Northwest Food Lover Getaways
Hit the road for great gourmet vacations.
Rivers of the West Wine and Culinary Cruise
Though the 105-foot Safari Spirit is no cruise liner, it’s still too big to nose up this scenic leg of the Snake River. Instead, a jet boat takes the trip’s 12 passengers up past steep, rocky shores and over the bumpiest water of the cruise.
The Palouse Canyon
From the deck hot tub you can watch the mechanical puzzles of the locks operate as the boat passes through four dams. With only six staterooms, you won’t have to fight for a space in the bubbly water.
Walla Walla Appellation
The first dry-land excursion is a trip into the capital of Washington wine country, Walla Walla. Headquartered in a World War II–era hangar in town, Dunham Cellars is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon XIII from 2007. At the stone-and-wood-accented Northstar Winery, winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld—a beer brewer before he was a wine guy—kicks European ass during blind tastings with his Northstar merlot.
Red Mountain Appellation
While the Red Mountain appellation is small—home to a tenth as many wineries as the Walla Walla behemoth—it’s mighty. Terra Blanca Winery sits in the rolling, treeless hills outside Benton City and features strawberry and raspberry notes in their Onyx and sangiovese wines. At the Hedges Family Estate Winery, the winemaker and employees alike are so fanatical about the concept of terroir that they call themselves Guardians of Red Mountain (and got matching tattoos in 2010); their flagship wine is a syrah.
Columbia Gorge Appellation
It’s so close to the river’s edge that if you blew too hard on the Maryhill Winery, it would tip right off the cliff into the Gorge, taking its massive lawn and amphitheatre with it (but then where would Michael McDonald play on September 17?). Next door, a faded mansion is home to the Maryhill Museum, and in the winery, the proprietors pour syrah and sangiovese.
Hood River, Bonneville Dam, and the Columbia Gorge
Outstanding in the Field
By the Numbers
Guests who dine at each Outstanding in the Field farm dinner.
Eight-foot sections used to create the endless-table look, which originated in 1998 with founder Jim Denevan, both a chef and large-scale land artist. Sometimes during setup the tables are moved, glassware and all, as many as five times to find the best location.
Staff members that sleep on the Outstanding in the Field bus, on tour throughout the U.S. and Canada from May through December. This year it stops at Full Circle Farm in Carnation for a meal from Seth Caswell of Emmer and Rye (Wednesday, July 6), and at Dog Mountain Farm in Carnation, where Dan Gilmore of Urbane will be cooking (Thursday, July 7).
Ounces of pork belly used by chef Caswell at his 2009 Outstanding in the Field dinner. This year he’s leaning toward serving 50 pounds of smoked pork loin.
Individual hors d’oeuvres prepared for the informal mingling before the farm tour—five each of three passed selections.
Minimum number of cases of wine that Caswell will order for this year’s dinner; he plans for about a bottle per person. He serves Cedargreen Cellars, he says, because the winery has “a good grasp on both acidic whites and red wines that are full bodied with some acid. They pair nicely with food.”
Row Adventures Culinary Whitewater Rafting Trip
ONCE HOME TO THE NEZ PERCE TRIBES, the Salmon River area is now spotted with golden eagles and the yelps people make when dropping into class III rapids. Paddle in a raft, man your own kayak, or simply ride in the guide’s boat, catching glimpses of Indian rock art and homes made by Chinese workers during the gold rush. Guests erect camp on white sandy beaches and, before casual astronomy sessions, daily wilderness cooking tutorials feature menus like these:
Slow Food Cycle
THE SLOW FOOD CYCLE is so named for the sustainable food movement, not for the speed at which you pedal 15 miles through the Pemberton Valley just north of Whistler. Of course, sharing the narrow rural highway with tractors and horses means you won’t set any speed records. The small farms tucked between the towering mountains of the Coast Range used to grow virus-free potato strains; now they harvest everything from corn to garlic for Whistler’s locavore restaurants. (And still lots of potatoes. Many, many potatoes.)
During August’s ride, foodies travel the length of the flat-as-a-pancake valley, visiting farms for free tours and cheap eats. A local beef purveyor sells burgers at one stop, while a family farm makes summer berry desserts at the next.
There are no Starbucks or high-end clothing stores in Pemberton—heck, there’s barely cellphone service—making it the anti-Whistler. The population almost doubles when the 3,000 participating cyclists come to town, but few are expert pedalers; it’s a day for cruisers and kids with training wheels. You’re meant to finish with an appreciation for sustainable, local farming, but capping it with a trip to the beer garden works, too. After stuffing your face all day, don’t feel bad if you end up pioneering the Very, Very Slow Food Cycle home.
