Who Screwed Who? Jeremiah Tower in The Last Magnificent

Chef Jeremiah Tower, featured in the new documentary, The Last Magnificent 

Maverick. Innovator. Disruptor.

Jeremiah Tower is all of those things.

He was the darling of the America culinary scene, pioneering the concept of the star chef. Before Tower, chefs were nameless, and stayed in the kitchen. His San Francisco restaurant Stars broke the mold, and changed the industry with an open kitchen, blurring the line between food and entertainment.

How did a wealthy kid become an icon and celebrated chef?

The Last Magnificent from Anthony Bourdain's Zero Point Zero Productions takes a deep dive into the arch of Jeremiah Tower's life. His story deserves to be told. And it has all the marks of a beautiful balanced film, until the fourth act. At that point, who threw who under the bus, is a matter of debate.

But first, a bit of backstory.

Jeremiah Tower's family had wealth and privilege few can imagine. Bourgeoisie, whose wealth was derived from movie sound systems industry, they traveled around the world, kids in tow. Woefully neglected as a kid, Tower entertained himself, eating his way through five-star hotel menus. Normal kids play baseball and join the cub scouts, Tower collected elegant menus and learned to read French.

Fine food and loneliness.

This becomes a defining moment.

His story is told in three main segments: early life, his first restaurant job that ended up putting Chez Panisse on the map, and Stars.

You know about Stars in San Francisco? For years, it was the top grossing restaurant in America and THE place to be seen for celebrities and socialites. The restaurant had an all-star roster of cooks too--everyone from Mario Batali to Dominque Crenn and Emily Luchetti. As a ground-breaking restaurant, Stars is noted as the birthplace New American Cuisine, California Cuisine, and the rise of the Celebrity Chef.

And somewhere after that, things went to shit, and so does the film.

It's a jumbled mess of a story, but Stars' demise came from a number of epic factors. The San Francisco earthquake in 1989. Expansion into other restaurants, which meant the celebrity chef was pulled away from being the star attraction. Then there's a bitter investor dispute. And a lawsuit with a former employee.

At some point, chef jumped ship, leaving everybody asking, "Where is Jeremiah Tower?" He was a shooting star, who, after a wild ride, sought a quiet life and refuge in Mexico. Or so everyone thought.

The Last Magnificent was supposed to have a tidy ending, with this chef who is larger than life, fading into a Mexican sunset. Zero Point Zero crew were headed to film the last bits. Except Tower wanted to delay a couple weeks. All he said was, "Something's come up."

And then Tower threw everyone a curve.

72 year old Jeremiah Tower was coming out of retirement, taking the helm at New York's Tavern on the Green.

The film's director, Lydia Tenagalia, found out about it on Twitter. "We were supposed to be going to Mexico! Now I find out he's in New York." Was this Tower's attempt at a last hurrah? An opportunity to rewrite the failed ending of Stars? Tenagalia felt her stomach churn. "The film was almost done! Do I follow the story? How does it fit in the film? What does this mean?"

The hope was this would be a turn around story for Tavern on the Green, and Jeremiah Tower. But the odds were against them both.

"It became evident that it could be a big part of the story, but creatively, it was a challenge to take those pieces and put it together. In the end, it became a final ball of flames."

Up until this point in the film, I was rooting for Tower. Sure, he rubbed people the wrong way. Innovators are like that. While he shook up the status quo, the film was careful to balance those moments with empathy.

And then came that dreaded curve with Tavern on the Green.

Tower only lasted five months there, and his departure was far from a victory lap we hoped for. And that's where the story went sideways. The balanced empathy in the original 3/4 of the film went out the window.

Fortunately, I had a chance to talk with the director. "The sudden announcement about Tavern on the Green. Do you think he was trying to be sneaky about that?"

"I think there was an impulse to fuck with the end of the story. It was as if he was saying, 'Fuck you guys! I'm not going out like that.'" But Tower's story went awry with Tavern on the Green, specifically. "He picked a huge, iconic restaurant, and dove in."

In a more generous moment, she says that move "speaks a lot about his character. The measure of your life is the risks you take. He's always done that--whether it was successful or whether he failed miserably. It's a part of his character."

