Burger Obsessed

Taking a deep dive into my Year of Meat, I'm currently stuck on hamburgers, and all their incarnations.

Nostalgia hit hard one night, recalling the burger of my childhood. Ground beef, a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix, grilled and topped with caramelized onions. The craving was so powerful, I left the house in the middle of a rainstorm, and secured ingredients minutes before the grocery store closed. It was good, but not as good as I remembered.

And with that, my latest obsession was born.

What was missing? The flavor of the beef, for sure. Once you start grinding your own meat, aiming for flavorful cuts and just right texture, there's no looking back. I referenced Michael Symon's burger mix (sirloin, brisket, and short rib) and Sean Brock's favorite burger blend (chuck and flank). And I've been mining the archives at Serious Eat's Burger Lab. (See: Best way to grind beef, Ten Tips for Making Better Burgers, and Principles of Topping Burgers.)

Building on flavor, I've tried wrapping the meat around a pat of butter, adding a bit of sausage to the blend, and sauces galore.  Tracking the variables, there may even be a spreadsheet involved. Just saying....

I haven't perfected my burger masterpiece yet, but fortunately, peak grilling season is still a few months away.

Until then, next up is this doozy, The Husk Cheeseburger.

Sean Brock On The Making Of The Husk Cheeseburger from Food Republic on Vimeo.

Hitchcock Deli: The Deep Dive

2015 is my Year of Meat. Let's get a jump on things, shall we?

My friend Marika (aka The Hamazonian) and I met for drinks and nosh. The mission: explore Georgetown, an up and coming neighborhood south of Seattle. Chef Brendan McGill made a sweetbread lover out of me, so I was curious to try his latest place, Hitchcock Deli. Situated in a corner space with oversized windows, from the street, the deli case beckoned. Lunch is the bulk of their business and the day we were there, they got killed! A post-work happy hour menu has limited but worthwhile offerings, including and beer, wine, and champagne by the glass. Bubbles and Brats? Bring it on!

Hitchcock has a multitude of sandwiches, but these days, the media is clamoring for a global mash up under the guise of a Cuban sandwich: Italian-style roast pork, American-style smoked ham, housemade pickle planks, Swiss cheese, on a Vietnamese baguette.

Still life, Hitchcock-style. 

 Dear Good People, take note. You want this. Trust me. 

Meet Graham Leon, Hitchcock partner and general manager. Over the counter he kindly offered, "Would you like to try something?" 
"Yes, I want to try it ALL!" 
And we did. Let's take a look....

Everything is made in house, from the sauerkraut to the mustard garnish. And Hitchcock, they take meat to another level. Here we start with turkey breast, brined, then smoked smoked over Eastern Washington applewood. Corned beef is made from grass-fed Painted Hills brisket. Brined 11 days, and braised with coriander, pepper, and spices. Roast beef? This is the real deal. They use Painted Hills all natural eye of round, seasoned and roasted medium rare. And of these offerings, the smoked ham was my favorite. Light on the smoke and salt. Just the way I like it. This is Carleton Farms boneless pork leg, brined 7 days and smoked over applewood.

The porchetta, made with rosemary, crushed red pepper, fennel, orange zest, salt and pepper from Carelton Farms pork loin, wrapped in pork belly and slow roasted. Pate de Campagne, a favorite, for sure. This country-style pork liver pate is made with blanched pistachios, diced pork fat, and wrapped in house-cured bacon. 

Lonza, or otherwise known as lomo, is dry-cured pork loin. Chef McGill tells me theirs is from a heritage breed pig (Duroc and Danish landrace cross) from Ephrata. Cured in salt, washed in white wine, and aged for 6 weeks in the cave. The bresola is dry-aged, semi-cured Painted Hills eye of round, seasoned with red wine and clove.

Check out this pastrami. Hitchcock uses Painted Hills all natural beef, cut traditionally from the short plate. It's brined for 11 days, then smoked for 18 hours.

Dry-cured Basque-style chorizo, seasoned with pimenton, a sweet, spicy, smoky, paprika.

 In the name of 'research'....

While the soup looks great, the $5 rillettes caught my eye.