The Herbfarm 24 Hour Experience
With its five-hour dinners and seasonal menus, the Herbfarm has made its name as an event destination. The night includes introductions to the kitchen staff, classical guitar in the background, and, oh yeah, lots and lots of food. To fit a theme like “The Great Basil Bouquet” (July 28–August 2), the herb will sneak into salads, fish dishes, meat entrees, and even, creatively, dessert.
You’ll likely consume six glasses of wine and sample from the 25,500-bottle cellar. Expect to crash hard.
If you don’t spend your downtime digesting, there’s an outdoor hydro-therapy pool, full-service spa, and garden at Willows Lodge, steps away from your dinner table. Look for the native Haida art in the courtyard (hint: they’re big blue head sculptures).
Former sous chef Chris Weber has taken the reins of the Herbfarm, making him the youngest to oversee a AAA Five Diamond restaurant in North America. Hang out as he starts on the nine courses he must prepare for your dinner.
On the Farm
This isn’t the Herb-grocerystore. Participants start their 24-hour experience with a visit to the titular farm at 9am, source of more than 150 ingredients from pork (sorry, piggies) to kale. Head farmer Bill Vingelen puts visitors to work seeding, feeding animals, or harvesting for the evening’s meal. Don’t anticipate backbreaking labor; a fresh breakfast and lunch are also served.
Introduction to the Culinary Arts Course
YOU’RE OUTNUMBERED almost five to one on Quillisascut Farm; there are 50 goats on the premises, and only about a dozen students taking a four-day class in cooking basics. The goats earn their keep by providing milk for cheese and meat for eating; you’ll do it by helping prepare your meals in the farm’s shared bunkhouse. Rick and Lora Lea Misterly have owned their acreage for three decades, making cheese near the sunny shores of Lake Roosevelt in Eastern Washington.
Teacher Kären Jurgensen of the Seattle Culinary Academy leads the intensive round of workshops for amateur cooks who’d like to try dicing like a pro. Lessons start with kitchen terminology and how to prepare a mise en place; by the end of the course, you should be a convert to method-based (not recipe-based) cooking. And between the 50 goats and the creatively named Libby the Dreadful Guard Dog, you’ll probably have made a few new friends.
Samish Bay Bivalve Bash
A sweet, smaller version of the slimy treat, this is a good starter oyster for kids, or really anyone hesitant to eat a live animal that looks like goo. If you’re taking part in the afternoon shucking competition, these little guys are ideal for learning knife technique.
This monster is the most widely commercially grown oyster. Originally from Japan, it’s got a big, knobby shell. Expect to use a ton of them during the shell sculpture competition—a prize of $500 goes to the best artist.
Taylor Shellfish, which hosts the annual Bash at its Bow oyster farm on Samish Bay, developed this new breed in 2007 in Willapa Bay. Chefs digging their deep cup—a shape encouraged by tumbles in the tide four times a day—immediately put them in high demand. They’re crisp, flavorful, and kind of tiny, so buy in bulk.
If you’re going to join the dash in the Low Tide Mud Run, your stomach may prefer something cooked. Local restaurant the Rhododendron is in charge of steaming clams, which you can purchase by the pound.
A few decades ago, there were hardly any of these plump beauties grown in Washington; now they’re everywhere in summer and fall, their peak season. Pick them up steamed or curried; the latter are served without shells over steamed rice, prepared by Shelton chef Xinh Dwelley using Vietnamese influences.
Nettles Farm Hen Butchery Class
WHEN BUTCHERING A HEN, the first thing you do is cut the jugular. (What, you thought it started with a neck rub?) Riley Starks may be getting effusive national praise for his Lummi Island hot spot, the Willows Inn, but he still performs that first cut himself, as many as 75 times in a row. Wannabe butchers can join him for his annual summer hen slaughter to learn how to use killing cones, a scalding tank, a plucker, and other medieval-sounding accoutrements. After a year of laying eggs, hens typically become less productive, so they are, pardon the pun, laid off.
You can’t buy a stewing hen anymore, says Starks, but you can make one; the fat on an egg layer makes for an excellent stock, delivering flavor you only see in European poultry.
The informal workshop is held at Nettles Farm, a five-and-a-half-acre patch on the north end of remote Lummi that supplies Willows with its produce.
Starks compares the island to “the way Orcas was in the 1950s: rural, drop-dead gorgeous, and people drive slow.” Stay at the farm’s cabin, yurt, or suite, sharing the farm with Nettles’ hairy Mangalitsa pig.
The August hen event, not scheduled until it’s clear when the new flock of egg layers will be ready, involves fewer than five students, giving everyone the chance to off multiple birds. Everybody goes home with two for making stock. The taste, Riley says, is worth the bloodshed: “I think it’s extremely important to know the difference between what good chicken tastes like and the stuff that passes for chicken.”
