Burt Wolf's Table: Washington State - #220

BURT WOLF:  The Pacific coast of Washington State:  one of the most beautiful parts of North America; the source for some of our best foods, and home to one of the country's most interesting public markets.  The area has become a major center for the production of films and television shows, which gives us the opportunity to visit the set of "Northern Exposure."  We'll also do some cooking with some of the town's best chefs.  So join me in Washington State at Burt Wolf's Table.

Native Americans have been living in the Pacific Northwest for at least 13,000 years.  And for most of those years, it was a perfect spot.  The area has an unusually mild climate, considering how far north it is; and when it came to food, the place was literally Mother Nature's supermarket.  The local rivers were home to hundreds of thousands of salmon, who each year returned from the ocean and swam upstream to spawn.  It was just sex for the salmon, but it was a dependable supper for the tribes.  The sea also offered up dozens of other types of fish and shellfish:  the famous Olympia oyster, the Dungeness crab, and a variety of clams.  The forests were packed with elk and deer and bear.  Wild ducks and geese regularly passed through the area.  And the wild berries and nuts were fabulous.

The first Europeans to really settle into the region were agents of the Hudson Bay Company who were here for the fur trade.  They planted gardens which, surprisingly, contained potatoes --- potatoes that had come here not with the Irish immigrants, the way they came to the East Coast, but from the Spanish missionaries who had learned about potatoes in South America and taught their cultivation to the Native Americans here, who in turn showed it to the fur traders.  Today, Washington potatoes are a major crop for the state, and a big deal to potato lovers all over the country.

Seattle, Washington has also developed a corps of really excellent chefs.  The Dahlia Lounge is one of the most respected restaurants in town, and Tom Douglas is the chef-owner.  The type of cooking that is his specialty is called cross-cultural.

TOM DOUGLAS:  I'm a world traveler, it's my favorite thing to do in the world, is to travel around and to take things that I've had, that I love, dissect them, think about them, try and recreate them, and do them either a little bit better or a little bit different, or ... have fun with it.  So it doesn't matter whether it's Mexican or Japanese or Italian or my mother's cooking, I'll steal it and do my best with it.

Crab cakes made me famous in Seattle.  You know, on the East Coast you go to a diner, you go to a hotel, you go to the finest restaurants, every restaurant offers a crab cake, especially the Eastern Shore area near the Chesapeake, where I'm from.  And when I come to Seattle, there's these huge Dungeness crabs in the market, there's king crab from Alaska, there's Tanner crab, snow crab, crabs everywhere, and not one restaurant had crab cakes.  And so I got this quote-unquote gourmet reputation over my fresh Dungeness crab cakes.

There's a couple of things I want to show you before you get out of here.  My favorite, fish lamps, which have been the most popular thing since we opened our restaurant.  The person who made these lamps has sold close to 500 of them, because they're the coolest things ever... they were even in the movie Sleepless in Seattle ... so those are great things.  My red walls, that my wife and I fought over ... we finally mixed our two favorite paints together and came up with this color.  And don't forget my knees.  Most chefs don't cook in shorts, but I do, because ... most chefs wear whites, but I don't ... I'm kind of the irreverent chef in Seattle, I'm the only who doesn't necessarily follow all of the rules.  There's just something about people that take food too seriously, and I don't ... I don't ever want to do that.

DOUGLAS (in kitchen):  Hey, J.P.

COOK:  I messed up your tomatoes.  (LAUGHS)

WOLF:  "Northern Exposure" is a television series set in the fictitious town of Cicely, Alaska, but actually filmed just outside of Seattle, Washington.  Dr. Joel Fleischmann, a classic New York kid, played by Rob Morrow, makes a deal with the state of Alaska to pay for his medical education in exchange for four years of practice after his graduation.  The series traces his adjustment to his new and rather quirky environment.  The show has great ratings, the critics love it, and it gets special attention from me because there's always something in the script that deals with food.

DAVE THE COOK:  I wonder how they get that sweetbread so crisp.

RUTH-ANN:  It's the batter.  Oh --  I'd like some more of those delicious little olive rolls.

ADAM:  Souffle de clam.

MAURICE:  You made this?

ADAM:  No, Maurice.  I got a mix from the convenience store, just plopped in an egg and a cup of water.  Of course I made it, you imbecile!

DAVE:  Is that Red’s order?

SHELLY:  Uh-huh.  Pancakes and ... shrimp salad.