 And here it is. Rilletes de Porc. Pork belly confit, beaten with fat until the muscle fibers separate, seasoned with quatre epices (black pepper, clove, cinnamon, and mace). Served on a bed of arugula.

It's interesting how a simple thing like mustard can tell you much about a place. In the photo, tucked between the arugula and the crostini, the mustard is made in house. At Hitchcock, they also make cheese. The byproduct of that process, the whey, has a second life. Brown and yellow mustard seeds are fermented in a gallon of whey for three days. The fermented mustard seeds are then strained, and incorporated in their housemade coarse mustard.

Bratwurst. I'd happily travel across town for their bratwurst. Best I've ever had. From what I could gather, it's considered a traditional German bratwurst, bound with cream and egg, then seasoned with nutmeg and white pepper. I consider this a new staple, and plan to have a perpetual stash in my freezer.

And finally, the Hitchcock Georgetown crew: Meat production manager Meagan Lass and partner/general manager, Graham Leon. Megan is a preservation and fermentation devotee. Graham tells me, "She has sausages hanging in her living room!" And for her initial interview, she brought sample sausages. Curious, I asked about Graham's background. "I owned a cupcake shop in LA, worked at Kaiser (hospital) for a bunch of years, and taught English in Japan." Bringing all those elements together, making charcuterie in a pocket neighborhood on the south side of Seattle? Makes perfect sense to me. Passion is in the product.

2015: The Year of Meat

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, let's just say, this is a preview of the year ahead...my Year of Meat. Oh sure, I've written about America's best butcher, visited a pioneering lamb rancher, and begged my way into a restaurant kitchen, only to find headcheese on the day's prep list. And a handful of times, I had the opportunity to judge Cochon555 and the American Lamb Jam competitions. As my friend Rocky says, "This isn't my first rodeo."

Throughout my culinary explorations, meat has played a significant role. But somewhere, lurking under the surface, I wanted more. I've taken a scattershot approach, dabbling here and there, and it left me dissatisfied.

What was the missing element?


I recently read a blog by a woman named Beautiful Existence. Her approach: dedicate yourself to one organization for a year. Learn all you can. This year, she teamed up with outdoor outfitter REI--orienteering, paddle boarding, and even hang gliding, exploring all they have to offer. I immediately took to the idea, and kicked around several options. What if...I dedicated myself to a single topic, for an entire year? I wanted license to explore, probe deeper, and to view a subject from multiple angles. I kicked around everything from photography to film making...and even the subject of cakes.

Coincidence? Fate? Divine intervention? Call it what you will, but I recently met two guys who sealed the deal for my Year of Meat.

A chance encounter on a chat forum, I met food writer and charcuterie enthusiast Jason Price. We met for coffee, and he broke out an artist palate full of charcuterie he made himself. Talk about an attention grabber! Not long after we met, he flew to Napa for a 2 week stage at the acclaimed Fatted Calf. Jason also writes a couple columns for Eater.com, including the Carnivore's Dilemma, exploring restaurants going beyond the usual steak and burger fare. Whether you're a local or not, there's always a teachable moment in his writing and I put a high value on that.

Exploring meat from another perspective is California-based chef, Jeffrey Weiss. I met Weiss when he was in town for an event sponsored by Monterey tourism. We made arrangements to talk before the event, and let's just say...the conversation added fueled the fire. (More on that later.) Shortly after our meeting, I got a copy of his book, Charcuteria, the Soul of Spain, and that sealed the deal. Lush photos, a conversational approach to the writing that feels like you've got a coach in the room, and the vivid flavors of Spain with their Moorish and spice trade flavor profiles? Bring it on!

You may notice in the photo above, the top book is not meat-focused. It's a new release by Amanda Palmer, based on her wildly famous TED talk, The Art of Asking. A fan of hers on Twitter sent it to me in a pay-it-forward gesture, and the timing could not be more perfect.