"Why do you think that?"

"He's a restless soul and he wants to be challenged, and to challenge others. He didn't want to end the film shuffling along the beach. It ended up being a dramatic illustration of what he's made of."

"Do you think your film was an impetus for making that choice--for him to come out of retirement and have one more moment of glory?"

"He'd say 'no', but I think it's more like, 'I'm going to throw myself into fire and you'll see.' He wanted to show me that even at the age of 72, he still has it. And he does."

"So, what happened?"

"The experience of Tavern showed me that he's the guy. That the restaurant is a holistic experience, but," thanks to the restaurant's meddlesome owners, "it fractured and fell apart because Tower wasn't in control."

In an earlier scene, you see Tower in command of the kitchen, with a big, robust opera playing at full volume. (Tower tells me Rigoletto is is favorite opera.) It's a stark contrast to every kitchen I've ever been in. Tenagalia is quick to note, Tower is a "happy explosion....and yet, he had incredible discipline in the kitchen."

His quest goes well beyond food; it's a "full sensory experience."

And that's how I'll remember him.

In this film, I wonder. Is the man known as The Last Magnificent...giving us all the bird? Maybe so. But then again, to get that close to greatness? Maybe that's what it takes.

Your Canadian Junk Food Shopping List

I went to Canada and came back with....a craving for All Dressed Chips.


Good thing there's a border between me and those chips!

But first, the backstory.

Jeremy, Rebecca, and I had a layover at the airport in Victoria. They're both Canadian so I got the lay of the land, probing them about important stuff. No, not about their sexy President who, when asked why his Cabinet was 50 percent female, responded, "Because it's 2015." DUH! And no, we did not go into detail about Canada's universal health care, or the fact that women get A YEAR for maternity leave. I needed to know about important stuff....like, "What's up with ketchup-flavored potato chips????"

At that very moment, another traveler chimed in, "They're addictive! And you can't get them in the States."

This is a man who knows things!

Meet Rob Scoundrel, who gave me the lowdown on Canadian junk food. "You gotta try Coffee Crisps." I made a note, and he scoffed,  "The Smarties you get in the States aren't the same--at all!"

Clearly we bonded. And by the time he left for his flight, we were Facebook friends, and snapping pictures. Junk food unites people. World peace, and Smarties.

A few minutes later, Rob came back and offered this Gift from the Gods. Cheers to the nearby airport kiosk! Sparkies are like M&Ms, with better chocolate. The Coffee Crisps are delicious with a nice hit of coffee flavor, and not overly sweet. When my buddy Lance comes to Canada, he confessed, they buy them by the case at Costco.

But wait, it gets better. 

I posted the photo on Facebook, and a flurry of responses came back. The love for Canadian junk food runs deep, y'all! The only problem? I didn't have a car. My trip was jam-packed and there wasn't a moment to spare, or so I thought. 

That night I was laughing about this entire exchange...meeting Rob at the airport, and the laundry list of Canadian junk food recommendations that followed. Well, let's just say, the Prince George Tourism folks did me a solid. After dinner one night, we pulled over at a 7-11. The neighborhood might have been questionable, but the goods inside were spot on! I grabbed nearly $30 worth of stuff, all in the name of 'research'. 

So, if you're headed over the border, first thing to look for is Old Dutch brand All Dressed Chips. Accept no substitutes. (Ruffles, WTF? No. No. No. Not even close.) Old Dutch? Hello, my lovelies! 

What makes these chips so great? First, they don't skimp on the seasoning. Each chip is amply covered, and licking it off your fingers merely extends the joy.... Second, the chip itself is the perfect ratio--not too thick, not too thin, not too crispy (looking at you Kettle Cooked), and definitely not wavy. Pure potato flavor and ideally executed. What flavor is "All Dressed"? Well, there we have a bit of a mystery. It's like an everything bagel, in chip form, blending salt, vinegar, BBQ, sour cream and onion. In other words, utterly crave-worthy. Thanks for the tip Miss 604 and Chris Hoffman!