DAVE:  Supposed to be link sausages.


HOLLING:  Oh, and there was this mile-long table bearing sweets of every kind.  Italian plum tartlets and marzipan cakes, and my favorite ... coq am bouche.  You just pick off the little cream puffs and pop them into your mouth one by one.  Oh ...

SHELLY:  Oh, yeah.

ADAM:  Why do I bother?  Why do I even cook?

COOK:  Because you're hungry?

WOLF:  Sicily's best restaurant — actually, Sicily's only restaurant — is called the Brick.  It's owned and operated by Holling Vincoeur and his wife Shelly, played by John Cullum and Cynthia Geary.

SHELLY:  Mondo weirdo.

“HOLLING” (John Cullum):  Well, moose is our main meat.  We do have some ... sort of ... not many of our clientele like salads and things of that nature.

“SHELLY” (Cynthia Geary):  Exactly.  You know, they're really into mooseburgers and reindeer patty and stuff like that.  But ... I think that's kind of a hype.  I mean, seriously, people really want beef.  I mean, they want hamburgers, they want bacon, they want stuff like that.  So ... yeah.

WOLF:  I think it's interesting that Holling is resisting the idea of franchising.

SHELLY:  I don't know what it is, but Holling kind of likes just having the one place and everything.  But I've been telling him, we should expand.  I think the Brick could go international.

HOLLING:  I might do some franchising ... but just in this area, because I don't really think that mooseburgers would go over too well in Tallahassee, Florida.

WOLF:  I've noticed that in the Lower 48, there's an increased interest in the relationship of good food to good health.


WOLF:  I wonder, is anything happening here in Cicely along those lines?

HOLLING:  Not really.

SHELLY:  I've got the greatest recipe for Hershey bars!  You take Hershey bars and you melt them in with peanut butter, and then you take real nuts, you take almonds and cashews, and melt that all in together, and put it over ice cream.  It is so good!  Holling loves it.

WOLF:  Oh, that's wonderful.  Why don't you put it on the menu?

SHELLY:  I will.  See, Holling won't let me tell anybody, cause that's his special thing I make for him, but I think I'm gonna do that.

HOLLING:  We have some pretty horrendous desserts here at the Brick, mainly since Shelly's arrived.  It's not that we serve very fancy things, but there's ... since Shelly, we serve a lot of different colors.  (WOLF LAUGHS)

SHELLY:  Well, yeah.  I guess that's one of my fortes.  I'm pretty artistic, and so ... you know, I like to put these little colored umbrellas in a whole lot of different colors, because ... you know, I guess I kinda got a flair for fashion, and color and things, and ...

HOLLING:  It's amazing, what color ... apple pie can turn into.  I mean, peppermint-colored ... even she has a way of making separate colors, striped apple pie and things like that, it's really nice.

WOLF:  To further confirm my judgement that the people who produce this show are really serious about food, they've gone and written the “Northern Exposure Cookbook”:  clever recipes and really nice text written in the style and voice of the characters.  A recipe I want to test is Ruth-Ann's meatloaf.

RUTH-ANN:  Meatloaf?

RUTH-ANN’S SON:  Mm-hm.  With bacon and catsup on top.

WOLF:  Ruth-Ann Miller, played by Peg Phillips, is the 75-year-old owner of Cicely's general store, which also serves as the town library, video shop, and local post office.  She's the kind of person you can trust with a meatloaf.  So I borrowed a little spot in the kitchen of Seattle's Four Seasons Olympic Hotel, and chef Brooke Vosika, to test out the recipes.

Ruth-Ann's meatloaf recipe starts with a big bowl, into which goes one egg, a pinch of salt, a little black pepper, some thyme, two tablespoons of prepared mustard, a cup of milk, a half-cup of chopped celery, a half-cup of chopped onion, and a quarter-cup of catsup.  All that gets mixed together.  Then in goes a pound and a half of ground chuck, and one and a half cups of soft bread crumbs.  The beef mixture goes into a loaf pan.  Two tablespoons of catsup are spread on top, and finally three strips of uncooked bacon.  Into a 350-degree-Fahrenheit oven for an hour, and Ruth-Ann's meatloaf is ready.  The loaf comes out of the pan and gets sliced.  Two slices go onto a plate, some scalloped potatoes, and a few vegetables.  The stage direction reads:  "Enter Hungry."

