Chef Jason Wilson’s big projects this year: Manning a massive wood-fired grill at his polished new downtown restaurant, Miller’s Guild, and transforming the menu at his Madison Valley mainstay, Crush. Both places get their share of special-event diners.
This coming weekend, though, it’s all a special event. Wilson is the new host of the Alley at the Bite of Seattle festival July 18-20 at Seattle Center. He’s bringing together seven samplings from his own menus and from fellow restaurateurs for a $10 plate benefiting Food Lifeline. The lineup mixing newer and established restaurants changes daily, though Miller’s Guild’s beef brisket with “blueberry corn mojo” is a headliner each day, along with dishes like Triumph Bar’s chilled cucumber soup with truffle oil (Sunday) and Crush’s charred squid salad (Saturday) and Ravish’s harissa couscous with mint and cilantro (Friday.)
The venerable Bite, now sponsored by Groupon, began at Green Lake in 1982 as an inexpensive way to sample city restaurants and get residents dining out again after a recessionary slump. The lineup included high-end restaurants in earlier years: The Metropolitan Grill served filet mignon sandwiches, Ray’s Boathouse had smoked salmon. It settled into what’s now an enormous yet less unusual fair food circuit, with its share of elephant ears and deep-fried brownies. While it still has local flavor, what makes the Bite unique now is the Alley fundraiser and a nonstop lineup of demonstrations, entertainment and chef competitions.
The Alley was originated by former Seattle Times restaurant critic John Hinterberger. Tom Douglas had run the show for the past eight years, passing the whisk, as they put it, to Wilson for 2014.
Wilson said it was an honor to take on the position, which led to more than $50,000 in donations last year to the hunger-relief organization. Even so, “it’s quite the undertaking,” he acknowledged. The walk-ins at Miller’s Guild alone are packed with 3,800 pounds of Niman Ranch beef brisket for the Alley plates, he said earlier this week, and his crew is set to prepare 10,000 servings. Participating restaurants donate their ingredients and staffing and time, making for substantial upfront costs, though they attract some volunteers and there are some sponsorships (the blueberries, for instance) and bulk deals from the sheer quantities involved.
Wilson can’t duplicate his 9-foot “Infierno” oven at Seattle Center, but rented three 5-foot grills for the Bite. “I’m going to have 15 feet of mesquite grilling going on,” he said.
It’s a long three days, but “it’s something we believe in …” he said. “It’s all going to be worth it.”
Chefs will do cooking demos throughout each day in a new outdoor area on the roof of Fisher Pavilion, hosted by “Chef in the Hat” Thierry Rautureau, with a lineup including Sam Crannell of Lloyd Martin and Rob Sevcik of Loulay. Chefs will also compete in a “Chopped”-style cooking competition each day with the audience determining the winner. There are separate areas for wine tasting and for beer and cider tasting. There will be a showing of “Back to the Future” on the Mural Stage at 8:30 p.m. Friday, plus music and other live performances around Seattle Center throughout the event.
Think it’s too mainstream? Or are you busy this weekend? Mark your calendars for the Seattle Street Food Festival, calling itself the Northwest’s “newest bite of Seattle,” scheduled for Aug. 8-9 at Cal Anderson Park. Last year’s event included Kedai Makan, Little Uncle and an after-party pig roast.
Some of our tips for navigating this year’s bite are online here.