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Thursday, September 9, 2021

"Sharper" in Seattle

“Sharper” in Seattle

Fresh off a great weekend in Seattle where I was among the lucky ten people who made it into a two-day food writing class at the Hugo House, an educational and writing facility located in the Capital Hill district. The class was billed as a “boot camp,” and was hosted by Kathleen Flinn, author of “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry.” This wonderful book became an immediate “fave” after receiving it from my friend Wes, and I highly recommend it to all of you reading this. Exceptionally well-written story that will hit home with anyone who’s ever posed the question to themselves “why am I doing this job?”


Kathleen was a senior editor for Microsoft in London, and unexpectedly found herself out of work. With a little coaxing and encouragement from friends and family, she opted to move to Paris and tackle the three-semester professional culinary series at Le Cordon Bleu. The book chronicles her trials and tribulations at cooking school, plus the twists and turns that life handed her during the time she was there. The result (in addition to a diploma from the most famous cooking school in the world) was her authoring “Sharper.”


Twice a year, Kathleen holds a writer’s boot camp at the Hugo House in Seattle. The boot camp reference is because the lucky attendees have many opportunities to produce writing examples, given limited guidance in the process. In other words, here’s an idea, spend the next 15 minutes writing something about it based on what we’ve been talking about. I won’t give her class contents away, but as an example, think of an object … any object that comes to mind. Now, write about it in very specific terms without revealing what the object is called. Try it with a coffee mug or a bottle of water for a little self-test of the exercise.


Seattle is always fun to visit. I don’t know if I could handle the rain and short, dark winter days, but it’s a beautiful city with a lot to offer. My previous visits were a couple of business trips. One of them was a conference that was held at the Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie Falls, about an hour ride to the East. The main lodge and falls were the backdrop for the TV series “Twin Peaks,” and it’s a spectacular location. The sight and sound of the falls raging out the window of the hotel room is breathtaking.

The “Salish” visit featured a trip into Seattle, and a ferry boat ride to Tillicum Island for a traditional “potlatch,” and the best salmon I’ve ever eaten. The ride from Pike Place Market (thank you DM for the correction!) across Puget Sound features some of the best scenery in the northwest.


My last trip to Seattle was a few years ago, and was once again a business trip, meaning I had an expense account! The I.T. managers for my company were asked to visit the branch offices once or twice a year, so I took the opportunity to drive up from the San Francisco Bay Area and stop at three offices along the way. “Drive” is a relative term here, since I had the Corvette for this trip, and it was probably closer to “fly.” But it was certainly a good justification for buying the “Vette,” as it proved to be roomy and comfortable for my six-one frame and returned 32 MPG for the 1800-mile trek to Seattle and home.


Trips to Seattle also mean dinner and reminiscing with my good friend Deborah, who I’ve known since fourth grade. She moved there many years ago, and as a consummate “diner,” she knows the fun new spots downtown. This trip, it was a new, upscale Mexican food restaurant called Barrio, in the Capital Hill area where I was staying. Great wine selection, including an excellent Mexican meritage (mispronounced by the bartender, like many people butcher this poor word, which was coined in California, not France). I opted for a Belvedere martini, which hit the spot. Small plates of a scallop ceviche, an amazing beef tartar on crispy mini-tortillas, and a “taco trio” were excellent. This is a bustling “happening” new spot, and they’ll do well.


Our day-two lunch assignment was to break into groups and try one of several local restaurants within an easy walk from the Hugo House, take notes based on the classroom presentation that just concluded, with the expected notion that we’d be writing about the experience when we returned. My classmate buddy Mindy and I opted for Boom Noodles, which was a block away, and sounded like a good choice.

Boom was amazing, which I’ll tell you right off the bat is an “empty description” and we were specifically instructed not to use these in the class … however, it was. Upon entering the pristine establishment you’re promptly escorted to sleek “communal” style tables by friendly and informative serving staff, which perfectly capture the Japanese-Fusion theme that abounds. Water appears immediately, and a chilled liter bottle is left at the table. Nice touch. Everything is special here, from the chopsticks that come in a paper enclosure with a geisha on the outside, to the unique teapots and sake-style Boden cups for tea, to the paper napkins that could pass for fine linen.

We knew we’d be writing a review on the restaurant and the food, so we opted for several small plates, which was the right choice as they were all extremely appealing and tasty. The ahi tacos consisted of perfectly seared sashimi-grade slices placed in mini wonton “tortillas” with a side of creamy chili tofu sauce. The curry potato korokke were essentially a couple of uniquely flavored potato cakes with a ginger crème fraiche dip. The sizzling toban beef consisted of sake marinated flat-iron steak chunks served over shiitake mushrooms, sautéed sweet onions and garlic chips, with a yuzu pepper dipping sauce. Incredible and uniquely flavored, prepared and served, across the board. The dessert menu looked interesting, but this was in fact lunch, and we were “there.” Next trip I’ll start with dessert and work backward!


The weekend boot camp was so full of information; I couldn’t begin to get it into my little blog which I try to limit for your sake. We wrote, we chatted, we heard the most amazing stories of Kathleen’s training and life in France and the U.K., we drank wine, ate some amazing cheeses (thanks to Kat’s assistant Lisa … thanks again!), and we all came away with an exponential increase in our food writing knowledge and of course our collective desire to do more of it.


We all made friends, I’m sure we’ll keep in touch, the whole class knows that they’re welcome to come to California and spend some time and let me cook for them, take a trip to the wine country, whatever, and I’m hoping that all of them take me up on the offer. Great group, great weekend, truly unique in the grand scheme of things.

My thanks to Kathleen who does so many of her endeavors as a labor of love. She’s the consummate hostess, from tending to our coffee needs, to the lovely quiches that she made (and accommodated individual taste requests), to the wine and cheeses, to the sharing of her experiences and in-depth knowledge about food writing. Amazing weekend.


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