Homesick Canadians can even order a carepage with all the goods! 

After we left the store, my buddy Lance came through with his must have Canadian junk food list. Clearly another trip to Canada is in order, right? Well, in case you're headed to Canada, spread the love, and grab some junk food. Specialties to look for:

- Dare Fudge Cookies
- Smartie McFlurry (at McDonalds)
- Aero Bars
- Crispy Crunch
- Mr. Yorkie
- Crunchie Bar
- Mak Toffee
- Ketchup Chips

Beguiling Delights at Northern Lights Estate Winery

On a trip to Prince Gorge, BC, top of the list for food lovers is a trip to Northern Lights Estate Winery. The newly constructed tasting room with lofted ceilings and wrap around windows, features an orchard and and an idyllic spot along the Nechako River. 

Wine tasting on beautiful grounds? I'm in! 

But there's a twist.

At this high latitude, grapes do not thrive. The focus at Northern Lights Estate is on fruit-based wines. In other words, anything but grapes. Blending fruits such as blueberry, strawberry, haksup, gooseberry, apple, cherry, raspberry, black currant, and raspberry, they achieve wines that are reminiscent of familiar favorites, like Gewurtztraminer. 

Take the adjectives that we normally use to describe wines, and put them in the bottle. Genius, no? 

I met up with Northern Lights partner, Doug Bell, for a deep dive into their process. 

The first thing you notice is that the fermentation tanks are much smaller than a typical grape winery. Why? Grape wines can be held up to a year. With fruit-based wines, the fermentation is a short 3-4 weeks. Then they pull out the fruit and press it. The advantage is that with fruit-based wines, they can produce three cycles a year. While the yield is small, this enables them to make wine year-round. 

But wait. Everything that goes into a bottle isn't in season at the same time. You guessed it. While they use fresh fruit whenever possible, key ingredients like rhubarb have a short season, so they rely on a cache of frozen fruit. 

 Cross the busy Prince George Pulpmill Road, and you'll find a lush garden showcasing the fruits featured in Northern Lights Wine. The first thing Doug will tell you, is that they are proud of their growing practices. "We feed the soil, not the plant." And from this vantage point, you can see they are situated in a valley, which gives them a competitive advantage. The breeze blows off mold, frost pockets, mildew, and pests. 

Here, you trade romantic rows of grape vines for rhubarb plots and berry bushes.

Just beyond the garden, in the summer, event spaces feature outdoor concerts, movie nights, and in the future, they hope to offer morning yoga classes. 

 Name that fruit.

Have you ever heard of a haskap? As Doug explained it, the elongated haskap berry it has a high level of tannin and the complex flavor is both tart and sweet. It's essential to their production, they've locked down the entire local inventory. 

 Back at the tasting room, we finally got a chance to taste their wines. While I expected a fruit-based wine to be sweet, the first whites we tried were quite dry. Moving into the 'reds' you find the expected attributes of cassis and cherry.

My favorite was a limited release called the Seduction. It may have had something to do with a sunny day, sipping wine on the patio....along the bank of a lazy river, but that's exactly what it was meant for. Well chilled, this blush wine made with rhubarb and strawberry was tart, with a hint of sweetness on the finish. Seduction? Perfectly named.


Though Northern Lights is a young winery, they're on to something special. Expansion projects are already under way and it will be exciting to see where they land in the years ahead. I suspect they will be a significant player shaping this emerging industry. 

Dare to Explore: Prince George, British Columbia

Dare to explore? Challenge offered, and accepted.


Where is Prince George????  C-A-N-A-D-A!

At the confluence of two glacier-fed rivers, Prince George is an idyllic spot north of Vancouver. For those exploring Northern British Columbia, summertime festivals keep a steady stream of visitors coming through. With a thriving arts scene, excellent food, and a warm welcome at every turn, by the time I left, Prince George had worked its charm on me. 

Seattle -> Vancouver --> Victoria --> Prince George

From Seattle, getting to Prince George is a bit of an adventure, but the flight provides plenty of eye candy.

