availability.

Upon the departure of Hansen, however, Conklin found himself in the position of moving to head chef at the age of 23. He called Ronspies for advice. "I told him to follow his heart," says Ronspies.

Conklin did.

click to enlarge Chef Austin Conklin takes the helm at Spokane's Inland Pacific Kitchen
Young Kwak photo

He removed the tasting menu, keeping the nightly offering to around a dozen small plates, and focused on affordability and quality, he says. "I can focus on each dish being creative and flavorful and you can still have an experience of fine dining."

Conklin is also gearing toward more walk-in traffic in the Washington Cracker Co. Building, where IPK's neighbor and soon-to-be-owner, Overbluff Cellars, is also located. The restaurant's website and Facebook pages will be updated when the sale is complete.

Conklin says he finds inspiration from any number of sources. Among his current interests are the Netflix series, Chef's Table; renowned chef Mauro Colagreco and his Michelin three-star Mirazur restaurant, in Menton, France, which was lauded as the best restaurant of 2019; and Will Goldfarb's R4D restaurant in Indonesia, and Room for Dessert, Goldfarb's best-selling book.

With all those influences melding with his own growing experiences, Conklin hopes diners are transported by the food they're eating. "I want everything to evoke a sense of time or place," he says.

Mushroom Duxelles

click to enlarge Chef Austin Conklin takes the helm at Spokane's Inland Pacific Kitchen
Young Kwak photo
Mushroom Duxxelles

Mushroom duxelles is a rich, paste-like sauce of mushrooms that have been chopped very fine and cooked down with other ingredients, usually shallots and herbs. Chef Austin Conklin uses it for stuffing chicken breasts, portabella or cremini mushrooms or even quail (pictured above).

  • 5 lbs cremini or white button mushrooms, chopped very fine
  • 1/2 cup shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sherry or white wine
  • 3 sprigs thyme, minced
  • 1 sprig rosemary, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a large saucepan, melt butter on medium heat.
  2. Once butter sizzles, add shallots and garlic. Cook until both become translucent.
  3. Turn heat to high and add sherry. Lower heat to medium-high and reduce sauce by half.
  4. Add mushrooms and herbs to reduced sherry mixture, stirring often to cook mushrooms, which will release their moisture. Continue cooking until all liquid is evaporated and mushrooms begin to brown.
  5. Remove mushrooms from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. This will make enough filling to stuff 5-6 chicken breasts, two dozen cremini or more depending on size, or 8-10 large portabella.

Oyster Mushroom Fricassee

click to enlarge Chef Austin Conklin takes the helm at Spokane's Inland Pacific Kitchen
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Oyster Mushrom Fricassee

Fricassee is the process of cooking something in its own sauce and comes from the French words to cut up and to fry. Typically done with chicken or veal, chef Austin Conklin offers a vegetarian version replacing meat with mushrooms he sources from local vendors.

  • 1 pound oyster mushrooms, torn into 1 to 2-inch pieces
  • 2 pounds cremini mushrooms, cut in half if larger than 1 inch
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • Approximately 1-1/4 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced thyme
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, toss together cremini mushrooms with adequate oil to coat them, season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
  3. Coat large sauté pan with a 1/2 cup of oil and heat on high until oil just starts to smoke. Working in batches, add oyster mushrooms to pan, being careful not to crowd the pan and adding more oil as needed.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-high and sear mushrooms until golden brown. Transfer to baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Wipe sauté pan. Add 1/4 cup of oil and heat on medium-high. Add shallots and garlic (they should sizzle when they hit the pan) and cook, stirring, until translucent.
  6. While pan is still hot, add 1/2 cup of wine. Reduce mixture until almost gone.
  7. Add oyster and cremini mushrooms and remaining 1/4 wine. Stir gently to coat all mushrooms.
  8. Add cream and rosemary and turn pan down to medium-low. Cook, reducing mixture slightly and ensuring all mushrooms are coated.
  9. Turn off heat, stir in butter until melted.
  10. 1Add minced thyme and sherry vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
  11. Serve over your choice of pasta or wilted greens. Serves 6.