Friday Harbor House Cooking Class
CHEF KYLE NICHOLSON of the Bluff Restaurant kicks off a series of three didactic overnights on September 9. The curriculum: “farm to table, island style.” Here’s what the avid mushroom hunter will impart about finding fungi.
- Forage for mushrooms with an open mind. “You might not find anything,” says Nicholson. “It’s kind of one of those Zen things; some days it happens, some days it doesn’t. Enjoy the journey.”
- Avoid toxic waste sites. “You wouldn’t want to eat what you found out at the dump or near a chemical spill,” says Nicholson. If you didn’t already know that, please write this one down.
- Get your head in the game. Look down—the mushrooms aren’t going to levitate. Search in sunnier spots for morels, which look like pinecones, and under the canopy for chanterelles.
- Trim in the field. That way the dirty bits go right back into the ground, spreading spores. Back home, don’t bother washing chanterelles and hedgehogs; they only need to be given a once-over with a brush. For the dirt trapped in the honeycombs of morels, rinse in warm water and use a heat lamp to dry.
- Go south. With a little prompting, Nicholson will reveal that he’s had good luck foraging in the South Sound. “We head a little bit east to the parks outside Olympia—some of the old logging roads have great access.” Truffles have been found down there, but those underground treasures take tools and know-how.
- Eat unknowns. “If you can’t ID it, you don’t want to eat it,” says Nicholson. If that seems obvious, ask yourself if you know which edibles have poisonous look-alikes—elfin saddles, for one, look similar to morels but shouldn’t be eaten. Nicholson carries the fungus bible All that the Rain Promises and More.
- Pull a mushroom out of the ground. If you destroy the mycelium, no more treasures can grow. It’s like burning down the bakery after scoring your brioche—sad news for the next hungry person to wander by. Rather than pull out by the roots, cut mushrooms at their base with a pocketknife.
- Freeze fresh fungi. As in fish, the cells of water-heavy mushrooms break down during freezing. Don’t simply dry them; dried ’shrooms are readily available at markets. Your best way to preserve your haul is to cook down (while adding flavor with wine or butter) and then freeze that mushroom product.
- Steal someone’s secret site. Nicholson isn’t evasive, exactly, about his favorite spots, but he’s not drawing anyone a road map. “I might be a little bit vague,” he says. Still he notes that “mycologists are in the older age bracket, and they’re not gonna walk five miles in”—so take a serious hike and you’ll find untrampled territory.
Tom Douglas Culinary Summer Camp
YOU KNOW HOW, at the end of summer camp, kids wail and hug and swear (and cross their heart, hope to die) to stay pen pals with their bunkmates? At the Tom Douglas Culinary Camp, the grown-up day campers actually keep that promise.
They’ve bonded over five days of cooking demonstrations, a Top Chef–like restaurant war, and face time with culinary superstars. Celebrity chef Douglas started the camp in 2006 to teach nonprofessionals with rotating guest speakers at a demo kitchen in his own Palace Ballroom. It was the participants themselves who made it a yearlong experience, meeting for meals on the first Friday of the month. Darryl Duke, who has attended camp four years in a row, organizes the gatherings and looks forward to the boisterous camp experience all year. “We’re like teenagers with alcohol, only it’s not illegal,” he says of the giddy atmosphere at the Palace Ballroom. “And no one gets pregnant.”
Camp is much more than a social experience. One day, the 40 or so attendees might watch Armandino Batali make sausage, then move on to a guess-the-pig-guts challenge. On a field trip, they might learn how fortune cookies are made before having Nathan Myhrvold explain molecular gastronomy. Chefs like Ethan Stowell and Mark Fuller show off three or four recipes, handing out samples while their work is projected on the two screens of the demo kitchen.
The bites are small, but “You’re always in the perfect state of consumption: constantly satiated,” says Duke. Douglas doesn’t merely slap his name on the event; he’s a constant presence for every day of the camp, even interjecting his own thoughts into a guest lecture—visiting chefs just love that. In between camps, he and wife Jackie have been known to host reunions at their home in Ballard.
Participants take home more than a full stomach; there are signed cookbooks from the visiting chefs, plus a revised perspective on food. Repeat attendees say they’ve learned to approach cooking not by recipe but by balancing the three Ts: taste, temperature, and texture. At the monthly reunions, campers report that they’re buying more whole animals to cook with, rather than prepackaged pieces. But having learned those lessons, they’re still not done; many return year after year, using vacation days not to jet off to Europe but to simply go downtown for total foodie immersion. “It is a vacation, but you can sleep in your own bed,” says Duke.