Author plates Evergreen State in ‘Dishing Up Washington’
December 4, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Evergreen State cuisine is not all Neah Bay salmon, Seattle coffee, Walla Walla onions and Wenatchee apples.
“Dishing Up Washington” author Jess Thomson said the ingredient-driven cuisine indigenous to the Pacific Northwest is not so easy to pigeonhole.
“In general, what defines the Northwest is a willingness to experiment,” she said in a recent interview. “I think that you can see that in the willingness of chefs to combine traditional technique with the ingredients that we have — that weren’t necessarily used with those traditional techniques.”
Take, for instance, foraging — a common foodie pastime in Washington’s chanterelle- and fiddlehead-packed forests.
“Using things that are foraged that aren’t used in traditional French food, but using those ingredients in traditional French applications,” she said.
Thomson is due at Costco on Dec. 11 to sign copies of “Dishing Up Washington” and discuss the book, a combination cookbook and travelogue documenting a journey across the Cascades to the Blue Mountains, out to the Olympic Peninsula and destinations in between.
“Dishing Up Washington” includes recipes from boldface names in the Seattle restaurant scene — culinary icon Tom Douglas is featured and chef Ethan Stowell wrote the foreword — and lesser-known figures from farms and kitchens throughout the state.
Thomson, a Seattle-based author, joined photographer Lara Ferroni for weeks on the road to crisscross Washington, meet chefs and growers, and collect ideas and recipes for the eventual book. Thomson said “Dishing Up Washington” is meant to introduce readers to the state’s bounty.
“There is so much here that it would be impossible to encapsulate it in a best-of book,” she said. “I tried to do that at first. Then I thought, ‘You know what? I want to make a great cookbook that people can use whether they’re looking for a fancy dinner party idea or just a weeknight supper.’”
Ingredients for success
Thomson tested the concept by adapting a chocolate cake redolent with fig, fennel and pistachio from a Walla Walla chocolatier.
“How can I take those flavors, which I found really, really interesting, and put them into a form that people can make in their own kitchen in less than half an hour?” she said. “How can I make this approachable to the average cook?”
Inside restaurant kitchens, Thomson watched chefs prepare recipes created for “Dishing Up Washington” or soaked up ideas amid the hubbub.
If you go
Jess Thomson signs ‘Dishing Up Washington’
“Sometimes, I would just walk into the kitchen and watch them make it,” Thomson said. “That sometimes was the best way to go about it. Or, sometimes I decided the best way to go about something was to just be inspired by whatever happened in a restaurant.”
Some indispensible ingredients posed a challenge. Coffee, a brew synonymous with Seattle, stumped Thomson. So did apples, a billion-dollar industry in Washington.
“I did get very close to finishing the book and realized that there was not a single apple recipe,” Thomson admitted.
In end, she chose a roaster based in Olympia, Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters, in a recipe for espresso brownies and incorporated apples into the book.
Thomson received some gentle reprimands for the lack of recipes incorporating marijuana — a no-longer-forbidden ingredient since voters passed Initiative 502 last month.
“There’s this espresso brownie recipe that’s in it that I’ve been taking everywhere because it’s so easy to make ahead of time and it travels so well. Everybody is like, ‘So, is there pot in these?’” she said. “OK, I get it, I missed the recipe for that. I get that it’s a key ingredient. I get that it’s going to be legal.”
Innovation defines cuisine
“Dishing Up Washington” is the latest entry in a series dedicated to state-centric cuisines. “Dishing Up Oregon” author Ashley Gartland is Thomson’s friend, and Gartland recommended Thomson to the publisher for a possible Evergreen State edition.
“The publisher approached me and said, ‘So, what do you think about this series? It can sort of be what you want it to be.’ Some are very restaurant-driven, some have recipes that are more by the authors, but in general, they were very restaurant-driven,” Thomson said. “I said, ‘Well, I imagine that will be a little more skewed to my own recipes, something that would enable me to use the state’s foodways to inspire my kitchen.”
Then, Thomson — author of “Pike Place Market Recipes” and coauthor of “Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts” — reached out to chefs.
“Some chefs are amazingly responsive,” Thomson said. “Tom Douglas, for example, has an amazing recipe developer named Shelley Lance who worked with him on the Dahlia cookbook that just came out. She is incredibly responsive and incredibly talented at developing a recipe that works the first time in the kitchen.”
(Douglas signed copies of “The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook” at the local Costco last month.)
Surprises abounded as Thomson and photographer Ferroni traveled across the state, and Thomson said innovation emerged as the common theme at each destination.
“People here are very excited about finding new things constantly,” she said. “I don’t think people sit on their laurels here.”