The past few months I've been deliberately asking for help. I learn best from other people and have tapped friends for a lesson in their area of expertise. The mission: Teach what you know. So I put out a request on Facebook. I would like to learn how to make cakes. I've never made an apple pie. I'd like to go crabbing. Can someone show me how to make pasta? Who knew that would have such a remarkable payoff? Meaningful bonding time, in the form of a teachable moment. Carol invited me over, and we spent the next 10 hours making cakes, exploring the science of baking, and she even sent me home with a notebook filled with excerpts from her favorite baking books. Linda showed me how to make pasta, carefully guiding me on the feel of the dough--which is far more important than the recipe. We made pasta cut on a string guitarra brought from Italy, and on an electric-powered machine, comparing the difference in texture. Ravioli filled with greens, ricotta, parmesan, and a raw egg yolk? Stunning. Next week I have a date to eat oysters with the man Saveur magazine calls "America's disciple of flavor."

So it's like that.

2015 is my Year of Meat. And I'll be asking for help along the way. Got a farmer, butcher, chef, or other meat-focused guru I need to know? Send 'em my way. I'm ready to learn, and game for anything.

Ah, one last thing. Please don't think a girl can live on meat alone. The overarching idea behind the coming year is exploration and pushing boundaries. Plans are in the works for that as well, and I'll be documenting it here. The Art of Asking? Teach what you know? Let's do this!

Meet the Man of Steel: Andris Lagsdin

You can leave the food business, but it never leaves you. In the heartbeat of every successful kitchen, a methodic order guides your every move. From the adrenaline rush during peak service, to the crushing fatigue after a long day. It drains you, mentally and physically. And yet...there's nothing like the restaurant high. It takes residence in your soul like any other addiction. Concealed, but simmering within. Sure you can leave, then what? Everything pales in comparison, and you know it.

The restaurant business.

She's a wicked muse.

After an 8 year run in Boston's top restaurants, at 25, Andris Lagsdin left the line for an office job in the family business. Supplying industrial parts to Fortune 100 companies like Caterpillar, John Deere, and Volvo, it's a far stretch from life on the line.

Dinner parties and family gatherings were small solace for the 200 covers a night he used to do. Manufacturing job by day, yet keeping up with the latest food news. An astute observer would see, the muse never lost her grip.

February 2011. An article in the Wall Street Journal profiled the release of a ground breaking 5-volume series, the Modernist Cuisine. Two sentences changed his course forever:

PROBLEM #3: You love Neopolitan pizza, but don't want to invest in a brick oven.
SOLUTION: Make an oven out of a steel sheet.

Until that moment, the closest a home cook could replicate restaurant quality Neopolitan pizza was with stone. But stone never got hot enough. In a restaurant, pizza ovens heat to 900 degrees. A home oven maxes at 500 degrees, and even with the help of a stone, the results pale in comparison.

That night, Lagsdin grabbed a 1/4 inch sheet of steel from the shop floor, and began to tinker. With his first batch of dough, the advantages of steel were immediate, and obvious. Modernist Cuisine explains it best: Steel is a more conductive cooking surface than stone. Because of that conductivity, it cooks faster and more evenly at a lower temperature, resulting in a beautifully thin, crispy crust.

And for Lagsdin?

The muse would no longer be silenced.

Neopolitan-style pizza at home, inspired by Modernist Cuisine.

Q and A with Baking Steel founder Andris Lagsdin

It's been an amazing journey thus far.

Let's talk about that amazing journey.

I studied culinary arts and worked at a lot of restaurants. My last stop was with Todd English restaurants---Figs and then Olives. That was 20 plus years ago. I got burned out and went to work with my dad's business. We design and manufacture products made of steel for Caterpillar, John Deere, Volvo, etc.

I'm still a foodie at heart and love to follow the food world.

Two and a half years ago, I'm reading about the launch of Modernist Cuisine in the Wall Street Journal. I was so impressed with the idea of this book. A question was asked to Nathan Myhrvold in the WSJ, "How do you create Neopolitan pizza at home?"

I couldn't do it. After making pizza professionally, I didn't think it could be done at home. Myhrvold said to "Google" your local steel shop and use steel on your oven shelf.

I said to myself, "No fucking way!" But it made total sense to me. I ran out to my plant and grabbed some steel, took it home, and made pizza. I was blown away by the results. That was the day the Baking Steel was born.

I spent the next 6 months researching and developing the product. Then decided to launch on Kickstarter.

