If you have lived in Seattle for any significant amount of time, it can be easy to be blasé about chef Tom Douglas. The man is everywhere. He’s frying doughnuts at the Bite of Seattle, selling his Rubs With Love at Costco, joking around with Thierry Rautureau on their radio show, judging dishes on “Top Chef,” and expanding his restaurant empire.
No matter what you think of Douglas, you have to respect his hustle and ambition. He currently operates 13 restaurants with more on the way, including the re-imagining of his Tibetan dumpling house, Ting Momo, as a food truck. In recognition of his incredible culinary career, the James Beard Foundation named Douglas “Outstanding Restaurateur” in May 2012.
I recently had the pleasure of attending a cooking demo with Douglas at Macy’s in downtown Seattle. He is a member of Macy’s Culinary Council and was at the store to share recipes from his new Dahlia Bakery Cookbook for holiday entertaining.
A large audience gathered for the event, obviously eager to see the chef in action. In addition to the excellent service and food at his restaurants, what makes Tom Douglas successful? Here are 4 things I observed.
1. He can tell a good story.
Tom Douglas opened the event by describing his experience about launching his new cookbook in New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. On the lighter side, he reminisced about baking schnecken with his grandmother. Both times the audience was highly engaged. Douglas knows how to get people’s attention and interest.
2. He is always selling.
During the event, Douglas referred to his restaurants and cookbooks, but his self-promotion was never out of context or grating. And while he talked about specific products that Macy’s carries, Douglas said himself, “I am not a shill.”
3. He is human.
In the era of the celebrity chef, Douglas is refreshingly normal. He talked about bpaying for his daughter’s graduate school tuition, providing health care coverage for his employees, and his disdain for Gordon Ramsay. And he served me wine in a measuring cup for correctly answering his trivia question, “What is the name of Chinese broccoli?” (It’s gai lan. My Chinese in-laws have taught me well.)
4. He reminds people what he does best.
Tom Douglas makes good food, and he is a gregarious and generous host. He demonstrated three recipes (two from the Dahlia Bakery cookbook), and everyone was lucky enough to get samples.
He started with a grilled cheese sandwich with caramelized broccoli rabe and fontina cheese. While I like the concept of the sandwich, I found the broccoli rabe too bitter. I would have preferred chard or kale.
Next Douglas shared his recipe from the Macy’s Culinary Council cookbook for coffee-bean turkey with sweet onion gravy. (It doesn’t get any more Seattle than stuffing a turkey with whole roasted coffee beans!) I enjoyed the extra depth of flavor in the gravy from the coffee and the sage butter under the skin.
Stacy Fortner, the executive pastry chef at the Dahlia Bakery, joined Douglas to show everyone how to make pear tarts with caramel sauce. This luscious dessert was a memorable way to end the event.
Disclosure: I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere provided me with compensation for this post about Macy’s Culinary Council. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own.