Critic-Turned-Cook Wonders: Where's The Drama?

Critic Turned Cook follows former Seattle Post-Intelligencer food critic Leslie Kelly on her journey away from the keyboard and into the kitchen. Take it away, Leslie!


Rolling out sheets of pasta at Betty.

Seattle is such a chill city—frosty, some might say. (I'm not talking temperature. This week, we’re experiencing a record-breaking heat wave.) This casual vibe might explain why I have yet to witness a fiery meltdown in any of the kitchens I’ve worked in so far.

Where are the Gordon Ramsay-like tirades? How come these chefs don’t scream at their staff? Nobody has come to blows or exchanged bitter words. No plates have been smashed.

At the latest stop on my journey from keyboard to kitchen, a neighborhood darling named Betty, the crew is so congenial, it doesn’t feel like work at all. I didn’t even mind shelling a box of fava beans while listening to the team talking about the beautiful produce they had just bought at the Queen Anne Farmers Market.

All that drama you see on TV cooking competions? It’s a big act. I’ve heard those sentiments many times. The lily is gilded to draw audiences and ratings. People who work in real restaurant kitchens are seasoned pros who know it’s important to maintain their cool. Or have I just been lucky?

Having a seasoned staff certainly helps make the busiest dinner rush go smoothly. At Betty, veteran chef Jerry Corso, who has worked in high-profile kitchens in D.C., was credited with helping to turn around Obelisk before returning to the Northwest a few years ago.

It was a real pleasure to watch Corso make the house pasta, the spinach and egg fettuccine he hand-cranks through a pasta machine until it’s so thin, it looked like a fine fabric. Like many amazing chefs, the Italian-trained Corso made it look so easy, the fluid, graceful motions of an artist.

He inspired me to consider dusting off my old pasta machine at home. Until I remembered that I gave it to a friend before my last cross-country move—darn it. So I took off my apron, headed for the dining room, and ordered that pasta as soon as I finished the favas. It was wonderful, the tangle of green and white noodles tossed with market tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. If I were still a critic, I’d give that dish four stars. Did it taste even better because it was made in a cool kitchen where everybody gets along? Possibly.