Dinner under a tent in Seattle in November? Call it foolhardy, even crazy, but also call it sold out—at $200 per person no less. Four hours after Lara Hamilton sent an email in mid-October to her Book Larder mailing list announcing the November 18th event, not a ticket was left. The draw was a chef trifecta. James Beard Award-winner Matt Dillon was cooking with Blaine Wetzel of Willow’s Inn, dubbed “one of ten restaurants in the world worth a plane ride” by the NY Times.
The guest of honor was Copenhagen chef Rene Redzepi of Noma, which held the number one spot on the list of “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” three years running beginning in 2010. That’s the year “we went from zeros to heros,” said Redzepi in Seattle, one stop on his U.S. tour promoting his latest book, A Work in Progress. (If you missed him last night making chocolate-covered chicharones with Jimmy Kimmel and actor Idris Elba, watch it here. It’s hilarious!) Addressing the 160 people who braved Seattle’s rain and chill on Monday night an impressed Redzepi said, “This would never happen in Denmark.”
Two long tables ran parallel under a festively lit, see-through canopy erected on the cobblestones of Occidental Square between Bar Sajor and London Plane. As guests checked in they were handed a leaf, a fruit, a vegetable or other plant—in my case Romanesco—tagged with their name and table designation. You found your assigned seat by hunting for its match on the table. All were grateful to find heavy blankets draped over every folding chair.
Before dinner, Redzepi read from his book (expletives NOT deleted). A ticket to the event included a personally inscribed copy. The three-part package retails for $59.95 at Book Larder in Fremont, where, by the way, signed copies may still be available and Christmas is right around the corner. The set includes a hardbound, illustrated volume of recipes, a small collection of candid snapshots and a paperback journal Redzepi kept for a year. Together they document in fascinating and often profane detail the behind-the-scenes creative process at Noma. Dillon (who, Redzepi revealed, turns 40 on December 16, their mutual birthdays) and the not-yet 30-year-old Wetzel (who was chef de partie at Noma before putting Lummi Island and Willows Inn on the culinary map) prepared a multi-course meal that paid homage to Redzepi’s fearless culinary creativity and fondness for foraged ingredients.
Guests plucked assorted cold hors d’oeuvres from a stunning natural landscape of moss, twigs and tree stumps, created by Katherine Anderson and Brita Fisher of The London Plane. Among the most memorable where fresh oysters with fermented cabbage, smoked mussels and sockeye salmon, and sunchoke chips with wisps of crispy “trumpets of death” mushrooms.
The Corson Building’s incomparable bread was passed with three spreads: duck fat and rosemary, goat butter and sea urchin cream. Several family-style platters followed: elk tartare with smoke-blackened celery root and cabbage baked in hay and horseradish; sweet black cod with salt-roasted pear; pickled king bolete mushrooms with honeycomb; and sliced leg of lamb with roasted root vegetables. The array of sweet bites for dessert came with a bracing black walnut elixir and a glass of warm hazelnut milk, which no doubt helped thaw many frozen feet.