Chef Tom Douglas, Author Kathleen Flinn Talk Food at Seattle’s Bumbershoot

While the rain poured down around us, I had a chance to sit in on the ‘F is for Food’ event at this weekend’s Bumbershoot. The festival, which features local and national artists, always includes a wonderful lineup of book types, and this year’s schedule was no exception. To kick off Saturday’s literary events, author Kathleen Flinn, of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, and Pacific Northwest chef and restaurateur, Tom Douglas, talked culinary school, food memories, and their favorites, from cooking at home to local eateries. Both had a few things to say about Michael Pollan’s recent article as well.

On how they got here:

Tom: I’ve been here for 32 years. At 19, I drove around the country, and ran out of gas here in Seattle, and I feel like I’ve been in and out of culinary school ever since. The most asked question of me, in my culinary career, is “Did you go to culinary school and should I?” It seems like every time Boeing has a bust, people want to go to culinary school, and every time Boeing has a boom, all the cooks leave and go back to making more money. I’m a big fan of learning how to cook on the job. I’ve learned how to cook from everyone from Julia Child to my dishwashing buddies. It’s funny that you can learn so much about food from someone who brings their lunch to work every day.

Kathleen: I actually wrote a book called The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry and funny enough, it’s about going to culinary school. I left my job – actually it really kind of left me – and I decided to take all my money and go to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Now, I run a culinary program called “Changing Courses.” It’s about finding people who think they can’t cook and teaching them enough techniques that they can become comfortable in the kitchen.

On utilizing fresh ingredients:

Kathleen: People always say, “I buy the really big bottles [of olive oil, soy sauce, etc.],” but the truth is, they go rancid. So really, you could buy a smaller bottle where you could finish the whole thing, and get a better olive oil.

Tom: Every day, you go to the grocery store, you buy the best ingredients – you wouldn’t buy a three-day old fish – and yet you use spices and sauces that are three, six, nine months old.

What they cook when they’re at home:

Tom: Potsticker stirfry. I know it sounds so simple, but it’s true. The truth is, I rarely cook at home – I eat out a minimum of twice a day – so when I’m home, my wife is usually the one cooking.

Kathleen: I love eggs. Probably scrambled eggs with a bit of truffle salt.

On the recent Michael Pollan article:

Tom: Me, personally, I love to watch other people cook. I still, to this day, and my wife will collaborate on this, I always want to sit by the kitchen. I think [the Michael Pollan article] is bull****. He needs to get off his high horse and realize that people can do whatever they want. I think without people like Julia [being on tv] the interest in cooking might never have happened. I’d rather people sit on the couch and watch cooking shows than American Idol.

Kathleen: I think people lack confidence in their cooking skills. I think when you teach people really how to cook – how to hold a knife – it can go a long way. I’m crazy about Top Chef.

On their favorite local foods:

Tom: Lola donuts, Dahlia Lounge crabcakes. I love the pho at Pho Bac, the cookies at Le Panier at Pike Place Market.

Kathleen: Certainly the coconut pie at Dahlia Lounge.

~Jennifer Heigl

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