There are a number of events surrounding the holiday from those that you plan to those that just happen! We took some time to get tips from Chef Tom Douglas, an Executive Chef, Restaurateur of Tom Douglas Seattle Kitchen Restaurant Group, author and radio show talk host. He is known for his innovative role in defining Pacific Northwest cuisine. He won a James Beard Award in 1994 for Best Northwest Chef and in 2012 he won another for Best Restaurateur. He is the author of Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen which was named the Best American Cookbook by the James Beard Foundation and KitchenAid in 2001. Later he would appear on an episode of Food Network's Iron Chef America where he defeated Chef Masaharu Morimoto.
With a number of restaurants under his belt, Prosser Farm which provides all his restaurants with organically grown produce, a catering business, an event space, a product line of sauces and spices, a cooking school and NY Times Best Selling Author, he seemed like the perfect person to get us ready for our culinary challenges as well as how to be the hostest with the mostest.
ATHLEISURE MAG: When did you realize that you wanted to be a chef?
CHEF TOM DOUGLAS: Well you know, back in Highschool, I took Home Ec and it turns out there were a lot of girls in Home Ec and it seemed like I was in the right spot! I’ve been enamored with it ever since and it has become my life’s challenge, work and passion.
AM: How do you define your style of cooking?
CTD: I would call it Northwest in a way because for us the real key is to keep it simple. For us, I’d say that we spend about 50% of our time on trying to buy the best product and then really, it’s all about getting out of the way whether that comes down to wine or fish or meat. You just try to buy the most delicious things, put them together, walk away and let people enjoy them. That’s a real Northwest style.
AM: What is the most important part of creating a successful holiday party.
CTD: The plan! You have to have a plan. I plan everything – the dishware and the wines. I buy the wine about a week in advance so I can taste them and see what kinds of foods I want to serve with them. For me, at a party, I always want to have a little sparkling wine for people when they walk through the front door so I bought the Domaine Ste Michelle Brut and I made a homemade cranberry syrup, I got some cranberry bitters at the store and I made what I like to call, a Cranberry Fizz. It’s a welcoming pink fizz cocktail that goes great with Goat Cheese Fondue which is goat cheese, cream and chives that are mixed together – super simple with grilled bread and apple slices which gives you a welcoming feeling that says, “I’m happy to have you at my house.”
AM: That sounds pretty easy for a lot of people to do!
CTD: Well, it’s super easy and I serve them in individual goat cheese fondue pots so that you don’t have the big crush! A lot of people have the one big fondue pot and it gets a little funky in there after a few minutes. With these, I can just put them around the house because they have little tealight candles under them and you can refresh them at any point and just a couple of people are eating out of them. It’s a nice way and trick to have a successful fondue party.
AM: You mentioned that you want to test the wine about a week in advance – why is this something that we should do?
CTD: Because I want to think about things and get things prepped in advance. So let’s take this Eroica Riesling for example, I tried it and it has this lemony kind of citrusy flavor. It’s a bit sweet and has nice acidity. It seemed to me that it would go with all sorts of foods and I know that in my menu planning, I want some vegetarian and some not and some gluten free and some not for dishes. So it’s all part of that process and I thought about the wine and decided on a leek and potato empanada. It’s got cheese tarragon in it which is fragrant and I just baked them off and the treat is that I can get them all made up and then freeze them raw so an hour or two before your party, you can pull them out and bake them and it feels like you made them that afternoon. Those are little tricks of the trade that help you to be a more successful party planner.
AM: How easy is it for someone to take a dish and change it for those that are vegetarian, gluten free or other kinds of dietary needs?
CTD: Well it’s super easy because just 10 years ago, it was hard to find a good gluten-free flour, now they’re all over the place and they’re really good! Gluten-free flour, pasta, you name it – the key has been into the lock on gluten- free so we have delicious foods that way. Simplicity is key and vegetarian is key too so this little fennel tart that I made – a little caramel, a little fresh fennel slices and a little gluten free fennel on top, you cook them upside down so when you pop them out you get this golden mahogany nugget of deliciousness and you can serve it just like that or you can take a nice piece of Wagyu beautiful steak like what I have here and sear it and slice it thin and put it right on top and now you have a meat eaters delight. So with the same dish, you have made a classic dish that no one has had vegetarian wise and something for the meat eater that is coming to the party.
You know that you’re going to have red wine and we have the Chateau St Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon from Indian Wells Vineyards so you need a rich dish to go with a wine like that. You’ve got a party with all of these different kinds of wines and it really helps to try them in advance and then to plan the apps to go with them!
AM: What are ingredients that we should always have at home just in case someone comes by that we don’t expect and then it becomes a bit of a party?
CTD: That happens all the time at my house – that’s so funny! There are some really good premade dough out there. I try to always keep in my freezer, a pie dough and puff pastry dough. It’s the beginning of everything good and I always keep a chunk of smoked salmon in my fridge. We have beautiful wild salmon here and it would go along with all of these wines (probably not the red one that we talked about). I always keep that around and have good crackers, a little fresh chevre (goat cheese) – those are some of my ideas on quick apps to get things rolling.
AM: What are your suggestions for dishes to make for office parties for busy people that want to look like they have spent so much time on them?
CTD: Well they have to look good right? I mean, if you’re bringing it to work, it’s going to be hours later. One of the dishes I love to make which everybody loves them is a Roasted Vegetable Salad. It goes great with a Northwest Chardonnay. Take all the different veggies – fennel, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, pepper rings – all those different vegetables, douse them with a little olive oil and pop them into a 500 degree oven and roast them off until you have all kinds of caramelized edges, and dress them with lemon juice and vinegar. Bring a bottle of the Eroica and bring it to the office as you’re going to be a hero because you have solved every problem right? You’ve solved gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan!