Jess Thomson travels the state in search of both Washington’s food heritage and its future. The Seattle-based cookbook author is a contributor to Sunset and a host of other magazines and is out with a new book: “Dishing Up Washington: 150 Recipes That Capture Authentic Regional Flavors.”
The book, Thomson’s fourth, celebrates the food and people that make the state a culinary star. The author will appear at Olympia’s Orca Books today for a book signing and talk.
“It is half recipes by me inspired by the state’s food and half by chefs and farmers and artisans all over the state,” Thomson said. “You get everything from the slightly complicated, very modern take on Cornish game hens ... to the sort of easy things you can do with goat cheese and honey as an appetizer.”
The book covers everything from geoduck clams to wild mushrooms. “You can open it and find something great from any season. From high brow to simple,” Thomson said.
Thomson was a “former financial drone” who switched careers to attend culinary school and wound up a food writer. She’s written a book for Seattle’s Top Pot Doughnuts and a book she wrote for Ivar’s is coming out in August. She is the winner of the 2012 MFK Fisher Award for excellence in culinary writing.
Thomson has an innate curiosity and drive to try new food. She urges her readers to do the same.
“I approach food how I approach life. Yes, things go wrong but you have to keep going.”
The payoff, she said, is the excitement of finding something new. “I don’t necessarily understand people who are able to eat the same thing over and over. That’s just not who I am.”
One of the subjects of her book is nettles — that stinging herb that brings searing pain to exposed legs.
“Nobody really likes food that bites back,” Thomson said. “But they are really an efficient way to get a lot of flavor in your food.” Cooking deactivates the nettle’s sting.
One of “Dishing Up Washington’s” recipes, Two-Pound Espresso Brownie, calls for Olympia’s Batdorf & Bronson Coffee.
“It was intimidating for me as a Seattleite to choose what coffee to talk about. So, I decided I would only talk about coffee beyond Seattle. It was super-exciting for me (to discover Batdorf & Bronson). It really lends an amazing flavor to an already delicious treat.”
The book also features Tatanka-Style Bison Tacos inspired by the Ruston restaurant on North Pearl Street.
Thomson says the current Pacific Northwest food scene embraces the state’s bounty and is defined by chefs and diners willing to try new foods.
“The location that we have is incredible. While we may not have as long a growing season here (compared with California) we are just as rich in resources. We grow different things.”
Thomson said Washington residents just need time to try new foods. “I’ve met so many people across the state who are aching to share their goat cheese or other artisan products.”
The author said those things are an easy sell in Seattle but the rest of the state is slow to catch up.
“In Tri-Cities I had someone come up to me at a book signing and say, ‘This book doesn’t have vegetables and asparagus and stuff in it?’”
Washington is many different states, Thomson said. “It can be quite shocking traveling in the less-populated regions. On the other hand traveling in those same regions involves a totally different food culture. If you go to the Chesaw Rodeo you can watch people make taco salad in a Dorito bag by pouring chili out of a number 10 can. Even though the food isn’t what we think of as gourmet there’s the same relationship between the people selling it and eating it.” Book signing
Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541 firstname.lastname@example.org