I needed to get eyeballs on the product. I knew it was a good idea, but didn't know if the market would respond to a 15 pound pizza stone.

I set a very wimpy Kickstarter goal of $3,000. The money raised would pay for labor and materials for the first production run. I already had $1M worth of equipment that could produce it.

We hit our Kickstarter goal in less than 24 hours. At the end of the month, we pre-sold about 500 units [and raised $38,453--12 times his goal!]

After our Kickstarter, The Baking Steel made Food and Wine magazine, Bon Appetit, Cooks Illustrated, the Wall Street Journal, etc. I was blown away.

We just opened our own test kitchen and now teach pizza classes a few times a month. I have a detached barn in Cohasset, MA, outside of Boston. We knocked down the barn and rebuilt it with a kick ass test kitchen.

The first hands on class I had Scott Heimendinger, Modernist Cuisine's Director of Applied Research, as a guest chef.

Can you talk about the Modernist Cuisine partnership?

The short version is...they loved what we were doing and wanted to get involved. We designed a steel together and called it the "Modernist Cuisine Special Edition."

It's a different thickness--3/8" thick and weighs 22 pounds. The thicker steels hold more energy, which ultimately rebounds faster between pizzas.

The partnership with Modernist Cuisine gave us instant credibility.

That is an understatement. 

No shit. Now I get to do what I love every day. It's been a dream job, for sure. The day I read about Modernist Cuisine in the WSJ changed my life. I'm so glad I trusted my instincts and ran with it.

You spent 6 months in development. What problems were you trying to solve?

Everything from sizing the steel to properly fit in every home oven, to packaging, and how to season it. Then we had to let the world know such a product existed....

A construction company making products for Caterpillar...and now they make what?

It was a big challenge, but Kickstarter made it pretty smooth and easier. Once we spun off the website, it made more sense as well. We designed a very user-friendly site. And I read a lot of books on e-commerce and branding.

Did you hire PR?Not for the first 6 months. Magazines were calling me...but eventually I hired PR for a short term. I recently hired someone again because we're getting ready to launch version 2.0.

A preview of the new Baking Steel, to be launched in Q1, 2015.

What's new with Baking Steel 2.0?

It goes from oven to stove top, with a baking steel on one side, and a griddle with a channel to drain fat on the other side. It works like a dream. At 3/8 inch thick, it can heat up to 700 degrees. As a griddle, you can use it as a smash plate for burgers. And of course you can use it for lower heat foods like eggs, tacos, vegetables, etc.

Can you use it on gas and electric ranges?

Yes. Both. And induction ranges.

What did your dad say when you wanted to develop a product around pizza? Family business diversion...

He loved it from the start. It's a simple product, but profound. It required 0 investment other than my time.

If the Kickstarter campaign was a bust, I'd move on to something else.

Let's talk about Kickstarter and getting those eyeballs on your product.

We launched September 2012. I didn't hire a PR team. I just launched and e-mailed everyone I knew. I thought some friends would support us and they did, but word caught on fast.

And then the Kickstarter crowd caught on and started buying.

When did Kenji Lopez [Managing Culinary Director of Serious Eats] enter the picture?

He called 3 weeks into the campaign and asked for a sample.

I sent him one. By that time, we'd raised $14,000. Lopez used it and said it blew away his favorite pizza stone!

He said he would do a full review, but knew my Kickstarter was coming to an end. He put a short blurb on the Serious Eats website on a Wednesday. Two days later, our campaign ended at $38,000.

[Lopez later followed up with an extended article that included multiple experiments, photos, and the science behind why the Baking Steel works. A coup, indeed.]

That's a game changer.

Kenji has a lot of influence.

We also shipped our Kickstarter rewards out before our deadline, which is a little unusual for them.

My brother, Eric Lagsdin, is my secret weapon. He was instrumental during the Kickstarter campaign, and helped meet production needs.

Do you think shipping early helped raise awareness, enabling people to talk about the actual product before the Kickstarter campaign ended? 

Totally. People who use it are our best sales team. I'm blown away every day by the e-mails I receive. We work really hard on the customer service end of things.

