James Beard Foundation: Celebrity Chef Tour

Let's be honest.

Dining at the James Beard house is a fantasy of mine. It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that sends my heart pitter-pattering. Followed closely by a terrifying thought, "What would I wear???" Someday, if the sun and moon are in alignment, I'll find a seat at the table.

Until then....

Fortunately for us, the James Beard Foundation is taking their show on the road! And they're coming to Seattle Thursday, May 14th.

Cooking high atop the Seattle skyline, overlooking jaw-dropping Puget Sound will be my old client, Chef Ethan Stowell. Yes, that would be the same Chef who was named one Food & Wine's "Top 1o New Chefs in America" and a two-time nominee for the James Beard Award. (Fingers crossed...maybe he'll win on Monday.)

Ethan will be cooking at the uber swank Columbia Tower Club with their Executive Chef James Hassell. For one night only, this private club will play host to the James Beard Foundation. And with sponsors including Wine & Spirits magazine, Certified Angus Beef, and Hudson Valley Foie Gras....rest assured...this will be a night to remember!

Highlights of the evening will include:

- An elegant reception, featuring unique hors d’oeuvres creations served with a complementary wine selection
- An innovative, one-of-a-kind multi-course dinner
- Wine pairings presented with each course
- Exclusive interactions with and access to the award-winning chefs
- Ability to see behind the scenes and experience the preparation of the courses

There are two ways to jump in on the fun:

To order tickets ($175 + tax and tip), contact Jeff Black at 720-201-1853 or jeff@innercirclecompanies.com.


Drop me a line.

Yep! I've got TWO TICKETS available....gratis. (Hint: Tipping is nice...)

Here's how you can lay your hands on these tickets:

In the spirit of this post, leave me a comment...addressing the question: What does food mean to you?

Over the past few months, I've learned people approach their love of food from a number of different directions. Whether you lean towards ethnic food from the home country, molecular gastronomy with a twist of Americana, bon bons and brioche, or a beast over an open flame....

What is it about food that moves you...and what does that mean to you?

You've got until Wednesday May 5th to tell me all about it!

Note: If you're headed to Seattle for the International Food Blogger Conference, I hope you noticed this dinner is the night before the IFBC. You could....come to town a day early, dine & drink lavishly, and take time to enjoy the city before the conference kick in.

Sounds lovely, doesn't it?

The Interpretive Feast

Last fall I was introduced to Professor Britt Yamamoto, who teaches a master’s level class on the Politics of Food & Eating. Within seconds, I prodded him with questions about the class. "What topics are you covering? What's the required reading? How is the class structured?" He escaped my questions (read: interrogation) by sending me a copy of the syllabus.

Class readings probed serious issues surrounding agribusiness, sustainability, food sovereignty, biotechnology, and commodified food.

The class culminated with an assignment titled “The Interpretive Feast." Students were instructed to "explore your deeply embedded, largely unexamined personal eating narratives and recognize how these are linked to the broader social phenomena….Consider the broader scope of culture, history, politics, and economics.”

With that basis, students were asked to incorporate these ideas by preparing a dish that had meaning for them. This interactive assignment culled from a number of sources, including family traditions and favorite foods, using significance as a guideline.

I scored an invitation to the Interpretive Feast and on a drizzly morning, arrived at Professor Yamamoto's house. In the kitchen, a small group of students assembled their final preparations while I waited in the wings.

I've attempted to capture the experience in words at least a dozen times. Each attempt, my words ring more feeble than the first, but what I can say is that day had a profound impact on the way I look at food. I began to realize that every dish has meaning and it's as deeply personal as the person who prepared it. From the scones inspired by the mother-daughter tea in London, to authentic wild rice that still carries the scent of Minnesota lakes...and home, to the memories of family hunting camps and melt-in-your-mouth elk stew, food is a powerful thing. It ties us to the land and the people. It shapes our memories, provides comfort, and a link to our history. Food is so much more than mere consumption.

And then there's the story that moved me to tears. Fleeing Nazi occupation, a young Jewish girl abruptly left her homeland. She lost her siblings and all links to the past…except for her challah recipe. Over the course of her young life, every Friday she kneaded the dough. The recipe went hand in hand with the evening prayers, and this she knew by heart.

Flash forward 50+ years.

On a rain-soaked day in North Seattle, her granddaughter wove the pieces together with her own story. Her own life took a wayward path of rebellion and drugs, which had a powerful hold. An unexpected pregnancy proved to be a turning point. She kicked the drug habit and eventually made her way back to college. Along the way, she became curious about her heritage, and discovered her family’s Jewish traditions. The undercurrent of a rebel bubbles to the surface as she describes her faith--subscribing to those traditions that resonated and cast off those that didn’t. The challah became a powerful symbol…uniting these two women, present and past.

