After honing her skills in the busy kitchens of New York and compiling an impressive culinary résumé, Lia (Bardeen) Lira ’00 returned to the Pacific Northwest to open a restaurant of her own. Today she can be found preparing an array of contemporary dishes for the patrons of Bramble House, her thriving, seasonally-inspired restaurant on Vashon Island.
Opening a restaurant on the island was the culmination of a lifelong dream for Lira, who spent much of her youth there. Lira’s appreciation for the Vashon community is reflected in the ingredients used at Bramble House. A firm believer in buying locally, she makes collaborating with local farms a top priority.
“It’s fun and beneficial to be able to work with local farmers,” said Lira. “In a more global perspective, using local farms as much as possible is the best we can do ecologically, reducing shipping costs, packaging, and hopefully decreasing the U.S. dependence on factory farming, monoculture farms, and GMO items.”
Though managing the restaurant takes a lot of work, Lira’s culinary career has more than prepared her for the challenge.
After graduating from Evergreen with a focus on English literature, Lira got a job as a prep cook at a restaurant in Lower Manhattan. From there, she went to work at the well-known Brooklyn establishment River Café, before eventually landing a job at the world-renowned Jean-Georges. At Jean-Georges, she worked her way up to become executive sous chef and was a contestant on the third season of Top Chef. Later, she joined the Jean-Georges corporate team, and spent five years traveling around the globe to manage restaurant openings, train chefs, and update menus.
“It was a ton of work, so much fun, and traveling to other countries had a huge impact on how I cook,” said Lira.
While Lira’s style of cooking is hard to define, it’s marked by a keen attention to detail and a penchant for creating clear and delicious flavors. “It often takes many complicated steps to get to the final dish, but I want someone to taste it and be struck by the clarity of flavor without necessarily noticing the complexity,” explained Lira. “I also think every detail is important, so whether I’m making a high-end steak dish for Valentine’s Day or a salad for the regular menu, I have the same amount of intention in choosing each ingredient.”
Lira, who describes cooking as a perfect combination of creativity and hard work, has an obvious passion for the trade, but that isn’t the only thing that motivates her.
“I like making people happy,” said Lira. As a dedicated professional chef focused on cooking great food with local produce, Lira strives to bring joy to others one delicious meal at a time.