I see on your Kickstarter campaign, you made notes about shipping internationally. Were you getting a lot of interest outside the US? 

Yes, quite a bit actually. We have a distributor in Norway, which sells a lot. And we do a lot of one offs from the US, but shipping is expensive. We've sold Baking Steel in over 20 countries.

Is the Baking Steel manufactured at your family plant?

Yes, entirely here in Hanover, MA.

And where is it sold?

80% of our sales are from e-commerce (King Arthur, Food 52, Amazon.) The rest are sold through Sur La Table stores.

Social media plays a significant role in spreading the word about your product. What's your strategy? 

Don't sell, just educate.

I like to blog about once a week, showing off how the Baking Steel works. I try to connect on a daily basis, and to be very approachable.

Just be yourself, and continue telling the story.

Take good pictures and share as much content as you can. We like to post on Instagram daily.

Think outside the box, and show different ideas.

Can you give me an example of your company 'thinking outside the box'? 

This week I dumped a bottle of Krug Champagne ($150/bottle) into my pizza dough and made some very expensive pizza. [Champagne reacts with the yeast and produces a different crust.] The blog post will be out in a couple days.

We did a beer dough during Halloween....

Baking Steel launched and got up to speed very quickly. What books were you reading to help navigate the hurdles?

Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuck. For social media, and the rest of his stuff. Videos too. He's an amazing speaker.

Also, anything Tony Robbins. James Altucher for feel good reads...and a lot of food books too.

Which food books?

Peter Reinhart, Jim Lahey, Ken Forkish.

I had to get back in the game.

Ah, dough. That's a whole other beast. You slung pizzas in your restaurant career, no?

Yes, but it was a long time ago, and things have changed quite a bit since then.

What's changed?

For one, the dough. And hand stretching. The concept of less is more. So many experts over think and over analyze the dough.

We love the long, slow cold ferments.

And how less is more on top of the pizza.

Truly, anyone can make pizza from scratch at home. We just need to show folks not to be intimidated by making dough.

It's simple and just requires a bit of planning.

Pizza is such a wonderful social food. We have a slogan, "Create some love."

Two or three families sitting around the table drinking wine, kids help top pizzas and get involved. It's a wonderful evening together.

Biggest take away from the experience? Lessons learned?

Do what you love. Figure it out, and chase it.

And be grateful.

Monterey, On the Road

There's a prevailing thought: If the view is good, the food is not

Last month, the Monterey County Convention & Vistors Bureau was in Seattle to debunk that myth. 

The plan? Take two chefs and an accomplished sommalier, invite a group of Seattle meeting planners for luminaries like Google, Starbucks, Amazon, and Boeing, add local celebrity chef Tom Douglas in the mix...and you've got an evening to remember. 

But first. Let's talk about Monterey County, one of my favorite travel destinations. When the traffic gods are with you, it's roughly a 3 hour drive from LA or San Francisco. Take Highway 101 for the jaw dropping views and you'll be in 'vacation mode' long before arrive. Even better if someone else does the driving so you can take in the rocky cliffs, and Pacific Ocean crashing against the bluff below. 

Until recently, food was not the reason you went to Monterey. But that is changing, in a big way. In a move that reverberated across the national food scene, Jason Franey, the lauded chef of Canlis Restaurant (with more James Beard nominations than I can count) left for Monterey. While Canlis conducts a nation-wide search to replace him, Jason has taken the helm at Restaurant 1833, whose parent company also includes the prestigous Pebble Beach Food & Wine Classic. No doubt, 1833 will be a destination-worthy restaurant in the coming months. 

Lured by year-round California produce out of the Salinas Valley, a day boat fishing industry where 'catch of the day' means something, and a world class wine region with in reach, no wonder chefs are making the move to Monterey. And with that, a renewed focus on a dining scene to match those enviable views.

Enter chefs Matt Glazer of Big Sur Roadhouse and Jeffrey Weiss of Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar.

Matt's style is deeply rooted in New Orleans, and Italy, thanks to a stint working there. With those influences comes a culinary sensibility that includes bold flavors, but enough restraint to let the ingredients shine. 