The choice of a meatloaf recipe for Ruth-Ann's character is really ideal.  Beef contains iron, and iron is the nutrient that is most often missing in the diet of adult women.  Beef also contains the kind of iron that is most easily absorbed by your body.  Beef also has zinc, and zinc is essential to your cells when they are trying to repair themselves from a cut or a wound.  But the thing that fascinates me most about zinc is it helps you taste and smell, so beef is kind of fascinating:  it gives you the zinc that helps you taste it.


During the 1930s, the Saturday Evening Post magazine carried a series called "Tugboat Annie."  The storyline was so popular that it became the basis for two movies.  There actually was a Tugboat Annie, but her real name was Thea Foss.  She and her husband Andrew were immigrants from Norway who arrived in Seattle, Washington in 1889.

Her husband was a boat-builder, and one day while he was away working in a shipyard, she purchased a beat-up old rowboat from a neighbor who was about to move away.  She paid $5 for it, fixed it up, and sold it for ten, and she liked that experience.  Who wouldn't?  She doubled her money.  And that meant, for a while, Thea continued to buy old boats, fix them up, and sell them.  And then one day she realized that she could actually make more money taking these rowboats and renting them to people who just wanted to spend a relaxing day on the water.  And that eventually led to the development of a sizable Foss fleet.

After a while, some of the boats began to be used to take people and supplies to the larger ships anchored in the harbor.  Little by little, Thea went out of the rowboat-rental business and into commercial maritime services.  Her husband stopped making boats for other people, and concentrated on the design and construction of boats for Thea.  He developed the teardrop design that eventually became the world's standard for tugboats.  These days, the Foss Tug Company is one of the most important organizations in the business, operating on a worldwide basis.  To honor their contribution to maritime history, Thea and Andrew have been inducted into the Maritime Hall of Fame.

Now, quite frankly, I came on board to track down a story.  For years I had been hearing that the men and women who work on tugboats are real serious about good food, and that there is some fabulous cooking going on right here on the tugs.  Well, the first indication that I had that this story might actually be true was quite obvious:  Foss has their own cookbook.

Then when I came on board, I could easily see that the largest space on the boat after the engine room was the cooking area ... a good sign.  Finally, I tasted cook Joe Goodman's seafood stew.

Joe starts by putting a little melted butter into a frying pan, adding a chopped onion, two chopped stalks of celery, and cooking that for two minutes.  While that's cooking, two Washington State russet potatoes get peeled and cut into small cubes.  The potatoes go into a stock pot along with a cup of clam juice and a 14 and a half ounce can of chicken stock.  The pot goes onto the heat until the stock comes to a boil, and it's kept boiling until the potatoes are cooked.

While that's happening, Joe takes a piece of halibut, slices off the skin, and cuts it into bite-size pieces.  He also cleans a pound of shrimp and slices them in half lengthwise.  The cooked celery and the onions go into the stock pot for five minutes of heat.  Two 12-ounce cans of evaporated milk go in, plus two cups of chopped clams, the shrimp, the halibut, and three cups of fresh oysters.  A little thyme, a little pepper, a little stirring.  Five minutes of cooking, into a bowl, some parsley, and it's ready to serve.


Fish stew's ready on the fan-tail.

Seattle's Olympic Hotel opened in 1924.  Its construction had been financed by 4,500 individuals as a community effort; they felt that it was important for the city to have a great hotel.  And ever since then, the Olympic Hotel has been special to the residents of Seattle, especially these days.  $16 million were recently spent on its restoration.  The general manager is Peter Martin, and now the hotel is known as the Four Seasons Olympic.

The hotel has three interesting restaurants:  the Garden Court, which is a pleasant, airy space where they serve lunch and English tea; Shucker's, a popular oyster bar with an extensive selection of beers from Northwest micro-breweries; and the Georgian, which has been described by a national food magazine as, and I quote, "an impressive showcase of culinary talent."  Well, I'm not exactly sure what all of those words mean, but if they're trying to say that the chef is a very good cook, you're absolutely right.

The hotel's executive chef is Kerry Sear, and he's well-known as one of the most talented chefs in the country.  His artistry starts with his own drawings of the dish he is about to create.  And though his menus are packed with a fine selection of meats, his own diet is vegetarian, and today he's going to prepare a series of vegetable recipes.  The first is a lasagna made with spaghetti and asparagus.

