Notes from Tom Douglas Culinary Summer Camp

By: 
Leslie Kelly

On Friday, the day after this year’s Tom Douglas Culinary Summer Camp ends, an aching hunger will set in, especially around 10 in the morning when campers realize nobody is feeding them an endless buffet of bites of the amazing food they’ve just seen prepared by a parade of uber-talented chefs starting last Sunday at The Palace Ballroom.


Day 1: crepes for breakfast.

And so the countdown begins in anticipation for next year’s over-the-top eat-fest, five days of demos, camper challenges (who can cut up a rabbit quickest?) as well as non-stop sips and sups from morning until early evening when the 30 participants head home. This is no sleep-over camp. (Though there is a couch in the corner if you wanna catch a snooze during the day!)

James Beard Foundation award-winner of this year’s Outstanding Restaurateur (and the pinnacle of our inaugural Food Establishment list) Tom Douglas launched this program six years ago after fielding countless requests from customers who wanted the inside scoop on how to cook like a pro. It costs $3,000.

This is no beginner’s course, as demonstrated in the very first lesson of this year’s camp during which Tom and his brother from another mother, Thierry Rataureau showed campers several different ways to prepare quail, foie gras and beets.

This year’s lineup of all-star presenters:

The funny Vikram Vij from Vancouver showed campers how to make a homey peas and mashed potato curry, as well as an elegant prawn masala while lamenting: "Indian food might not be as pretty as some, but if only you could take a photo of the way it smells."

Madison Park Conservatory’s Cormac Mahoney and Zoi Antonitas (both TD alum) woke the crowd up on Tuesday with a Bloody Mary Martini and a Northwest variation on bagels and lox, subbing black cod for salmon and pickled grapes for capers. Brilliant!

The Spur/Tavern Law/Coterie Room dynamic duo, Brian McCracken and Dana Tough, schooled campers on some molecular gastronomy, using liquid nitrogen to pop open oyster shells "Look Ma, no fragments!" and to make a horseradish "snow" on top.

Martha Foose from Greenwood, Miss., shared tips and techniques for making Eudora Welty-inspired custard pie and a jellyroll using a recipe from her book, A Southerly Course.

And so much more.

What’s super cool about this fabulously filling immersion experience is that campers also get to know some of the hard-working chefs at Tom’s ever-expanding stable of restaurants. The Palace Kitchen’s Dezi Bonow teamed up with USA Today columnist and cookbook author Kim O’Donnel to show some campers some veggie love. Eddy Bernal, a line cook at The Bravehorse Tavern, prepared pork belly menudo and his Mom's tacos for lunch on Tuesday. Serious Pie cook-turned-farmer Dev Patel got down and dirty talking about the extensive crops grown for the restaurants at Tom and, his wife, Jackie Cross’s spread in Prosser. And throughout the event, catering chef Matt Anderson and his crew kept campers well fed.

Because this is very much a grownup summer camp, adult beverages play a key role, with drink guru Adam Chumas pairing each dish the campers savored with beer, wine and clever cocktails. Who knew a rum, coconut water and cumin syrup concoction would be so refreshing when paired with Vij's curries? One afternoon, campers were invited to make their own boozy immersions. Skittles-spiked gin anyone?

Is it any wonder that the day after culinary summer camp ends, participants start dreaming of next year?

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