Monday, August 26, 2013

FoodTrek: Rollin' Deep, Seattle-Style, with Celebrity Chefs

In the wacky turn of events that has celebritized the culinary world to rock-star levels, it's a welcome sight to see that there are truly skilled chefs who are deserving of this spotlight. The fame doesn't distract from what they've always loved, which is an appreciation for food, its preparation, and for someone like celebrated chef, restaurateur, and TV personality Rick Bayless, it's an opportunity to educate and invigorate one's love of cooking. I had the very fortunate opportunity to see him and Seattle superstar chefs Tom Douglas and Thierry Rautureau host and cook up a storm for a cooking demo and engage food enthusiasts on both a local and nation-wide level during a live Twitter chat on #FoodieChats.

Chef Rick Bayless with the Seattle Breakfast of Champions - Photo by Wasabi Prime
The skinny on Rick Bayless's visit to Seattle was that he was in town to do a special live chat on #FoodieChats, a kind of social media broadcast series that regularly features culinary themes, trends and products, using the avenue of Twitter to access a wide audience of fans and participants. Negra Modelo beer was the sponsor for this chat, whose roasted malt Munich Dunkel style works well in cooking (as well as drinking), it's appropriate for the Mexican cuisine Bayless has loved for years, and it was one of the ingredients that was integrated into the earlier cooking demonstration for media. This demo had Chef Bayless and Chef Douglas cooking in front of a full audience, and MC Chef in the Hat (Rautureau) keeping it lively, funky-fresh and just giving his friends a hard time as they played with fire and sharp objects. Allez cuisine!

Checking out the prep area and getting to see the masters at work - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I was really excited to attend the earlier chef demonstration and lunch, held at Tom Douglas's event space, Palace Ballroom. It gave media the opportunity to hang out and chat informally with Rick Bayless as they were prepping for the lunch. He was happy to talk with everyone and honestly, he's one of the most down-to-earth, kind people you will ever meet. I've been a longtime fan of Bayless, so meeting him was a big honor for me. Before he was on everyone's television screens, winning the title of Bravo's Top Chef Masters series, Rick Bayless has been a long-celebrated, award winning chef hailing from the Chicago area, credited with introducing authentic Mexican cuisine to North American palates. He's spent a lot of time in Mexico, he's lived there, he continues to explore regional styles of cooking, and he shares and cultivates that knowledge through his restaurants and food products that reach many people who may not have the chance to see the Mexico he's been blessed with experiencing. We were all chatting before the demo started, joking that he had both a glass of beer and coffee for breakfast; he got a good laugh hearing that this is "how Seattle rolls," but it's actually pretty fitting that Seattle was the host of this #FoodieChats event, since Seattle is as equally tech-savvy as it is culinary-wise. It was funny to see all my media pals and I, juggling smartphones with cumbersome DSLR cameras, trying to get good shots for a blog or publication, while trying to broadcast a quick camera pic over Twitter or Instagram. The Seattle food scene is every bit of the food-obsessed cliche that gets made fun of, but honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Assembly Hall prefunc before the big chef demo at Palace Ballroom - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Forever the dilly-dallying explorer, I purposely got into Seattle early, so that I could explore the area around Palace Ballroom, which is like the unnofficial Tom Douglas Food Annex of Deliciousness. If you happen to be in that neighborhood, walk around the corner from Palace Ballroom on 5th, up to 6th, and check out Assembly Hall's juice and coffee (and beer) bar. What a cool hangout, and how lucky are you, if you live in the residential spaces above or around this place -- it's a total Seattleite lair, filled with wonderful reading material, quirky and smart decor, coffee done a million ways till Sunday (including a nice cold-press setup by the checkout area), and of course, WiFi. It was too early to visit TanakaSan, which does its own take on traditional Japanese food, but I was feeling a bit peckish, so I treated myself to a savory scone from Assembly Hall. The cheddar chive biscuits were sold out, but the smoky bacon and fresh corn scone more than sufficed -- hearty, flavorful and not so filling to where I was going to roll into the chef demo with a carb-coma. It was a nice reminder of why Palace Ballroom was a great place to host the lunch/demo event, and why Tom Douglas is such a great shepherd of the Seattle food scene -- he's able to balance the business side, expanding his brand, creating a lot of new jobs, along with maintaining the level of quality in food and service that both visitors and locals come to expect when his name is associated with a place.  

Things get cooking with Seattle's Top Chefs and one Top Chef Master - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I admit, to this day, I'm still too shy to really kick back and talk to the local celeb chefs -- I've seen Tom Douglas and pal/partner in crime Thierry Rautureau at so many food events; they're so comfortable and easy-going in front of five or five hundred people; I still get a little starstruck. They remain fun and genuine, and much like Rick Bayless, they make food feel accessible, that what makes something "good" isn't exclusivity or a price tag, it's the level of attention and appreciation that went into making and enjoying it. And that's what made this cooking demonstration such an incredible treat. The two chefs went straight to work, firing up the burners on the ad hoc Kitchen Stadium, Tom Douglas making a rich black bean soup topped with a crab and avocado salsa, and Rick Bayless making a shredded pork taco with roasted salsa on a fresh-made tortilla.

