The Value of Old School

Roasted Neah Bay Halibut by Jason Wilson of Crush.

On Monday night, I found myself at Crush, where I and several other members of Seattle’s food writing and promotional community were invited to sit in on a dinner celebrating all the chefs who had been nominated for the Best Chef: Northwest of the 2009 James Beard Awards.

(Side note: I always want to call these awards the ‘Beardies’ for some reason, mostly because it sounds vaguely dirty).

For those of you too lazy to click on the link, the nominees this year are:

Maria Hines
Tilth – Seattle

Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez
The Harvest Vine – Seattle

Ethan Stowell
Union – Seattle

Cathy Whims
Nostrana -Portland, OR

Jason Wilson
Crush – Seattle

The purpose of the dinner was stated that it was to show the solidarity between each of the chefs of the Pac NW, and how they support one another regardless of who may win the awards. But really? The purpose was for us to write about and thus promote each restaurant in order to get you, the reader, curious enough to go and visit these places.

So what kind of night was it? Well, it started with everyone getting a plate full of Shigoku Oysters topped with uni, and then picked up from there with an additional five courses afterwards.

All of the food was marvelous of course. I mean, who goes to events such as this one and walks (or perhaps waddles) away disappointed? But there were two dishes that stood out for me, and both of them may represent what the future might bring to the restaurant industry now that Molecular Gastronomy is being touted as passe.

Maria Hines produced a dish with deep roots in Eastern France – pork cheeks served atop of a trotter cake, which itself sat in a parmesan borth and a bit of sweet charcroute. The trotter cake, for those unfamiliar, was made with the meat of pigs feet, served battered and breaded. It was rich and hearty, and took three days to make from start to finish. Fergus Henderson would himself would have been proud of this dish.

Later in the meal, Cathy Whims produced Abacchio alla Cacciatore, essentially roasted milk-fed lamb served in a classic Italian style, with an expertly made artichokes alla Romana as a side. The dish was classic, direct, and unpretentious.

What do these two courses have in common? Well instead of looking forward, where chefs try to find the next new and unique technique or ingredient, both of these chefs and the dishes they prepared went directly to the past. Their dishes represented did not represent the best of innovation, but rather the joys of tradition, harkening back to recipes and styles that easily stand the test of time.

Do two dishes from two chefs out of five constitute a trend? It’s unlikely. And let me be honest here – the types of dishes that Chef Hines and Chef Whims provided happened to appeal to the traditionalist in me. Other people, namely the rest of the restaurant-going population may not have the same tastes as I.

But I still can’t help but smile at the audacity these two chefs. We live in a country where tradition is lacking and ‘progress’ is lauded. Both the lamb and the pork cheek reminded me that there’s plenty of gold to be found in the recipes of the past.