Welcome to West Coast Cooking
Leave town for a day or two.
Is it possible that a salad could change someone’s life? Probably not. Recently
however, I did have a salad that became the pivotal focal point for how I will
shape the menu at my restaurant when it eventually opens. I have been actively
working on Restaurant Marché for about a year, writing the business plan,
securing financing, working with landlords, designers, contractors, graphic
artists, my wife and my own internal voices to come up with a design, a menu, a kitchen
that makes sense.
Then, intrigued by an e-mail invitation to experience “Portland Perks,” I
hopped a train with my wife Betsy, checked into a hotel and went out to dinner.
I have been hearing about Cathy Whims’ swank Italian bistro for years and this
was our chance to experience it. The place was everything I imagined it would
be and more. Authentic Italian, check; pure Portland, also check;
inspirational, that too. I hesitate to use a word like inspirational when I’m
on the brink of opening my own place. I could probably just confess that it was
influential in some vague way and leave it at that. But “inspirational” is
really more like it. That “spiri-“ part refers to breath, and the place was
like a deep cleansing breath of fresh air.
Chef Whim’s place reminded me that once it’s up and running, a restaurant can
be a calm, restorative place where people are fed, nourished and entertained,
even while the staff enjoys productive, meaningful work that’s simultaneously
faithful to tradition and creative.
“Nostrana” means “ours;” or as the back of Whim’s business card puts it, “Local
is the most powerful word in the market and it is never taken in vain. In
Italian it is … nostrane, whose literal meaning is ours. TO shoppers, ours
means its better because it has traveled a short distance to market, hence its
fresher. An underlying, more emotional secondary message is that it will be
more satisfying because the taste is the comforting one of home.” – Marcella
Well, I might add a third meaning to the word: unique to us. Take for example
Whims’ lettera d’amore to the traditional Tuscan bistecca alla firoentina. The
two-inch thick full kilo of beef is dry-aged for thirty days and tastes, not so
much of Florence as it does of Oregon. Grilled over a wood fire and seasoned
with nothing more than salt, pepper, olive oil and squeeze of lemon, it is a
revelation. Of course it’s crazy expensive ($60), but it would generously feed
a family of four. Even more expressive of this “Unique to us” definition of
Nostrana is the salad.
Inslata Nostrana is radicchio, Parmigiano, rosemary-sage croutons (Made form
leftover focaccia) and a Caesar-style dressing. Italy doesn’t even DO Caesar
salad; it’s an American salad that originated in Tijuana of all places. But
here, Caesar is both perfectly Italian and perfectly Portland. The secret
according to Whims is to soak the radicchio overnight in cold water to extract
the bitterness and crisp it up. It is quite simply a revelation.
That’s how I want food at Restaurant Marché to be; not complicated, not
necessarily unheard of, but revelatory. I want people to re-experience onion soup, reconsider steak frites,
rediscover what it is to taste something familiar that tastes better than it
ever has before. And while my diners are enjoying this kind of food, I want
them to feel relaxed and happy the way my wife and I felt under the warm barrel
ceiling of Nostrana.
In the midst of baking
cookies for the holidays, I might not look like the happiest guy around; you’re
more likely to hear me grumbling about lack of space, missing equipment or
inferior ingredients than singing Christmas carols. But underneath all the bluster,
I am filled with joy.
Even as I complain about the very real inadequacies of my home oven, I am
completely content pulling out tray after tray of reasonably well-baked Smoked
Salt And Walnut Macaroons, or Lime and Pecan Shortbread Snowballs. I might
mutter a quiet curse under my breath when some of the powdered sugar tumbles
out of the bag and onto the floor, but I am enjoying myself anyway.
Recently I attended a Food Writer's retreat at Quillisascut Farm School In eastern Washington. Gary Paul Nabhan was the facilitator, and the focus was on writing about from the perspective of promoting a healthier food culture.
For four days, we ate together, cooked together, milked goats, made cheese, harvested produce from the garden and berries from the wild. With few exceptions, everything we ate was produced right there on the farm. We talked, we gathered around the table, drank wine and shared stories. Every day we had a writing assignment, and every night, as the sun went down and the stars came out, we we shared what we had written.
On the last day, our assignment was to write a letter addressed to ourselves in the future.
My letter came out in the form a of a poem. It went like this:
When I attended a “Deep Feast Writing
Workshop,” conducted by writing instructor and cookbook author Crescent
Dragonwagon, she led us through a journaling exercise called the “Ira Progoff
Dialoguing Technique.” Beginning with “Stepping Stones,” the exercise allows
the writer to isolate particular events that served as milestones along a
path. Ultimately, the process affords the writer an opportunity to
actually “dialogue” with the subject in the form of a conversation. Following
is a series of stepping stones and a conversation I had with cinnamon; I have
endeavored to type it up exactly as I wrote it out during the workshop.
to Provençale legend, lemons were first cultivated on the Côte d'Azure, when Adam
and Eve made their way there after being exiled from Eden. Here, at the place
that eventually became the town of Menton, Eve took out a lemon she had stolen
from the garden; she planted its seeds and in the sheltered coastal valley,
they thrived. Certainly lemons
thrive in Menton today and, off hand the legend is hard to discount.
is tangibly ancient. Certainly it was already established in 600 B.C. when the
Greeks established their first trading post at nearby Marseilles. The Greeks brought the olives,
grapevines, fig trees and almonds that eventually became the backbone of
Provençale cooking, and indeed Provençale culture; but lemons were already
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When we realized that every great American Restaurant needs a Caesar-like salad, we went into a brief tailspin. It was only upon contemplation that we saw the underlying similarity between the All-American Caesar and the age old French classic, Salade Lyonnaise.
This week, we offer formulas for Canlis Salad, Caesar Salad and our favorite, Salade Lyonnaise
Thursday, November 17
12:00 - 1:00 Book Signing
Town & Country Market, Bainbridge Island
Saturday, November 19
10:00 - 12:00
Thursday, December 1
4:00 - 7:00 Book Signing
Annual Ultimate Holiday Cookbook Social
Palace Ballroom, Seattle
Friday, December 2
12:00 - 1:00 Book Signing
Poulsbo Central Market
Saturday, December 3
12:00 - 1:00 Book Signing
Mill Creek Central Market
Saturday, December 3
4:00 - 6:00 Book Signing
Shoreline Central Market
Friday, December 9
7:00 - 9:00 Book Signing
Ninth Annual Holiday Celebration
Park Place Books, Kirkland, WA
Wednesday, December 14
5:00 - 7:00 Book Signing
Admiral Metropolitan Market, West Seattle
Thursday, December 15
6:30 - 8:00 Lecture and Book Signing
Culinary trends in the PNW
Jefferson County Library, Port Hadlock
in Pacific Northwest
the Sunday newsmagazine of
The Seattle Times
First Saturday Breakfast
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