Flying over the islands that dot the Inside Passage between the city of Vancouver (on the mainland) and nearby Victoria on Vancouver Island. Bit of trivia? Vancouver Island is the largest Pacific Island east of New Zealand. Getting here is a quick 15 minute flight from Vancouver.

Historically, this area was settled for resources, including fur and lumber. Today, forestry is still a key part of the economy. Along the shoreline, you can see commercial rafts of tree waiting for transport.

Crossing the Coast Mountain Range, we spent our time looking for glaciers and late spring avalanches. Fortunately my travel companion, Jeremy Derksen, is an ace mountaineer and gave me an impromptu lesson. "No, that's not an avalanche. See that spot over there? The side facing the sun? That's an avalanche."

Landing in Prince George, you're greeted by a mural featuring the town's mascot, Mr. PG. The original stands 24 feet high and is a tribute to the region's timber trade.

While in town, I got a chance to check out the local book store, Books & Company. The kids section captivated me with a large section with subjects dedicated to various native tribes, aboriginals, and lore. This far north, you can see the aurora borealis or "Painted Skies."

Quick. Who's the most famous Canadian chef? Michael Smith is a TV chef who has continuously been on the air since 1998. They had several of his books, but this chef-focused book caught my eye.

Understandably, True North is long on fish and seafood, but this dish stood out. Behold. Mortadella made with seal meat. The recipes headnote explains, seal hunting is highly regulated and there are quotas. White-furred baby seals are off limits. I wonder...if you don't hunt, is it possible to get seal meat through other channels? Ah well, I won't be making this anytime soon!

Taking in Prince George's finest bites means a mandatory stop at Ohh Chocolat Cafe. Owner Caroline Longhurst indulged us in an after-hours chocolate dipping class, while we talked about her growing business. "We're perfectly imperfect in everything we do."  Cases are lined with rustic cakes, over-sized confections and truffles, bolstered by hearty lunch and brunch offerings. "We're in a community that cares about taste and value" and she delivers on both.

The bite that haunts me still is this lovely morsel, affectionately known as an Oopsie. A deluxe version of Rice Crispy Treat, Ohh Chocolat's Oopsie begins with honey, white chocolate, peanut butter, and Rice Crispies. Palm-sized portions are cut into bars, then dipped in chocolate. It's a glorious creation and if mail order was an option, it would be on my regular rotation.

Between the flight and a bit of sight seeing, it was time to grab a glass of wine and relax. Fortunately,  we nabbed a reservation at Cimo Mediterranean Grill. Their mezze shared plate is perfect for noshing. Turn your gaze to the lower left hand corner of the photo and you'll see the most delicious lemon-infused risotto cakes. A creamy, feather light interior, played against a crispy pan fried exterior, and with that, chef set a new benchmark.

The beauty in Mediterranean food is that it can be so simple, and yet, extraordinary. At Cimo's, Salt Spring Island mussels were quickly simmered in a beguiling mix of basil, almond pesto, and cream, and I was swiping every last drop from the bowl.


Cheers to exploring a destination! More to come tomorrow....

Have Bar, Will Travel

Does my life look dreamy to you?

Because it is.

Some days, I can't wrap my brain around it. Dinner with Tony Bourdain, lunch with Mark Bittman, brunch with Joel Salatin. It boggles my mind.

And last week, I managed to hit a new high.

I had a meeting with an entrepreneur, and scheduled a rendezvous at my local coffee shop. Picture a Jerry Garcia-themed place with heavy wood tables. The bread is organic and made in-house. A reader board outside begs, "Save the Butterflies!" You get the idea....

I breezed through the door, and stopped dead in my tracks. A shaft of light illuminated a stylish travel bag perched on a table. I glanced toward the owner. He looked straight out of a magazine. Tall, blonde, and a presence that was unmistakable. I pictured him stepping off a private jet, flying direct from Tokyo or Milan.

"Hi! Are you Craig?"

Yep. That's him. My one o'clock.

Minutes into our conversation, I'm relieved to discover, Craig Krueger's more substance than style. He may be easy on the eyes, but Craig leads with impressive drive and business acumen.

