When I heard that my all time favorite, James Beard Award winning, Seattle restaurateur extraordinaire Tom Douglas hosts a weeklong cooking camp every summer, I was intrigued to say the least. Last March I waited anxiously for the camp information to pop up on his web site so I could learn the details IE: when, where, and how much.
The when and where were no problem. The how much was a bit much, but having an August birthday, as well as a generous and supportive husband, certainly has it’s rewards! Let’s just say Happy early Birthday to me! I’m off to Seattle for six days.
Camp home base is the Palace Ballroom, the Douglas enterprise event space. Located on 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle, the venue has everything one could want for a classy event, exposed brick, velvet drapes, open bar, on site kitchen, and 6000 square feet to accommodate everything from an intimate soiree to a grand affair with 300 of your closets friends. Incidentally, my husband and I chose the Palace Ballroom for our wedding last year, for two reasons. One, we wanted Tom Douglas food and two; it was absolutely perfect for our vision of the wedding!
Upon walking into the Palace Ballroom for my first day of Culinary Camp, impressive and first rate don’t begin to cover it. I started snapping photos like mad; just to show my husband his investment had not gone to waste.
There was certainly no lack of food any of the five days. Wine, beer or cocktail pairings accompanied all of our food tastings. To add insult to injury there was also an open bar, so if you wanted something other than what was being served, by all means, ask and you shall receive.
Each of the 40 participants got a personalized three ring binder organized by day with information and recipe handouts from each presenting chef. We also received an event tee shirt, two different aprons and two different tote bags filled with goodies. Event sponsors including Starbucks, City Kitchen, and Metropolitan Market gave us gift cards. Makers Mark Whisky, also an event sponsor gifted each of us a full size bottle. Several of the guest chefs had cookbooks, which we would each get a personalized and signed copy. Some times up to three cookbooks in a day. By the end of day two, I had five books already.
The demonstration area was set up like a TV set. The camp participants were seated on one of three raised levels to properly see what was going on in the kitchen. The “stage” or kitchen was a slight U shape with plenty of prep area, two burners and a plethora of kitchen equipment all organized in a way that was not cluttered, but quite pleasing to the eye. Flanking the stage were two large hung projection screens. The cameras were attached to lights above the workspace. One camera was over a prep area and the other was over the burners. We always had an excellent view of what was going on.
Each day, there was a daily challenge. Points would be awarded to first, second and third place winners. At the end of the week, the person with the most points would win a Sous Vide machine (a very expensive piece of specialized cooking equipment). Our first day, I was rather impressed with my deboning skills, however modest. We each got our own rabbit to debone and present in an organized fashion on the cutting board. I opted out of wearing latex gloves, to better feel what I was doing. I did however; give myself a rather small cut on my thumb. When the 15-minute time limit was up, I triumphantly announced to myself, “Utensils down, hands up!”
Each day we were served breakfast at the Palace Ballroom from 8:30 to 9:00 am. Every morning was a different theme. Cowboy Breakfast, Dim Sum, Brave Horse Tavern Breakfast, etc. Each breakfast was complete with coordinating music and paired with an optional cocktail . . . or coffee or juice or whatever your breakfast drinking pleasure.
The cooking demos started at 9:00 am sharp. We’d move into the main area and find our nametag. Each day, they’d have us sitting in a different spot and next to new people.
A few of the guest chefs and their restaurants: Tom Douglas (to many to name), Thierry Rautureau (Rover’s & Luc), Nancy Oakes (Boulevard, San Francisco), Cormac Mahoney (Madison Park Conservatory), Vikram Vij (Vij’s, Vancouver, BC), Shiro Kashiba (Shiro’s), and Armandino Batali (Salumi). [All restaurants are in Seattle, unless specified.]
With each demo, we were served a miniature of whatever the chef was making. The taste was always paired with a drink of some sort – wine, beer, cocktail or sometimes something non-alcoholic. With an average of five demos per day, you can imagine it added up to a great deal of food…and adult beverages!
As I already mentioned, many of the chefs had cookbooks. After the demo, they would sit down and we’d line up to have a book dedicated and signed as well as a brief time to chat.
We’d take several breaks throughout the day. Around noon, we’d also be served lunch (just in case anyone was hungry). There would also be time to work on the daily challenge. The daily challenges included: de-bone a rabbit, create a meal collage, identify photos taken of ingredients ½ inch from the surface (it’s harder than you think), identify different “nasty bits”, and a culinary crossword puzzle.
A couple of the days included field trips outside of the Palace Ballroom. We walked to South Lake Union to their Dahlia Workshop on Day 4. There we were presented with another Top Chef style challenge. In teams of four (by pulling knives, more or less) we had 30 minutes to make a salad, an entrée and guacamole. Each dish had to have avocado (as sponsored by the California Avocado Commission). We could use anything in a mystery box, anything that was already on the table, and anything in the Dahlia pantry. Ten minutes to plan and then GO! What a crazy whirlwind that was! I have even MORE admiration and respect for what the Top Chef competitors go through.
Stay Tuned for Culinary Camp with Tom Douglas – Part 2