A little vegetable oil goes into a saucepan, and a tablespoon of chopped garlic; a quarter-cup of chopped onion; a quarter-cup of chopped fresh basil; two cups of chopped tomato; a half-cup of water; and a little fresh pepper.  That simmers together for 15 minutes.  Two pounds of pre-cooked Washington State asparagus go into a heatproof pan.  A layer of tomato slices goes on top, then a layer of pre-cooked spaghetti, some grated mozzarella cheese, a few spoonfuls of ricotta cheese, a layer of the tomato sauce, another layer of each of the ingredients.  Then into a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes.  When it's finished, the serving goes into a bowl and it's ready to eat.

Cool nights, warm days; clean, clear water; mineral-rich volcanic soil:  conditions that make Washington State the ideal place to grow asparagus.  Washington State has about four hundred farmers who are dedicated to growing asparagus, and they produce about 100 million pounds of asparagus each year.  Most Washington asparagus have tips that are purple, which indicates a high sugar content, and explains their sweet flavor.

The ancient Greeks and Romans considered asparagus to be a gastronomic delight, but they also valued asparagus in terms of its medical properties.  And, boy, were they right on.  These days scientists are telling us that asparagus contains a compound which is one of our most powerful cancer blockers.  Asparagus also contains folic acid, which is very important to proper cell growth, especially during pregnancy.

Look for spears with closed and compact tips and a firm stalk; those are the signs of freshness.  And pick out spears of the same size, so they will cook evenly.  Plump spears are the most tender.  The best way to store asparagus is in a moist paper towel inside an open plastic bag -- but not for long; it's best to eat asparagus the same day you buy it.  And keep the cooking time short:  five minutes of steaming should do the trick.

The Native American tribes called it Fire Mountain, and on May 18th, 1980, it lived up to its name.  After two hundred years of snoozing, Mount St. Helens woke up in a terrible mood and blew its stack.  The eruption caused over one billion dollars worth of damage and sent out clouds of ash that circulated around the globe.  Those clouds of ash had a silver lining for the potato farmers of Washington State.  For millions of years this part of the world has had active volcanoes.  As they erupted they deposited layer upon layer of volcanic ash... ash that is packed with valuable nutrients.  As a result, the potatoes grown in Washington State have an extraordinary high level of nutrients. 

For years I have used baked potatoes as a snack food.  I wash it off.  Rub a little oil on it.  Put it into a four hundred degree oven for an hour.  When it comes out I wrap it up and put it into the refrigerator where it will hold properly for a couple of days.  When I want one I take it out put it into the microwave for two minutes and it's ready.  I have a diet and exercise program that was specifically designed to control my high blood pressure, so a low-fat, high-potassium snack like this is absolutely perfect.  I don't want to blow my stack like Mount St. Helens.

Washington potatoes are put to excellent use in Kerry Sear’s vegetarian burger.  He starts by putting a little vegetable oil into a hot frying pan and following that with a sliced onion, glove of minced garlic, a cup of chopped pre-cooked beets - canned beets are fine - some grated yellow zucchini, carrots, dill, parsley, green zucchini and turnips.  All that cooks down for about five minutes.  And in goes some rolled oats and some fresh pepper.  A few more moments of cooking your mixture is turned out into a bowl.  At which point, two cups of mashed Washington State potatoes are blended in.  It's formed into patties and pan-fried in a little vegetable oil for three minutes on each side.  Everything has actually been cooked... the pan-frying is just done to develop a nice crust.  Ketchup goes onto a bun.  A little mustard and the veggie burger.

One of the most common shell beans in the United States is the baby lima bean.  It is named after the capital city of Peru, where they have been growing baby limas for over six thousand years.  And even now the name of that city is spelt L-i-m-a just like the bean it is pronounced “Lema,” not “Lima.”  So if you are ever in Peru and you need some baby lima beans it's important to remember to ask for Lemas.  Lima lovers need to know that. 

These days, however, baby limas no longer come from Lima.  Most of them come from California.  The dried variety is high in complex carbohydrates, protein and dietary fiber.  They're low in saturated fat and sodium and they're easy to prepare.  First thing you want to do is look through the beans and make sure that no small stones have come in with them from the field.  Wash off the limas and put them into a large pot.  Remember that dried lima beans will increase by at least twice their volume when they finish absorbing water.  Then pour in ten cups of hot water for every pound of beans.  Bring the water to a boil and let it boil for three minutes.  Then turn off the heat and let the beans soak for one to four hours.  At that point, you drain off the water that the beans soaked in and they're ready for a soup or a casserole or a salad.