Delicious bites, inspired by the flavors of Mexico - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It was great hearing little tips and tricks while Tom Douglas and Rick Bayless cooked -- great multitasking skills. Douglas described how ham hocks make for an extra-flavorful soup base for his black bean soup, which everyone was commenting how rich it was -- cheers to the divine swine! Bayless explained that tin foil is your best friend when oven-roasting vegetables, especially in a pan, since the liquid of roasted-down veggies like tomatoes can ruin a surface. And he talked a lot about exploring dried chiles, and not to be afraid of experimenting. Bayless also reminded us of the benefits of searing and toasting a sauce, even a salsa, before serving; removing as much of the excess water in the ingredients just intensifies the flavor and a bit of extra caramelization doesn't hurt. The difference between a raw vegetable salsa and one that's been roasted and pan-seared is monumental; it's like two totally different things. Douglas mentioned this method is common in a lot of Chinese cooking as well, searing off aromatics, toasting and intensifying the ingredients so they lend their best flavors forward into a dish.

Beautiful and colorful luncheon, combining Southwest and Northwest - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Outside of the chef demonstration, we were treated to many dishes that were a combination of Mexican flavors and Northwest ingredients. There were ancho chile-glazed salmon tacos with a table full of salsas, guacamole and raw toppings. More of Tom Douglas's yummy black bean soup with crab and avocado -- he said they've served it at Etta's, so keep an eye out for it there. Crepe-like pancakes stuffed with roasted chiles, chicken, and cheese. There were shotglass tastings of a chilled pea soup, which I got a picture of, but missed sampling -- at least I heard it was delicious! Even though we started in the morning, everything tasted really good with a beer -- the Negra Modelo has a bit of a coffee-like roasted bitterness, so it was really nice with food, cutting through all the rich flavors and helping to keep the palate refreshed. And it was fun to say that you were having a beer in the morning for somewhat work-related reasons.

A great way to spend a morning/afternoon in Seattle - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It was a really beautifully-done event, bringing together a room full of people who appreciate food and its influencers. And it gave me the chance to check out #FoodieChats -- I wasn't able to attend the live event where Rick Bayless was present to talk to a crowd at a dinner, but I watched the live feed on Twitter, the way it was intended, and saw people from all over being able to interact with him and have their questions answered. That makes me happy; social media isn't just about endless selfies and cat/dog pics, it has the potential to connect people and share real information. Rick Bayless is an educator at heart, encouraging people to explore worldly cuisines and just get into the kitchen; he gets excited about ingredients and when people talk about what they like to cook, and he's as genuine on his own Twitter account as he is in real life, so he was an ideal subject for that week's special #FoodieChat. In a world where the celebrity chef bubble is rapidly expanding, it's nice to see that there are still chefs who have plenty to talk about in terms of a simple love of cooking. The same goes for our own local Seattle food celebs like Rautureau and Douglas -- they use their fame wisely, expanding businesses responsibly, exploring new culinary avenues, but always bringing their fans and food enthusiasts with them on their journey. 

Inspired roasted vegetable salsa - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I left the event invigorated and excited to spend some time in my own kitchen. The summer heat subsided at just the right time, so that I could roast some fresh vegetables from our CSA delivery that day -- I halved some tomatoes, sliced up a red onion, and two whole ears of corn, lightly tossed in oil and let them roast down in a 420-degree oven. They got caramelized and roasty-toasty after about 20 minutes, and I let them cool slightly before hauling out the food processor. I juiced/zested a fresh lime, threw in a handful of fresh cilantro and all the vegetables except the corn, to get buzzed down. I didn't have dried chiles, but I always keep a can of adobo chiles handy -- smoked chiles (usually jalapeno) preserved in a vinegary marinade -- which give a nice heat and smokiness to dishes. I threw in a spoonful of adobo chiles into the processor as well. I cut the roasted corn off the cob and folded that into the processed vegetables -- I didn't want them to lose their chunky texture, so kept the kernels whole. They added such incredible sweetness to the salsa -- like candy. I added salt to taste, and some cumin, and enjoyed the salsa immediately with some baked tortillas. I need to take some time and read through Rick Bayless's Frontera cookbook, which we all received after the event; I'm excited to read the recipes and continue to feel encouraged to play around in the kitchen.

1 comment:

  1. When I lived in Chicago, Topolobampo was one of my favorite places to eat. What a fantastic event.


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