The James Beard Celebrity Chef Dinner

Back in the day...and between restaurant gigs, I took a job with a temp agency that specialized in catering personnel. I'd ring them up in the morning, "Any work for me?"

A long pause was inevitably followed by the rustling of papers. Bored and exhausted, a voice responded with my marching orders, "I gotta a country club dinner with a hosted bar. Be there by 3:00." She droned on, "Expect to be there eight hours, maybe longer. Staff meal will be provided." Without ceremonly, the line would die abruptly. No questions, no good bye. Just be there.

As a temp-for-hire, our standard uniform comprised of a tuxedo shirt (oh-so-sexy for women--they never fit over breasts, waists or hips), a hook-in-the-front bow tie and to add insult to injury...a Rat Pack-era cummerbund. In that ill-fitting shirt/cummerbund ensemble, my breasts jutted out like torpedoes! Thankfully, from the waist down, we could wear long as it was black.

Wherever we worked, temp help were low men in the pecking order...and this was made abundantly clear. Relegated to all the shitty tasks, we'd haul cases of plates, racks of stemware, and wheel bulky 10' round tables from room to room. Wearing through my deodorant long before dinner, I learned to pack an extra supply.

I was lost in this memory when the elevator discretely announced our arrival. An automated voice cooed in a slight British accent "Seventy-fifth floor." The doors slid open, soundlessly. Crowned by a country club on the uppermost floors, the tallest building in Seattle is distinguished by wrap around windows and jaw-dropping views from every angle.

Ten years ago I worked here as a temp for Easter brunch.


I am dining on a media pass, courtesy of the James Beard Foundation.

My former client is tonight's Celebrity Chef. He and the in-house chef will alternate courses on a menu laden with the finest delicacies -- foie gras, king crab, and trout from Tasmania.

We may be in the midst of a recession, but tonight we honor The James Beard Foundation and the wine is flowing!

The James Beard Celebrity Chef Dinner: May, 2009
Seattle, WA

Pre-dinner views & appetizers, served with:

Kendall-Jackson 2007 Vintner’s Reserve Riesling

Chef James Hassell's Balsamic Fig with Cana de Oveja on Rosemary Shortbread

I stepped in the kitchen to say hello....

Tyler and Celebrity Chef Ethan Stowell, preparing:
Geoduck Salad with Radish, Celery and Trampetti Olive Oil

Detail: Geoduck Salad with Radish, Celery and Trampetti Olive Oil

Chef James Hassell's Shrimp Escabeche, White Bean Mascarpone

Detail: Shrimp Escabeche, White Bean Mascarpone

Chef Ethan Stowell, plating Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Red Wine Jelly and Candied Orange

Detail: Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Red Wine Jelly and Candied Orange

Ethan's station: (clockwise) Trampetti Olive Oil, Foie Gras Mousse, Sea Salt, Minced Chives, Red Wine Jelly

Columbia Tower Club cooks, on their home turf.

Dish pit...with a view!

Through the window, that's Lake Washington and the 520 bridge.

Set up in the private dining room, Ethan and Ryan prepare for the 1st course.

Hamachi crudo, sliced and ready to go. They fan four slices of hamachi, and before laying it out on the plate, dust the underside with sea salt.

On the homestretch...

1st Course, by Chef Ethan:

Hamachi Crudo with Avocado, Chilies, Lime, Arugula

Kendall-Jackson 2007 Vintner’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc

2nd Course by Chef James:

Dungeness & King Crab Parfait
Shaved Foie Gras & Cured King Salmon, Tomato, Meyer Lemon & Cucumber Gelees

Kendall-Jackson 2006 Late Harvest Chardonnay

3rd Course, by Chef Ethan:

Ocean Trout with English Peas, Wild Ramps, Morel Mushrooms

Kendall-Jackson 2006 Highland Estates Pinot Noir

4th Course by Chef James:

Beef Tenderloin & Short Rib Roulade
Heirloom Tomato Espagnole, Olive & Roasted Shallot Bread Pudding

Kendall-Jackson 2005 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

5th Course, by Chef Ethan:

Sour Cream Panna Cotta with Rhubarb Compote, Rhubarb Sorbet and Pistachio Crumble*

Kendall-Jackson Piner Hills Grand Reserve Port

Sunset over Puget Sound


* After dinner I had a moment to chat with Ethan. Like an athlete rehashing the game, he asked, "Did you see the Solo Cup lettering came through on the panna cotta?"


We both begin to laugh.

"Look!" He grabs a half-eaten plate of dessert, scrapes away the remaining crumble and sure enough, I read: SOLO. To conceal the unfortunate logo, they added the crumble.....