Michael Wiley became a chef by accident, but chose to be a restaurateur on purpose. Since he was a kid, he's been involved in front of house service in the hospitality industry, yet he always knew he wanted his own restaurant. When Wiley finally got his own place, the chef he hired didn't work out. Having seen Wiley put in so much time and effort in the kitchen already, his team said, "Why don't you just do it?!" So he did. Wiley's Downtown Bistro and his catering company thrived, then last year, in the middle of the pandemic, Wiley also became the owner of Prohibition Gastropub.
RESTAURANT WEEK: What is your culinary vision and philosophy?
WILEY: Our global philosophy and vision is to create positive energy through culinary service and libation experiences in a world-class environment. It's really just trying to make people feel good and creating something positive out of giving somebody good food.
How do you challenge yourself to stay creative in the kitchen?
I'm always looking for challenges! I'm also looking at what's fresh, what's out there right now. Finding ingredients I haven't cooked with before. The biggest way, though, is asking my team what they want to play with. I look to the ebb and flow of who I have working with me, what flavor profiles and experiences they're bringing to the table, and then investigating that. It's a collaboration with what the rest of the world wants and then seeing how I can make it happen.
What's special about the region's culinary scene right now?
The absolute tenacity of the people in this industry. Yeah, we're out of the pandemic, but can you name one restaurant that's fully staffed up — one restaurant that's in a position of comfort right now, who can actually take their energy and focus on creativity? There's not one of them. Everyone is pushing themselves past the point of comfort, past the point of exhaustion and still finding the energy to be creative, to take care of their staff, clients and guests with grace. I could talk about the food, but it is so secondary to the effort that's being put out there.
Who is your culinary influence and why?
The greatest culinary influence I ever had was not in food. His name was Will Barron Jr. He was the Spokane Club maitre d' for 46 years, my first boss in this industry and the greatest person I ever met. Everything I do in the kitchen is a reflection of the lessons that he taught me on the floor working with clients. Because my background is front of house, I'm driven by the philosophy of taking care of my team members, and [that] my guests are taken care of means I'm taken care of.
What was the most crucial thing you learned over the past year that will carry you into the future in the hospitality industry?
The most crucial thing I've ever learned in the restaurant industry is don't worry about the details. Worry about taking care of the guests. Worry about taking care of your team members. Everything else will take care of itself.
What are you looking forward to during Inlander Restaurant Week?
Having Restaurant Week during peak produce season really opens up the opportunity for us to play with ingredients in the true heart of what the event is supposed to be about: supporting local food, local ingredients, local distilleries, wineries... I love it and thrive in the chaos and action. ♦