On his visit to Seattle, he prepared two dishes showcasing that famous Monterey bounty. The first, a shrimp ceviche, made with spot prawns transported live. "We nearly missed the flight! The boat arrived with our prawns...40 minutes from departure." 

With his second dish, Pacific-harvested albacore tuna, confit in local rice bran oil, as opposed to the Italian tradition of olive oil. A hush fell over the room when this dish was served. The woman seated next to me, let out an unguarded moan. I know exactly what she meant. Rustic yet refined, it was simple perfection. In the days that followed, this dish much on my mind. I had just been schooled, and made a mental note. "I want to cook like that.

Catching up with Matt before dinner, I asked him about the Monterey food scene. "For a long time, Monterey was a strategic spot in our national defense, with a military focus. That has shifted. There's the Monterey Institute of Studies and with it, a large academic faculty and student base. The city's demographic is younger, vibrant and exciting."

"And the food?"

"Classics are always classics, and that's great. You'll always be able to get fried calamari, but there's a hot new food market. The collard greens on my menu come from a farm 10 minutes away. And you can't get fresher seafood. For the past two years, we've had a drought in California. That stresses out the grapes, which deepens the flavor. The local wines being produced are world class."

Blending New Oreleans with a California twist, Matt tells me, "My entire opening menu was written at the top of a mountain overlooking the ocean with humpback whales, and New Orleans music on my iPod." 

Adding another perspective to the mix, chef Jeffrey Weiss is at the helm of Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar. Southern Mediterranean-focused, his menu draws on inspiration from Spain, Morocco, and the Middle East.  Training under James Beard award-winning chefs José Andrés, April Bloomfield, and Spanish-based chefs Daní Garcia and Adolfo Muñoz, Weiss melds his many influences into an opinionated culinary point. Author of the 460 page, Charcuteria of Spain, released earlier this year, his first dish, reflected a synthesis of Spain and Monterey. A delicate smoked trout and artichoke terrine, showcased lush fish, artichoke, Meyer lemon, and Cypress Grove's goat milk fromage blanc. Yeah. That's a 'take no prisoner' kind of dish. 

Throwing down the guantlet, Weiss' second dish was a dessert marvel billed as a "Lebanese Yogurt Cake with Pomegranate and Pistachio." Call it a 'cake' if you will, but it bears little resemblance to what we commonly know as cake. As part of the evening events, chefs demonstrated how to make a recipe. This dish owes it's custard-like texture to 8 eggs and the barest amount of flour (50 grams) give it a sliceable structure. The finishing touch? Topped with a swirl of pomegranate molasses and a dusting of pomegranate seeds and pistachios. 

A night like this, in the presence of two great chefs, elevates the concept of "local." Two decidedly different culinary influences, drawing on the bounty of the Pacific. The result is memorable, intriguing and frankly, I want more. Monterey in 2015? For a dining destination? Yes!

On with the photos.... 

But first, a quick note. My camera was acting up and I was able to get images from Seattle photographer, Eva Claire Mrak Blumberg. Hat tip to Eva and her generous use of these photos. Okay, photos. Here we go! 

 Opening cocktails centered around this ice sculpture. Perched atop are 3 different chilled appetizers, with others being passed and served.


 Those fresh of the boat and flown to Seattle spot prawns, used in a ceviche with white soy-cured roe and shiso. 


Tea-smoked trout with finger lime segments and a strip of scallion

Chef Jeffrey Weiss serving up his smoked trout and artichoke terrine. 

  A closer look at that terrine, and my favorite dish of the night.

Cocktail time.
 Iron Chef winner Tom Douglas and Monterey CVB Vice President of Sales, Scott Wilson.

 Chef mingle.

Event planner from Liberty Mutual and Dan Newman

 Sommalier Ted Glennon 

 This looks promising! 

 Sommalier-selected wines for the evening, brought up from Monterey. 

Chef Matt Glazer demonstrating his pasta dish. His black food-grade gloves are new to me.

And here we all are. Seats are facing Top Stove Society demo kitchen (there's a prep space behind us and an open dry storage/pantry off camera to the right. While it's difficult to see the cooking demonstration, those camera monitors come in handy.
Ready to slice some fish? Herschell Taghap from Hot Stove Society.

