Lessons Learned At Tom Douglas Culinary Camp

Leslie Kelly
Tom Douglas Seattle magazine
Miso tasting at Tom Douglas Culinary Camp

Yes, Tom Douglas Culinary Camp is a five-day marathon of eating and drinking and then eating some more. Day one’s lineup started with seared foie and caviar on buckwheat blini before a wow finish of wok-fried king crab and crispy chicken wings from TanakaSan. In between, there were bites and sips and more bites. Can you say stuffed?

But the real reason folks fork over $3,000 for this grownup camp is for the brain food, the lessons learned from pros, the tips and savvy suggestions soaked up during the terrific, non-stop cooking demos.

Here are a few tasty things I learned while sitting in on the first day, which focused on fermentation:

There are endless variations of miso, the fermented soybean paste, including some aged 18 to 24 months. The older they are, the darker; some pastes are almost black. To get more depth of flavor, consider blending a couple different kinds together in a recipe.

Wasabi peas are pretty darned good in fried rice, as is ketchup, something we found out during a trash talk-filled throwdown between Tom Douglas and Eric Tanaka (pictured left). Campers voted for their favorite. The result? A tie.

Crème fraiche is easier to make than you think. Chef Thierry Rautureau walked us through the steps, adding buttermilk to heavy cream warmed to 85 degrees, and then showed us how to use it to top a savory strawberry soup spiked with red wine.

Naturally fermented sauerkraut is teeming with probiotics, so go ahead and add it to your Bloody Mary mix or that morning smoothie. Brilliant collaboration between the owners of Firefly Kitchens, Palace Kitchen’s Desi Bonow and Adrienne Chamberlain, chef at Seatown and Etta’s.

When you make pickles the old-fashioned way, the length of time they ferment determines what they’re called. Half sour pickles ferment for five to seven days and full sour go for 21 days. (We made pickles! But you should go try both styles at Britt’s Pickles in the Pike Place Market.)

Charring chunks of ginger gives pho broth extra oomph and Red Boat fish sauce is the best, and it’s priced right at Central Market.

Use soda water to make fluffy matzo balls, suggested chef Eric Tanaka, who admitted he likes the heavier version in his miso-dashi soup. This combo might sound weird, but it tasted amazing.

Finally, some bittersweet news: Tom Douglas announced this year would be the last summer camp, as the team is folding these kind of demos into its new culinary program launching at Hotel Andra. Many of the “lifers,” campers who’ve gone all seven years, were bummed, big time. “We’re trying to figure out what to do during this week next year,” said Tom Douglas camp veteran Holly Firmin. “Napa Valley came up.”