Critic-Turned-Cook Misses Gravy Train

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Lola's Mediterranean-inspired menu recently featured I "heart" lamb dishes, including lamb heart kebabs. Photograph courtesy of Tom Douglas restaurants

Being a newspaper food critic is a dream job. Being paid to dine on the company dime? I was in hog heaven.

But when my dream job evaporated in March after the last print edition of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer rolled off the presses, I felt as if a huge weight had lifted. (From my ever-expanding gut, no doubt.)

After 15 years of countless meals and hundreds of reviews, I was on the brink of total burn out. (Oh no! Not another over-the-top beet salad! I’m going to scream if I’m served another silly slider. Or deep-fried mac-and-cheese! Please, just bring me a dry piece of toast.)

So, it was kind of thrilling to jump into something completely different when I started working in the kitchens at Tom Douglas restaurants in Seattle. Shadowing chef Brock Johnson at lovely Lola, I got my first contact adrenalin rush on the line.

I also got asked to help make family meal, the sustenance that gets the staff through a frantic shift.

Though I’d been practicing my knife skills, the house cutlery was as dull as another cheesy pasta. But sous chef Liam Spence took pity and lent me his Shun. Hello Handsome! You are so sharp, so sleek. How is it we’ve never met before?

Most chefs sling their own blades in the kitchen, and everyone has their favorites, mostly German or Japanese. Johnson wields a MAC, uses a Wusthof for butchering meat and longs for a Misono UX10. (What’s your knife of choice?)

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Seared scallops make the seafood tagine extra special. Photograph courtesy of Tom Douglas restaurants

After I tossed a barely decent salad (more citrus, more salt, more olive oil, Liam coached) and found a spot in the tight galley kitchen to observe the action, I felt a bittersweet pang. Watching the incredibly fragrant food being dramatically plated, I so wanted to be out in the dining room doing what comes so naturally. Eating the gorgeous seafood tagine. I practically burst into tears thinking about the good, not-so-old days when I would be on the receiving end of these palate-blowing efforts.

I guess I’d just have to come in later and take advantage of my employee discount. Before I started crying like a baby, I stepped away from the non-stop sizzle by the grill to go get a lesson on sausage making in the prep kitchen. A welcome distraction, no knife required.

About the author: Leslie Kelly is a Seattle-based freelance food writer whose work has appeared in the (now defunct) Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, and The Spokesman-Review. She's currently working in the kitchens of Tom Douglas restaurants and blogging at Whining & Dining.

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