 During the cooking demo, Chef Weiss and crew plate the next course.

All hands on deck!

Course has been plated and served, with a moment before the next step. Chef Jeffrey Weiss and Matt Glazer.
Hot Stove Society Director, Bridget Charters, prepared a stuffed and salt-crusted baked fish for Chef Tom Douglas.
Once the fish has cooked, Bridget breaks through the salt crust, and the fish is prepared for presentation.
Serving the fish is a little tricky, portioning it (working around the bones) and serving it table side.

Chef Jeffrey Weiss between courses.
Check out this row of ovens! This is the prep area opposite the demonstration station. Chef Matt Glazer preps his next dish.  

 Chef Tom Douglas prepares duck for service. 

 Between courses. Sommalier Ted Glennon.

And the final dish of the night. Chef Matt Glazer plates a trio of desserts: mini portions of Tom Douglas' famous coconut cream pie, a luscious quinelle of chocolate sorbet, and Chef Weiss' Lebanese cake with pomegranate and pistachio.
 And...it's a wrap! Sommalier Ted Glennon, Hot Stove Society's Jon Price, and Bridget Charters, Monterey chefs Matt Glazer and Jeffrey Weiss, and Hot Stove's Herschell Taghap

In Celebration of the Tomato

Tomatoes, like grapes, benefit from suffering, as though depriving them of what they seem to need most provokes a deeper search through their own rooted resources. - Paul Bertoli, Cooking by Hand 

I've got Chef Paul Bertoli's essay on my mind as I trek to the 4th Annual Tomato Festival at Cedarbrook Lodge. In the waning days of summer, Cedarbrook throws a fabulous ode to heirloom tomatoes on the back lawn. While I've yet to dine or stay at the lodge, I've kept a close eye on their Executive Chef, Mark Bodinet who's hosting the event. An alumn of Thomas Keller's French Laundry, Bodinet took took top honors at Lamb Jam both years I judged the event. 

A celebration of tomatoes in the hands of some fabulous chefs? I'm in! Arriving before the crowds, I had a chance to chat with the chefs and picked up some terrific tips along the way. Let's check it out...

A cause for celebration! Let's see...at Whole Foods prices, I bet there's over a $1,000 in heirloom tomatoes here.

Pike Brewing Company, one of the pioneers of the microbrew movement, is the first tent I spot. It's always a good time when you see these folks! 

Family-owned Pike Brewery's Space Needle IPA is made with five varieties of Washington State Yakima Valley Hops. Its "golden color with floral notes and assertive hop character" was a perfect quencher for the unseasonably warm day. 

Kicking off the event: James Beard Award-wining chef Holly Smith with a Pike Brewery michelada. Holly, chef-owner of Cafe Juanita, nabbed the Best Chef Northwest award in 2008, and in 2012 was nominated for James Beard's Outstanding Chef in the US. 

 My favorite dish of the day: Cafe Janita's Pappa al Pomodoro. Exquisite simplicity, made with heirloom tomatoes, bread, and olive oil. 

Bar Sajor restaurant in the house! Chef de Cuisine, Edouardo Jordan, served Beef Tongue Pastrami with Tomato Vierge, Sunflower Seeds, and Leek Jam. Jordan is known for his "edible oddities." Noted.

Bar Sajor's Beef Tongue Pastrami

Heading to the Copperleaf table with a flat of still-in-the-dirt microgreens.

Copperleaf' Restaurant featured Heirloom Tomato Foccacia served with a trio of sauce options: Green Tomato, Ratatouille, or Garlic Cream. Love the slate-on-wine-box presentation. 

Who could resist this? Joel  Handshuh, Copperleaf's Chef de Cusine.

Going in for a closer look at those layers: Smoked Tomato Panna Cotta, Parmesan Mousse, a dollop of Basil Cream, and a dusting of Olive Nougatine and Microgreens. 

"Chef, tell me about that olive nougatine. How do you make it?"
"We dehydrate olives for two days, then grind them up. Next, we make a caramel and add the ground (dehydrated) olives. Pour the caramel on a silpat until it dries like toffee, and crush it for a garnish." The result? An intriguing sweet, salty, crunch. 