I'm intrigued. How did he go from a small town, population 1,500, to inventor and entrepreneur, with a product sold in over 20 countries? It's often said that the puzzle pieces of life fit together best, when looking in the rear view mirror.

A small town Midwestern boy, Craig was no stranger to hard work. "I started declaring income when I was fifteen." He and his twin brother harvested ginseng fields in Wisconsin from sun up until three. After work, they went to their grandparent's house and bailed hay until dark. Farm work waits for no one.

College was looming, and to pay for it, they enlisted in the Army reserves. Still in high school, summer their junior year...was spent at boot camp. The brothers returned home for senior year, and shortly after graduation, Army training beckoned. A mind for detail became evident. In college, Craig studied anesthesiology, and trained as a combat medic in the reserves.

Plot twist.

On a whim, he submitted photos to a model search website. A scout signed him on the spot. First gig? Fly to LA for an Ambercrombie & Fitch campaign.

Between modeling jobs, he worked as a bartender, specializing in off-site events. Eventually he owned his own business, hiring out bartenders for private events and corporate gigs. Sold that. Pursued something else. It wasn't the right fit and a moment of crisis hit. What's next? "I was at the end of my rope."

After some soul searching, he remembered those years, traveling to various events. Bartenders would show up with their kit in a suit case, a shopping bag, or a box. "It was nuts!"

The wheels were in motion. "What if...I designed a bag to make it easier? A mobile bar...in a bag?"

Diving into an industry you know nothing about? How do you go from idea to innovation? That can be intimidating. Fortunately, he was in the right place. "I found resources that were plugged into the old sewing community in Seattle." JanSport, Filson, and Eddie Bauer all had their start in Seattle.

An avid learner, Craig explored all aspects of the business--from the prototype to patterning, and making markers. (Markers are made so you know what your yields are when the design is laid out on fabric. Maximize the layout for minimum loss--which becomes key, especially with an expensive fabric. Leave as little as possible on the cutting room floor.)

Finding players with a legacy was key. He tapped into a bag consultant with 20 years experience, a pattern maker that's been in business for 30 years, and a manufacturer who specializes in American-made products. "You know the Crawfish House in White Center? My stitcher is near there."

At the cafe, we opened the bag, and people immediately stopped to ask about it.

"I created the bag I wanted to carry."

Craig drew inspiration from medical bags used in combat, and he adapted it for bartenders. Thoughtful features include a neon orange interior that's visible in low light conditions. The steel grey exterior is made with a high-grade waterproof material, and it's lined with a durable cloth used for sailing. The sexy design screams Porsche and Rodeo Drive-style, with rugged function. Multiple strap options are built in (messenger, backpack and handle), and made for an urban environment. "Bartenders ride the train, bike, or motorcycle to work. They need flexible options."

While the bag is designed with bartenders and brand ambassadors in mind, immediately I thought of camping, boating, or weekend getaways with friends. It may be designed for pros, but I'd get some serious use out of it.

BYOB--Bring Your Own Bar?

I'm on it!

Looks like a typical carry on bag, yes? The magic is inside....


What's your preference? Stirred or shaken? Notice how the bag completely opens from the top and both sides? The open panel tucks into a pocket, allowing easy access to the contents inside.

A side panel opens to hold your bar kit and stirrer. A deep pocket runs the length of the bag and easily fits a laptop.

Pocket detail. Customize your kit anyway you want, but Craig's looked like this. L-R, Top to Bottom: Muddler, bottle key, peeler, cocktail strainer, jigger, knife, ice scoop, Microplane, and julep strainer.

Long on style and function, his bags are all handcrafted and made in the USA.

UPDATE 2/24: It's HERE! The Kickstarter is live. Get your very own bar in a bag. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mavenhal/bar-back-urban-multi-carry-travel-backpack-to-tote

Update: You want one. I know you do. Sorry. This is just a preview. It's not available for sale yet. Craig's Kickstarter launches 2/15. I'll get you a link when it's live.