Every Friday, she makes challah for the Sabbath…with a recipe handed down from her grandmother. Today, her own daughter helps kneed the bread. Friends stop by and take a turn. From the traditions of the past, we erect our own traditions.

Blessing the bread

Flour, yeast and water symbolize so much more than their individual components. History, culture, faith, traditions…old and new, weave a web, uniting the past with the present.

Thanks to this experience, I’ve become much more reflective. Food isn’t just food anymore. I think about the stories, the traditions, and the people that had a hand in this food.

My everyday life is not always about the grass-fed beef raised on Tom Hartley’s farm, trimmed into steaks by an artisan butcher who has been working at the family business since he was 6 years old.

I recall my own family traditions…like tuna-noodle casserole, oozing with Velveeta cheese and crushed potato chips on top (the wavy kind, if we were lucky). This dish is a link to my own past, and present. As a kid, it was one of our most requested meals. But now, as an adult striving to be a more conscientious eater, I shudder to think how often I ate tuna noodle casserole…and the revolt that would follow if my mother used anything but Velveeta. (“Cheddar? How could you use cheddar?”)

Much to my grandmother’s distain, my mother was the first woman to hold a job in our family. She was the first to grapple with the precarious balancing act…juggling between the demands of work and family. Tuna noodle casserole was quick and easy. Mom could satisfy me, the youngest in the family, and still keep it hot while waiting for my brother to come home from football practice, or for my dad to drag himself home from a business trip. Thanks to tuna noodle casserole, we each enjoyed a hot meal…whenever we made our way to the table. And as I grew older, I learned, that’s no easy feat.

Each meal, we are presented with an opportunity for an interpretive feast. Whether you’re recalling traditions, or making new ones, think about it. This meal…what does it say about you?

Related Post:

I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke

Travel & Leisure: 50 Best New Restaurants in America

Fish Fry Restaurant, Seattle, WA
Photo credit: me!

This photo is significant for a number of reasons:

1. Fish Fry is my friend Michael Hebb's place.

2. The restaurant was opened as a front for Michael's notorious underground restaurants (think: modern-day speakeasy.)

3. The photo was taken on a camera...left in Michael's rental car, happily recovered, and mailed back to me.

4. I nearly deleted it.

5. And last but not least, this is my first nationally published photo! (Whoo hoo! I'm *still* doing the happy dance here!)

Looky here: "50 Best New Restaurants in America," Travel & Leisure, May 2009.

Food Prophet

Snapped at breakfast this morning....."Eat like you give a damn."

Amuse Bouche, the Beat of a Drum

On my way to a fabulous M.F.K. Fisher-inspired dinner, I found myself being led in the opposite direction.

In the heart of an affluent enclave...was that drumming I heard?

I followed the beats to a funky artist-run gallery. I've passed this spot a million times, later in the evening...long after they closed for business. More than once I've peered through the large windows, eyeing colorful Afro-Caribbean inspired art that filled the space in dreamy tropical colors.

On this evening, the door was cracked open and rows of folding chairs featured an audience...of exactly one. Opposite him was a character I can't even begin to describe:

A peek through the door resulted in an invitation to come listen.

I settled into a bench along the windows and noticed the musician played three djembe drums with intricately carved bases. Animal hides were stretched across each drum, and reverberated under a rhythmic blur of hands.

At times, the music seemed to flow through him, eliciting a meditative trance. As the beats grew louder, his head shook in a dance, urging nappy dreadlocks into motion. Only then did I realize his dreadlocks stretched to the floor.

After listening for several minutes, I thanked my host...and made my way to dinner.

Just down the street--yet worlds away--was a secluded private dining space, tucked behind a popular French bistro. I was led down a private walkway that spilled into a peaceful courtyard. This was the setting for an elegant dinner salon, dedicated to the readings of M.F.K. Fisher.

Inspired by her work, the dinner featured exquisite wines by Andrew Will and an unforgettable menu by Cremant chef Brendan Mcgill. Readings between courses served as a prelude to the chef's next creation. Candlelight flickered among the faces, and conversation flowed well into the night.

My favorite dish? I'm torn between:

Onglet "Rossini"
Grilled Hanging Tender with Cured Foie Gras and Truffled Pommes Puree


Ris de Veau, a la Union Station
Sweetbreads of Veal with Anise-Scented Veal Glace & Watercress Salad

For me, the enlightened evening of truffles & foie gras was was delightfully juxtaposed by the beat of an unforgettable amuse bouche.

Play on drummer man, play on.

M.F.K. would approve.