Seattle Weekly’s Voracious Tasting: passing judgment

Tom Monahan (food judge, aspiring foodie and substitute blogger)

I’m not a food judge; I just play one in local food competitions. Seriously, my qualifications as a food judge are limited to the meals I know how to prepare with my lovely wife, the food I eat at the many wonderful restaurants in and around Seattle and the knowledge I’ve obtained from PCC.

I realize that I’m more knowledgeable than many on the subjects of whole grains and seasonal produce, but to judge a food competition pitting Chef Jason Stratton from Spinasse against Chef Seth Caswell from emmer&rye, all of which to be hosted by Seattle icon Tom Douglas…really!?!?!  That’s a life list item for many.

Of course, I jumped at the honor when it was bestowed upon me last week to judge this chef showdown at the Seattle Weekly’s Voracious Tasting & Food Awards on Wednesday, April 14.  Over the weekend, my nerves continued to grow as the event neared. They weren’t squelched either when I entered the event venue, Seattle’s historic Paramount Theatre. 

I check in for my judging duties backstage to be greeted by the chefs, Tom Douglas and my fellow judges, which included Seattle Weekly food critic, Jason Sheehan and the Weekly’s food writer, Julien Perry. That was the first of many “pinch me” moments.

Sensing the moment, Tom Douglas orders up some cocktails for the judges and chefs.  You know, to ease our nerves before we’re greeted by a 1,000 fellow foodies sipping cocktails and noshing on delicious morsels from some of Seattle’s most prestigious and innovative restaurants and bars. 

The competition is announced by a calm and cool Douglas and we hit the stage to assume our positions as judges. The moment is overwhelming, but my fears subside greatly due to a contingent of PCC staff cheering me on from the audience.

That’s me, second from the left, with the “deer in the headlights” smile on my face.

Douglas announces the secret ingredient for the competition…it’s LAMB! Specifically the wonderful Umpqua Valley Lamb carried in our stores. The chefs scramble for ingredients with their assistants and start preparations on their first set of dishes. The action is fast and furious and I get a sense of where this first dish is heading.

All the while, Douglas is chatting it up with the chefs and proceeds to the judges to get our thoughts on the showdown. Pinch me moment number two, Tom Douglas asking me about food. Never in my wildest dreams!

Back to the showdown, the first dishes are near completion and I can get a glance at what Chef Jason is working on. There were no hot burners, nothing being roasted in an oven…we’re going raw for this first dish. In fact, both chefs prepared raw lamb. I believe Chef Jason’s was carpaccio and Chef Seth’s was tartare. Raw lamb was a first for me, and I must say probably not the last. It’s really all about the preparation.


Chef Jason Stratton (on the left) competing in the chef showdown, with Tom Douglas watching his every move.

The competition continues and I’m starting to get used this judge gig. I have two tremendous chefs preparing outrageous dishes with beautiful ingredients (all provided by PCC), a culinary legend asking for my opinion on said dishes and servers asking me every couple of minutes if I need anything. Whose life did I steal!?!?

Ultimately, the four dishes prepared by each chef are delivered, tasted and judged. I sensed that the competition would be close, but not this close. The styles of each chef differed, providing for an easy contrast, but they each did such a great job with their presentation, creativity and taste.

Easing in to my role as judge, my thought provoking image is displayed on the big screen at the Paramount Theatre.

The votes were tallied and Douglas announced that Chef Seth Caswell won with 296 points to Chef Jason’s 289, out of a possible 400 points. 7 points separated these two chefs, but in all honesty nothing really separates them. They are each part of an amazing food movement happening locally, regionally and nationally. These chefs are celebrating food.

I know that this was likely a once in the lifetime experience and I didn’t take that for granted. I loved every minute of it! And if there’s a moral to my tale, it’s get out and eat!

More about: Umpqua Valley Lamb


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