Chef Lia Lira’s Homecoming
Chef Lia (Bardeen) Lira grew up on Vashon, a hilly, wooded island 20 minutes from Seattle via ferry on the Puget Sound. The picturesque enclave has a small-town feel. It’s punctuated with family farms, vineyards, tree-lined trails, and little shops.
Vashon might be about the size of Manhattan, but that’s where the similarities end. Lira built her career on the latter island, where she racked up an incredibly impressive culinary resume. After two years cooking at the Michelin-starred River Café, Lira landed a job at Jean-Georges. She started as a sous chef, then worked her way up to culinary director for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a position that had her traveling around the world to open renowned restaurants. And Top Chef fans will remember Chef Lia Lira from the third season of the show.
So in 2016, when Lira ventured backed to Vashon to open Bramble House, her own modern American restaurant with a focus on local ingredients, she said it felt like a “homecoming.” Bramble House occupies a 1943 home that had once been a parsonage, an antique store, and a wine shop. Lira fell in love with the charm-filled building, and brought it up to code. “The community has been incredibly supportive,” she reflected. Bramble House opened with fanfare. The Seattle Times called it “a restaurant worth taking a ferry to visit.”
“I’ve opened a lot of restaurants, but this was the first time where it was fully my own—every detail and every aspect,” says Lira. A year and a half later, she’s still challenged and inspired every day. “Restaurants stay new for a long time. We’re always refining, changing, and improving things. It’s a really fun process.”
Running a restaurant on Vashon is a little different than doing so in Manhattan. Lira had planned a celebration and music for New Years Eve, but found that her guests “preferred to be home by 9:30.” She’s loving the new pace of her island life.
Lia Lira Discovers Beemster
“I love cheese,” Lira exclaims. She was working on a new dish and searching for the perfect cheese to impart great flavor. “A lot of the Goudas I’ve had in the past were sort of generic and mass produced,” Lira says, so when she tried Beemster for the first time, a spark was struck. It was something different, and something truly special.
Beemster Classic turned out to be the one—the perfect base of her soul-satisfying broccoli and cheese soup. “It was super flavorful. I love the crystallization and the richness,” Lira says of the cheese. “Now I always get a little extra so I can snack on it while I’m cooking.”
Her goal at Bramble House is to make sure “the food is interesting and still accessible.” Lia has been pleasantly surprised by how excited her guests are to try new ingredients, dishes and flavors.
Lia sees a lot of synergy between Beemster and her own cooking philosophy. “Beemster provides everything I want—a really great flavor, a responsible business model. It’s delicious but it’s not divisive.”
“I want to Bramble House to be financially accessible, so that anyone can feel comfortable coming in,” Lia explains. “Beemster is also high quality in a way that is not prohibitive. That’s important to me.”