Saturday morning had me feeling a little nervous because I was attending Macy's Culinary Council with Chef Tom Douglas who was going to be preparing some of his All American dishes. I have to admit the thought of being in the presence of a celebrity chef intimidated me. I couldn't stop replaying all of the clips in my head that I've seen on Food Network of angry, shouting chefs belittling their oftentimes incompetent help. I decided that if I learned all I could about the chef prior to the event I might feel a little better.
Chef Tom Douglas is a self made man. He never attended professional culinary school and instead, his natural talent was brought out by his own travels and by "learning something from everyone he's ever cooked with." He owns several restaurants in Seattle and also Prosser Farm. The farm is an organic farm a couple hours outside of Seattle which supplies his restaurants with plenty of fresh, seasonal produce and delicious meats. I found myself wishing I could visit his farm when I was reading the farm blog and I instantly began to feel a little more relaxed about attending the demo.
Macy's had music playing and a stage set up for the chef and rows of white chairs with a copy of Table Magazine and printouts of the recipes that were going to be cooked during the demo. I was excited to see that one of them was one of the recipes I had tried myself earlier in the week!
Then, I saw the wine. I watched a glass being poured and taken to the chef just prior to the demo beginning. My nerves began to jangle. Would the chef come storming out shouting at his audience? Would he be one of those arrogant chefs you see on Food Network?
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Chef Tom Douglas came out, wine glass in hand, smiling and the audience went wild. The music was still pumping and the chef immediately began dancing and waving for the audience to join him. Before he could even offer a signed cookbook to the most enthusiastic dancer, nearly everyone was already on their feet dancing with him. The music quieted and the chef graciously handed a copy of his newest cookbook, The Dahlia Bakery, to one delighted fan who gave him a big hug in return.
Chef Douglas took a few minutes to introduce himself and tell everyone a little bit about himself and where he works. He encouraged the audience to ask him anything at any time. A few questions were asked about Seattle and one excited man was on the edge of his seat with desire to ask questions and to tell the chef about his own love of cooking. This particular man had plenty of questions to ask and things to say throughout the entire demo and I was thoroughly impressed with the graciousness and patience Chef Douglas showed with his over eager fan.
The first recipe was 'Etta's Dungeness Crab Eggs Bennies with Lemon Dill Hollandaise.' Eggs Benedict is a recipe that often intimidates people because of the hollandaise sauce. Done incorrectly the hollaindaise will become more like scrambled eggs rather than the creamy, delectable sauce it's supposed to be and that fear is exactly why most people don't attempt to make it.
Chef Douglas was a blur of measured movement as he prepared the hollaindaise sauce but never once did it it become frenzied. He was calm and carefully explained what he was doing and offered his tips for keeping the hollaindaise smooth and silky. Be sure to keep the water at barely a simmer, not boiling. Whisk constantly but be careful not to incorporate any air into the sauce. Keep the sauce warm but don't continue cooking it while the rest of the dish is prepared.
Fluffy chunks of sweet crabmeat were warmed in a pan while the toasted English muffins were prepared by topping them with gently wilted spinach leaves and well poached eggs. Chef Douglas emphasized you don't want a soft poached egg because then the water from the egg whites will run and ruin the dish.
The crabmeat was lavishly piled onto the English muffins with a thank you from the chef to Macy's for their generous allowances and great spoonfuls of hollaindaise sauce poured all over everything. The bright and sunny Lemon Dill Hollandaise was surprisingly light on the palate despite the rich thickness of the sauce. It was simply amazing and I'm sure I would eat it by the spoon if left alone with a bowl of it.
Ah, bread. When this bread was being unwrapped, I couldn't help but wonder if the chef had brought it all the way from his own Dahlia Bakery in Seattle. I meant to ask him but I was quickly distracted by the next recipe, 'Tom's Tasty Tomato Soup with Brown Butter Croutons,' being prepared.
Canned tomatoes were the tomato of choice in this recipe and a woman in the audience asked Chef Douglas if he preferred one brand over another. His response was practical and down to earth and my heart warmed even more towards him. Chef Douglas advised that as each year the tomato crop is different due to the nature different growing seasons in different locations that it's best not to choose your canned tomatoes based on brand name. He said that he thinks it's best to purchase one can of each brand you have available to you, open each can and put a tomatoe from each on a plate. Then, take a taste of each and whichever one tastes best is the brand you should use for that year. I think that's excellent advice!
I was a little bit envious of his immersion blender. I still haven't gotten around to getting one yet and if I hadn't been so sidetracked by all of the good food I would have remembered to pick one up at Macy's before I left.
The perfect sandwich to pair with a bowl of tomato soup is always a grilled cheese. Chef Douglas made his 'Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Broccoli Rabe & Fontina' to go with his soup. The carmelization of the broccoli rabe is surprisingly quick. The sharp sweet tang of the balsamic vinegar that was poured over the broccoli rabe during the last few minutes wafted out over the audience and I couldn't help but noticing that it stopped several passerbys in their tracks to see what was being cooked.
The caramelized broccoli rabe is layered between thick, rustic bread and shredded fontina cheese and then grilled to toasted buttery goodness. It's important not to skimp on the butter because it helps the outside of the bread crisp up.
Don't be intimidated by the extra step with the broccoli rabe. I made this exact recipe a couple nights before the Culinary Council demo because I was excited to try some of the chef's recipes and it really did add only a few extra minutes.
Every good meal deserves to end with a delicious dessert. When Chef Douglas, began to pour chocolate into the food processor, the entire audience let out a collective 'Mmmmmmm.' Everyone knew something good was coming.
The 'Silk Chocolate Cream Pie with Pecan Crust' recipe began with the chef talking about the pie crust. This crust blind bakes for a longer time than other crusts because it's very important for it to be very, very crisp. An pre-prepared pecan crust was lifted out of its pan and shown to the audience. It was crisp enough the entire crust came wholely out of the pan in one piece.
The silk part of this pie is made as a custard on the stove and then the hot custard is sieved over the chocolate in the food processor. When the food processor is turned on, it's only a matter of a minute or two before the custard melts the chocolate. The chocolate silk is poured into the pie crust and chilled thoroughly before being topped with sweetened whipped cream and curls of chocolate.
The Silk Chocolate Cream Pie was intensely decadent and yet, not heavy like so many of the other chocolate silk pies I've eaten. This remarkable ability to take something that is rich and hedonistic and make it feel and taste light seems to be a particular talent of Chef Tom Douglas. A particularly evil talent of the chef's I'd say--I think I could eat half of the pie myself!....right after I finish a bowl of that Lemon Dill Hollaindaise.
Chef Douglas finished by talking and answering more questions from the audience. His time and attention with us was unstintingly thoughtful and kind and I think it pairs wonderfully with his delicious food.
My special thanks to Chef Tom Douglas for sharing his wonderful self and expertise and also to Macy's Culinary Council for inviting me to be a part of this event.
Disclaimer: I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere provided me with compensation for this post about Macy's Culinary Council. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own.