Trace at the W Hotel, represented by Laura Jacques Hardy and Executive Chef Stephen Ariell.  Impressive chefs have come from Seattle's W Hotel--including James Beard Award-winners Jonathan Sundstrom (Lark) and Maria Hines (Tilth, Golden Beetle, Agrodolce). Then came an extensive remodel, a name change for the restaurant, and a new chef. The remodel was a disappointment, but the chef? One to watch.

An Eclair with Heirloom Tomato Jam and Kurtwood Farm's Dina's Cheese. And then there's the dish that stretched my mind and made me think of tomatoes in a new light: Tomato Sorbet Served in a Hollowed Orange w/ Basil Buds and Flaked Salt. Amazing! 

Serving the tomato sorbet. Each guest got a slice, topped with flaked sea salt and 'basil buds.'

"Chef, what did you do with the orange flesh?"

"Used it for something else. For this dish, all I wanted was the rind."

At the helm of Barking Frog restaurant on the Woodinville wine trail, Executive Chef Bobby Moore.

Stunning heirlooms, no?

Chef Bobby Moore and Barking Frog's sous chef, Chris Smith

Chris Smith was the mastermind behind this dish from Barking Frog. Here we have a Compressed Watermelon, Balsamic 'Paper', Burrata Foam, and Micro Basil.

"Chef, what is 'balsamic paper'?"
Chris Smith explained:  "It's made with all-natural gellan gum.*  First, you puree the gellan gum and balsamic. Bring it to a boil so the gelatin properties kick in. Let it set until it becomes like jello. Then you put it in a blender and turn it back into a liquid. This breaks up the gell into super small pieces so you can spread it out. And then you, dehydrate it." Voila! Balsamic paper.

* Seaweed-based gellan gum is used as a stabilizer, emulsifier, thickener, and gelling agent. 

 West Seattle's Blackboard Bistro owners: Chef Jacob Weigner and his wife, Ginger Weigner.

Blackboard Bistro's Yogurt Cilantro Flan w/ Curried Tomato, Crispy Lentils with Sun Dried Tomato and Greens.

"Chef! What's the story about those crispy lentils?"
"At some point, everything ends up in the deep fryer!"

An eye-catching presentation, no? This is Semiahmoo Resort's Heirloom Tomato Push Pop with Blueberry, Espelette, Aspic (consume w/ gelatin), and Fresh Mozzarella. 

A closer look at those layers: Mozzarella, Heirloom Tomatoes, Blueberries, Heirloom Tomatoes, and another layer of Mozzarella topped with Espelette.
"Chef, blueberries and tomatoes? What's the story?"

In  a heavy French accent, Semiahmoo's Culinary Director, Eric Truglas offers, "What grows together, goes together, no?' Truglas adds, "You get tartness from the tomato and sweetness from the blueberry." He's right. It's surprising how well they go together.

Here we see another play on Chef Truglas' blueberry/tomato theme: Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon Skewers with a Blueberry Vinaigrette. 

Semiahmoo is a seaside resort situated this side of the Canadian border. With four restaurants on the property, they went all out for Tomato Fest. Here we have what Chef Truglas calls the "Porterhouse of Tomatoes." It's a skinned and cored Heirloom Tomato, Stuffed with Halibut Rillettes, and White Anchovy Vinaigrette. 

 Chef de Cuisine Martin Woods takes a moment to tell me about this garnish. This is a sprouted popcorn shoot. It adds a beguiling sweet and bitter component to the dish. I also like the visual appeal. Striking, no?

A peek inside: Heirloom Tomato, Halibut Rillettes, Sprouted Popcorn Shoot, and Microgreens

Garnishes: micro and sprouted 

Tomatoes transported stuffed side up, then inverted for presentation. Beautiful array of heirloom tomato colors, eh?

Good times with the chefs of Semiahmoo: Eric Truglas (Culinary Director), Martin Woods (Chef de Cuisine), Kevin Benner (Sous Chef) 

And at the center of the Tomato Festival is a terrific side-by-side tasting of over 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. A perfect end to a late summer celebration of tomatoes!