Seattle's Pike Place Market opened up in 1907.  The basic idea behind the operation was very simple.  Local farmers wanted to have a place where they could sell their produce directly to the public without price increases from middlemen.  The farmers would get more money for their crops and the consumers would get lower food prices.  The idea worked so well that within a few months there were over two hundred farmers renting space.  The market continued to expand as a public source of good food, but it also began to develop as a social center.  It did particularly well during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when people were looking for both low food prices and a place to just hang out. 

Everything worked fine until the end of the Second World War.  That's when people began to move to the suburbs and shop in supermarkets.  At one point, it even looked like they were going to sell this area to a group of commercial real estate developers who had a vision of a modern commercial shopping area.  Well, the people of Seattle just would not stand for that and so they formed a grass roots committee and began a "save the market" campaign.  And that is exactly what they did. 

In 1971, the citizens of Seattle voted overwhelmingly to place the market under public ownership with the clear object of preserving and restoring it to its former glory.  I like that.  Hopefully when I get on in years someone will be interested in preserving and restoring me, too. 

Roy Fearing is with the preservation and development authority that oversees the markets operation.  He's the perfect person to give us a tour.

ROY FEIRING: Our farm tables are low stalls.  Our high stalls are high stalls.  And, and the way that we tell the difference around here is if you're eye to eye with an artichoke you're at a high stall. 

WOLF: Look how beautiful they're laid out.

FEIRING: Yeah.  And don't even think of distributing those.  Those are for display only.  You tell 'em what you want and you get the same product from behind.  You want an avocado, be sure and tell 'em when you're gonna eat it, because they'll pick one exactly ripe for you.  If you want it tonight, want it tomorrow, this weekend for a salad. 

Local berries, here's our pride.  Here's what really gets the city excited every year is when the berries are on.  They're the raspberries.  We usually have, say, two crops.  We have a fall crop of raspberries too, a little different.  These would be the real sweet summer berries, the early berries.  We have one grower does seven acres of blueberries and does nothing but make jam, chutney and blueberry vinegar out of 'em. 

Everyone has a speciality.  Cut flowers, dried flowers.  Here's “Piroschki Piroschki.”  This is all Russian pastry baked in the window.  Cooked in the oven and sold over the counter.

WOLF: Oh, I got to have one of those.

FEIRING: These people are immigrants from Russia.

WOLF: Yeah, I heard.

FEIRING: And they recently got a small business award.  And that's what the market's all about.  No businesses from outside can come into the market.  You have to start here and grow out.  You can't start outside and grow in. 

WOLF: What a wonderful idea that is.

FEIRING: It's a, it's an incubator.  Start-up, start-up place. 

Here's another food service.  This is a day- old bread store.  And we have... here on this, this... commercial corner which would probably support a very expensive jewelry store, we sell day-old bread.  Because serving the low-income people who live downtown is a mission.  It's a very important one.

WOLF: That was part of what the market was about from the very beginning.

FEIRING: That's right.  That's right.  So, being a non-profit agency managing the market, we have the luxury to be able to not be in it for the money, so we're in, we're in it for... the cultural opportunities, the nutrient opportunities.  We're here to fill people's needs and so it works out very well.

Cheese.  I think...we have something in the market something like a hundred kinds of cheese just from Great Britain.  I mean, it's... amazing. 

And on our right is the... Oriental Market where you'll find every kind of sauce, seasoning, noodles that you can imagine for Asian cooking.  Pakistani, Mid-Eastern spice store.  Speciality... and then over here we have the Bavarian meat store.  You remember the days when your local supermarket had one kind of mustard?

WOLF: Yes.

FEIRING: Here's a place where you can find dozens and dozens of different kinds of mustard.  This is...the...Italian grocery.  DeLorenti Speciality Food Market. This is a favorite with everyone in Seattle.  I think you’d best know what you're doing when you come into a store like this, right?  You can spend a hundred dollars and go home and not know what you have.  (LAUGHTER)

WOLF: But you know it's good.  (LAUGHTER)


WOLF: That’s something valuable. 

WOLF (new scene):  People who live in Seattle are always telling reporters like me to inform our audience that Seattle is cold and grey and overcast.  They just don't want anybody else to move here.  Well, I've been here for awhile.  I didn't see any more cold or grey or overcast than you'd see anyplace else.


WOLF: Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for good things to eat.  I'm Burt Wolf.