In the meantime, check out the 1.0 version of the bag. http://mavenhal.com/

When the Stars Align - Inside the StarChefs Gala

In December, New York based StarChefs shined the spotlight on Seattle's Rising Stars. But first, you need to know this: selection for the awards is a grueling process. Over the course of three trips (averaging 7-8 days each), StarChefs teams photographed and interviewed over 100 chefs and food artisans.  (Full list of the Seattle Rising Stars is here.) 

Earlier this summer, I had a rare opportunity to sit in on one of those interviews. Chefs are asked to prepare four dishes -- three that are currently on the menu and one chef's choice. That single chef's choice dish says a lot. For the interview I attended, chef Katie Gallego prepared a consume with a whimsical house-extruded alphabet pasta, strewn with fresh flowers. Why this dish? For her, soup holds a special reverence. It's the mark of simple ingredients, executed well. Honing her technique, perfecting consume took several months. The pasta extruder was new to the restaurant, and getting the dough just right took some trial and error. Using the alphabet die for her pasta shape reflects both nostalgia and her tongue-in-cheek humor, while delicate blossoms added a feminine touch. (Lady chef in the house!) Looking into the depths of her soup, I was reminded...if you ask, there's a story behind everything. 

On to the event! At the awards gala, I had an all access pass. Wine in one hand, camera in the other, let's go find some trouble....

Heading into the awards ceremony are Canon's Director of Hospitality Charles Veitch III, Stoneburner and Bastille's sommelier James Lechner, and Rocky Yeh, spirits portfolio ambassador for Vinim Wine and Importing (aka Camp Runamok's Benevolent Dictator.) 

Getting ready to take the stage are Rising Stars (L-R) Travis Kukull of Mollusk, Brandon Pettit of Delancey, and Edouardo Jordan of Salare.

Well, hello there! More Rising Stars. (L-R) Brendan McGill of Hitchcock, Heong Soon Park of Tray Kitchen, and Joe Ritchie from Goldfinch Tavern at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Winners row. All the StarChefs award recipients were seated in the back row of the theater. A proverbial who's who in Seattle food and drink.

A packed theater for the awards ceremony.

Goldfinch Tavern chef, Joe Ritchie with his award. "Hi Mom, I won!" 

While Joe was on stage getting another award for best plating (and a $5,000 check), I got a closer look at his RisingStars award. Nice, eh?

Coming off the stage, I caught up with the boys of McCrackenTough restaurant group. (L-R) Are Rising Stars Jeff Vance, executive chef of SPUR Gastropub and Cameron Hanin executive chef of Tavern Law. Lending a hand for the night is Chris Morgan.


After the awards, the recipients raced back to the main gala, gearing up the crush of people. Here Revel chef-owner Seif Chirchi (left) puts the finishing touches on his dish of seared wagyu, cucumber laarb, sorrel, and shrimp. 

StarChefs honed in on Seattle's small distillery movement. Nabbing an artisan Rising Star award is Westland Distillery, pouring American Single Malt Scotch Whiskey. That's Westland's Sales Manager Matt Freerks on the left and Whiskey Ambassador Drew Haugstad on the right.

Have waffle iron, will travel.

Mollusk chef Travis Kukull created a an okonomiyaki for his restaurant's menu. He was looking for street-style bar food that was international, but adaptable to a Northwest spin. Breaking with tradition, he wanted to use Northwest ingredients inside and on top. Admittedly, he has a "very active mind" and says he's cooked over 500 versions, sometimes changing it every day. For the event, his okonomiyaki featured pickled local giant octopus (whole octopus ranging 20-30 pounds), kewpie mayonnaise, and bonito flakes.

"Hey Chef! Can I get a photo?" "Sure! Can my wife be in it?" Mollusk chef Travis Kukull and his wife, Rachel.

I've been following this woman on Twitter for years. A highlight of the night was meeting Antoinette Bruno (@Antoinette_b), StarChef's CEO and Editor-in-Chief. Oh, the stories this woman could tell! Hero worship got the best of me and all I managed to eek out was something like, "I'm a huge fan of your work." 

Plating in action, thanks to students from Seattle Central Culinary Academy. 

