Serious Camping

A Dispatch from Tom Douglas Summer Camp

It’s day camp meets cooking school…meets open bar.

By Allecia Vermillion July 17, 2012

Last week Madison Park Conservatory chef Cormac Mahoney came to Tom Douglas Culinary Summer Camp to demonstrate how to make a cured black cod that could stand in for lox on a bagel, and how a deep exhalation and a firmly sealed Ziploc can stand in for a fancy sous vide machine. Mahoney, you might recall, is a Food and Wine Best New Chef this year, along with Blaine Wetzel of Willows Inn.

In between culinary instruction, Mahoney told the story of how famed chef Daniel Boulud approached him and Wetzel at the awards ceremony in New York. Boulud congratulated Wetzel on the honor, fawned over his food, his reputation, and his tenure as sous chef at best-in-the-world Noma on Copenhagen.

Then he approached Mahoney, who smiled and prepared to receive similar felicitations. Instead, Boulud handed him a camera and asked Mahoney if he would mind snapping a photo of Boulud and Wetzel together.

Granted, the official summer camp agenda is more about cooking instruction than chef anecdotes (and the above was one of the more sedate ones), but the two do mix nicely, especially when helped along by the steady stream of drinks that flows from 8:30am until campers depart at 5.

Douglas started offering this weeklong day camp in 2006. Cheffy adults who have five days and $3,000 to spare hunker down for a week in the Palace Ballroom, while some of the best chefs in Seattle (and beyond) stop by to demonstrate recipes, answer questions, and banter with head counselor T-Doug himself. Each day features some sort of challenge, and campers accumulate points on a blackboard. When I visited last week, nobody was making lanyards, but chef Vikram Vij of Vancouver was on hand to make masala and admit that when he was in culinary school, “I only cooked Indian food when I was bringing someone home” in hopes of adult relations. Each session of course comes with samples (of the food, not Vij’s man talents).

Team Douglas says that spots start booking up for next year the week after the current camp wraps (ie, right now). Anyone interested in the T-Doug version of rock star fantasy camp can find details over here. Though anyone lacking a sense of humor or an affinity for salty vocabulary might want to take a pass.

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