Lifelong passions are powerful: The interests that drive someone for as long as they can remember, leading them down a singular path. For Sean Langan, owner and executive chef of Flavour Bistro in Duvall, a love of food and art has intertwined throughout his career in the Northwest. Regardless of life’s twists and turns, he stays true to maintaining an enthusiasm for composing unique menus and “painting” a plate with unusual and local ingredients.
“Seattle was a meat and potatoes place,” chef Langan says, recalling his Emerald City roots, before the dot-com boom and the construction “Crane City” view that’s now so familiar to the region. His memories are of Ballard when it was a quiet fishing suburb and you made your own adventures with whatever was around.
“As a child, I used to take my bike to Pike Place Market,” he said. “I’d take steel cans and cut the bottom out, put a candle in, poke little holes in it, and cook carrots.” He laughs at what was probably the first analog iteration of the obsessive miniature kitchen cooking videos on YouTube.
Prior to chefs having the celebrity cachet that they have now, Langan’s heart was in the exploration of ingredients and the distilling of flavors. “I’ve always known,” he admits thoughtfully. “I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I knew that I wanted to do food. I watched Graham Kerr, “The Galloping Gourmet” — all that kind of stuff. I’ve always known.”
Chef Langan made his name as the owner and head chef of Amore in Belltown for a number of years, winning raves for its Italian cuisine, as well as engaging the community in regular Thanksgiving feasts for those in need. It established his reputation around the time Seattle’s star was on the rise as a “foodie town.” Disaster struck when the restaurant had to be closed due to an electrical fire, but he was encouraged to rebuild.
In 2012, he made everyone do a double take when he opened Fall City Bistro, in its eponymous rural town, transforming a classic corner diner into a farm-to-table-style restaurant. It was a move that seemed out of nowhere; the migration of Seattle-based culinary talent hadn’t yet peaked, but Langan’s instincts were spot-on, getting an early read on Eastsiders who were hungry for creative, locavore-style cuisine in their neighborhoods. For years, Fall City Bistro’s fans felt like they had the Eastside’s best-kept culinary secret, until fate stepped in and caused a septic tank failure. What would have been devastating to many gave Langan another opportunity to refresh his creativity and move forward.
Ironically, he had originally considered Duvall as a location after leaving Seattle, but at the time, no space was available. Revisiting the little suburb, he was pleased to find a business complex along Duvall’s Main Street that had a large space toward the back, with windows overlooking the Cherry Valley.
In three months, Flavour Bistro was built out and opened in February last year. Guests don’t think twice about a menu that reads more like a food map of local farms, or ordering a spicy pepper dashi with a delicate meatball made of snake. It’s yet another delicious creation by Langan, who is truly in his element playing with food.
Flavour Bistro is a food studio. Elegant, cozy interiors make it an inviting dining experience, while the kitchen produces beautifully plated dishes from a menu unmarried to any particular cuisine, changing at the drop of a hat, and that like it that way.
“I drive to work, I see the country, and I think about how I can incorporate that to make a certain dish,” said Langan, who embraces the direct connection to farmers started during his time at Fall City Bistro. He describes the differences between working in a city-based restaurant versus one on the more rural edges of the Eastside, noting the benefit of becoming closer to ingredients. A larger, urban-based restaurant requires volume and the need for more go-betweens to access produce, whereas a smaller boutique eatery has the benefit of being in touch with the farmers themselves, having constant awareness of seasonal produce and being able to select more exclusive items.
Just that day, Langan describes sampling a wild honey from a local apiary, and it inspired him so much that he scrapped his previous menu and rewrote it the night before to revolve around the intensely earthy, sweet-savory honey produced only a handful of miles away.
He compares his cooking style and approach to jazz music — improvisational while coming from an understanding of its composite elements. “I think it’s fine to not have a specific dish that’s like, ‘Here’s our thing and we’re sticking to it’ because it gives the opportunity to expand things for our diners,” he said when describing Flavour’s menu. The bistro isn’t squeamish about trying different ingredients, but it’s not an episode of Bizarre Foods; it remains well-considered dining. That meatball in the soup really was made of snake meat — python, to be specific (don’t panic; python is considered an invasive species, and it’s regularly sold along with other unusual critters by exotic meat purveyors) — and the poultry-like flavor is a mild contrast to the soup’s intensity, adding a textural crunch of a light fry, absorbing the complex broth that is the star, showcasing East Asian and European influences.
“I was a painter as a kid. Food transcends to art; it’s the flavors. Food is very important; it touches every sense,” he muses. “When you taste something, your palate kind of gets it all. It’s the dimension of knowing flavors and ingredients.”
Listening to the chef talk about food is like hearing an artist discuss his or her creative process. His passion for cooking is unmistakable. It’s an inspiring reminder that it’s possible to allow lifelong passions to combine work and play, because truly beautiful things come out of it.
When You Go
Flavour Bistro, 15715 Main Street in Duvall, is open for dinner from 4-10 p.m. daily, various happy hours, and Sunday brunch. flavourbistro.com