This was a tower of goodness, but I tilted the top back so you could see the layers. Canlis is a legendary fine dining restaurant, often on the James Beard short list for best restaurant in America. Here, their pastry chef has prepared "Banana Brains" with chocolate, banana, miso, and peanuts.

Rising Star pastry chef, Baruch Ellsworth, from Canlis. 

Look at this beautiful dessert! My camera doesn't do it justice. Pastry chef Junko Mine is at Cafe Juanita, a highly regarded upscale Italian restaurant. The official description is woefully short: Chocolate Bread, Ricotta, Fruit, and Nuts. I tracked back with the owner, Holly Smith, for more information. Bread, really? "Her bread is amazing and it's great as a loaf...for this dish, turning it into a crostini gave great texture and allowed us to use the bread in a dessert in an unexpected way. Gianduja, house made is on top, ricotta, house made and flavored with orange zest and a great local honey below." How do they achieve those otherworldly shapes? Thin slices of bread are draped over foil cylinders and baked until crisp.

The chefs of Cafe Juanita. Meet James Beard Award Winner and chef-owner Holly Smith with Rising Star pastry chef, Junko Mine.

If anyone's counting, the boys from the McCrackenTough restaurant group picked up four Rising Star awards. SPUR's bartender, Seth Sempere, prepared a beguiling cocktail called the Mambo Sun.

What's in Sempere's Mambo Sun? Here you go....

Without a witness, I could have done some serious damage here. Behold...Clare Gordon and General Porpoise's warm apple galettes topped with melting camembert. The crust was absolute perfection. Dear Clare, what's the secret behind your crust? She tells me it's all butter "and I use a robot coupe. It's fast, which helps keep the ingredients super cold." 

Crew for the gala: Joshua Hart of Monsoon, Rising Star Clair Gordon of General Porpoise, and her pastry cook, David Casler.

Each dish of the night was paired with a beverage, and several people pointed me here. "Have you tried The Pundit?" A notable stop, for sure. This is the 2013 Syrah from Tenet Wines, based in the Columbia Valley, WA.

This dish stopped me in my tracks. Cameron Hanin of Tavern Law presented foie gras paired with freshly shaved mushrooms and Saskatoon berries. Fortunately, the evening was winding down and we had time to talk. The pairing caught me off guard, so I asked him about the thought process behind his dish. In my notebook, he drew a diagram. First, he starts by asking himself, "What's special?" Saskatoon berries have a very short season (three weeks) and he had a stash of them frozen. Next, what's the flavor profile? Raisins and vanilla. What goes with that? Foie. How do I want to serve that? In a mousse? Terrine? Torchon? The torchon won. Next, what goes with offal and game meats? Juniper, red wine, and mushroom. All flavors he worked into the dish. Why raw mushrooms? For earthiness and texture. Dressed in a light vinaigrette, the mushrooms softened some, but still retained freshness and texture, adding a nice contrast to the berries. The berries are pickled in champagne vinegar and simple syrup, then tossed with a puree of juniper, more Saskatoon berries, and red wine.

Want a drink? Bastille and Stoneburner sommelier, James Lechner. Notice the pin on his lapel? Court of Masters Sommeliers. 

At the tail end of the event, I met Canlis chef Brady Williams. While I neglected to get a photo of his dish, it was the essence of simplicity. The brief description of his dish says, "Spot prawns, Vermouth, and Espelette." Scrawled in my notebook is this entry, "Most tender, delicious prawn I've ever had. He cooked it for just 3 minutes." What's the secret? Sous vide shimp and outstanding sourcing. The spot prawns came from a fisherman in Alaska. He says, "I bought his entire quota--1,400 pounds." 

Packing up for the night. Here's the Canlis gear. Sansaire sous vide, natch.

And finally, the after party at the Coterie Room. Pictured here is Sean Kenniff from StarChefs' NYC office, who introduced me to Mack McLaughlin of Greenman farm. Everyone has a story, right? According to Sean, Mack "transitioned late in life from furniture making and repair to raising microgreens because he thought there's gotta be a way he could make money from farming. He delivers his microgreens to restaurants alive, in dirt, still growing."

Cheers! To Seattle's Rising Stars. (Photo credit: Star Chefs)