Every year, the Tom Douglas chefs visit the farm, help plant and transplant for the summer and fall season, and then relax, eat, and drink together around the communal wood table in the main house. The evening of Chef Plant was a memorable one this year, and the stories told have been transcribed and shared below by our Farm Manager, Dev Patel…
They have always been exceptional but this one felt special. Tom Douglas took a trip out to Fiesta Foods in Sunnyside, WA earlier that afternoon and brought back to the farm lamb, squid and other fixings along with a Spanish cazuela to cook a one-pot meal in the farm’s wood fire oven. We sat around the table drinking delicious beverages and had an intense game of bocce. During our dinner we talked about Jackie’s favorite question “how did we get to Tom Douglas Restaurants?” Each of our chefs wowed us with their tales ranging from “ET (aka Eric Tanaka) found me on the couch” to “I knew about the restaurants and Tom before I moved to Seattle” It was great to hear how our chefs became who they are now. But then Eric Tanaka asked the question: “[What’s your] most memorable meal?” The following is what each of us had to say:
Brock Johnson (chef at Dahlia Lounge)- it was the first time at Gramercy Tavern. “Incredible experience.” Brock and his guest opted for a seven course dinner with wine flight paring. At the pork belly course something amazing happened, the server brought Brock a small pour of Brooklyn Pale beer instead of a wine. He said that “the beer would work better with the smokiness of the belly than a wine.” He went on to say that “he saw me drinking beer at the bar while we were waiting for our table and thought I might like it.” Brock was blown away since he did not bring his beer to the table once they were seated— so it was clear that the server had been scoping them out/sizing them up before they even sat down. Brock tells us he will never forget that small but significant act of graciousness. It opened his eyes to how thoughtful service can be and how greatly it can impact a dining experience.
Matt Fortner (chef at Cuoco)- the public market in Valparaiso, Chile. Muchos mariscos (a lot of seafood)
Stacy Fortner (pastry head honcho)- she starts to tell us about her worst memorable meal— a toss-up between a tejon (a fierce badger) or an armadillo both eaten on trips to Mexico. These taste memories are far more memorable and interesting than the 20 course dinner at Per Se that she shared with her husband.
Dezi Bonow (chef at Palace Kitchen)- landing in Hanoi, Vietnam for the first time and after waiting for a few hours at the airport he realizes his friend is not coming to pick him up. Dezi eventually gets sick of waiting and heads into the city with an empty belly and no idea where to eat. He finds a stall in the city center serving vermicelli with cured pork liver or something….he admits he doesn’t know what it was and goes onto say “so memorable that I don’t even remember.” But being in a new city and wandering by himself and open to explore the flavors of the cuisine is something that he remembers the most.
Joe Labatt (chef at Brave Horse Tavern)- Barria de chivo en consommé, tortillas de mano, oregano de Mexico, cebolla, cilantro, mucho chile y 3 Modelo Especiales bien frios. All eaten and drunken at a hole in the wall in Southern California, whose name is a mystery!
Jackie Cross (Owner, Prosser Farm Farmer-in-Chief)- eating at Castello di Ama, Italy after being lost for hours on the road which ends up taking them to a goat trail. Finally after some navigational changes they made it to the winery and ate a perfect chicken spit-roasted in the fireplace with pasta and butter made by the resident grandmother, who did not speak a lick of English. The meal was silent yet memorable.
Dev Patel (Farm Manager and transcriber of these stories)- eating at Coi in San Francisco. The flavors put together dish after dish were harmonious and playful. The restaurant is an exploration, and they are awesome guides. After the “amuse” courses, the server appreciated and acknowledged Dev’s love and interest in the food, so she had the kitchen send out additional courses throughout the meal. Who could refuse an offer to eat more? Coi is an exception in fine dining places—there is that attention to every detail but what sets them apart is they strive to make their service and food feel relaxed and easy to approach— all of these things make a great restaurant, and that is memorable.
Eric Tanaka (Owner, Executive Chef)- Lafayette, Jean George’s first restaurant in the US. He was doing juice reductions and less fat focused items for flavor.
Kerri Eckels (chef badass of Catering)- Steak frites at Le Relais de L’Entrecôte, France. “I wanted to drink the sauce.” Kerri along with her father, mother, brother and sister drank a ton of red wine and their server was hilarious and chewed gum the entire time. Kerri also points out that “how can we have one memorable meal when we like a lot of different types of food and have been to so many good places? It really all depends on who you’re with or where you are.”
A big thank you to the chefs for your hard work on the farm and for making this Chef Plant so fun and to Jackie and Tom for hosting!