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Meet a South Alum and Executive Chef

Executive Chef Jeff Maxfield reflects on his education and passion for food

Jeff Maxfield
Courtesy of Jeff Maxfield
December 4, 2013

On a single peak-season day at one of Seattle’s premier restaurants perched high above the city, it is not uncommon for Executive Chef Jeff Maxfield to orchestrate the service of 700 lunches and 650 dinners, all created from his own culinary mind.

Maxfield, 36, has been the top chef at SkyCity Restaurant in the Space Needle’s peak for five years, and said he owes much of that success to his Culinary Arts education at South Seattle Community College.

“Everything, from the curriculum at South to the instructors we had, it was so relevant to the business,” Maxfield said, explaining that both the culinary and business operation skills he obtained at South set the foundation for his success at the highest level.

Maxfield’s SkyCity restaurant received an “excellent” rating from Zagat, and they do it all with what many would consider a distinct disadvantage.  Despite their walk-in freezers and refrigerators being located 540 ft. below the dining area (due to the Needle’s architecture), they are able to serve over 30,000 guests annually without a hiccup.  To pull off fast and consistent service takes a lot of discipline, and Maxfield said, “A lot of that discipline came from South.”

 On Jan. 26, Maxfield will be coming back home to cook a multi-course meal (along with fifteen other celebrity chefs) for attendees at South’s annual Gifts from the Earth gathering.  The signature event celebrates South’s Culinary, Wine and Hospitality programs and strong partnerships with leaders in the hospitality industry, while raising funds for the South Seattle Community College Foundation to further bolster South’s programs.

The trip back to South’s campus will also mean a return to Maxfield’s boyhood home of West Seattle, where he developed a love for food early on thanks to a mother who taught home economics and a grandmother who hailed from France.

“When I was a kid, one of the earliest memories I have is taking a bath at Grandma’s house and instead of playing with toys and boats, it was egg beaters and measuring cups,” he said.

From then on, Maxfield’s love for food only grew. At 15, he lied about his age so he could work in a kitchen. He graduated from high school in 1996, worked at a pizza parlor over the summer, and started his culinary education at South that fall. 

After earning his certification, Maxfield took the culinary world by storm, working his way up through several high-profile restaurants in Hawaii, Arizona and Seattle – including the Golf Club at Newcastle and Canlis. 

Five years ago the Space Needle manager called Maxfield about moving back to Seattle from Arizona, which he and his wife did without pause, yearning to return to the Pacific Northwest – the place that defines his culinary style.

“My approach is pretty simple,” he said.  “Being from the Northwest I spent a lot of time on beaches and in forests, whether it was fishing, clamming or foraging for mushrooms.  We want to highlight unique Northwest ingredients that only we really have.  We treat them simply but elegantly, and let them speak for themselves.”

The culinary world has certainly noticed Maxfield’s style.  Recently, his creations were featured at the James Beard House – one of the finest gastronomic adventures in New York City.

Maxfield’s advice for current and future students of South’s Culinary Arts program comes back to the relevance his education had to his eventual career.

“Whatever you do in life, whether it is education or a job, you want it to be relevant to where you want to go and what you want to do with your life, and South Seattle was definitely relevant,” he said.  “Trends come and go, but really getting that true foundation from culinary school itself is, in my opinion, one of the most important things I ever did.”

“The best money spent is at South, and I couldn’t have asked for a better education.”

For more information on South Seattle Community College’s Culinary Arts program, please click here.

To learn more about Gifts from the Earth and how you can help future chefs realize their dreams, please click here.