Thursday, November 21, 2013

SPJ Presents Tasty Words: a Food Writing Workshop with Leslie Kelly

I’ve had an interesting time or two at the Sorrento Hotel before, that swank First Hill edifice of faded idle decadence, the Miss Havisham of luxury accommodations. But this time was special: one of Seattle’s very own literary all-stars, Leslie Kelly, was leading a workshop on food writing.

$27.37 got us a plate of five small bites of food and, more importantly, some sage advice from Leslie Kelly herself. The original intent was for the workshop to be more of a classroom environment, with Ms. Kelly lecturing, but unfortunately the giant load-bearing schlong in the middle of the Sorrento’s Fireside Room prevented this type of demonstration, so instead, Leslie went around the room for a series of intimate mini-symposiums with each table of students. She urged the students to consider all the sensory aspects of the plate of food in front of us, and to try to avoid clichés when writing, and to embrace our inner silliness and let our imaginations wander. I can’t say that I disagree with that instruction, so with Leslie’s advice in mind, I approached the plate of small bites we’d been presented.

A miniscule medallion of seared duck breast was quite tasty. It was nicely caramelized, with a lurid medium rare interior. A few crumbled walnuts were scattered on top, and a sautéed bed of something vegetal and dark and assertive, either kale or chard or maybe even wilted radicchio, was lurking below. The whole was drizzled in a sweet sauce, presumably a foil for the bitter greens. I liked it.

Next up was a small ramekin of beets. These crimson cubes were the color of a recently slaughtered oxen’s still-beating heart, but vegans relax! In case you didn’t know, and god help you if you, in fact, didn’t, beets are not actually meat, though they are quite rich enough to be. The plush flavor of the beets was lifted by a citrusy vinaigrette, and dispersed throughout was a superfluous dusting of chopped hazelnuts, provided no doubt to offer a textural contrast.

A baked oyster dish was, I’m guessing, the Sorrento’s take on Oysters Rockefeller: a broiled oyster was topped with a verdant mélange of breadcrumbs, perhaps butter, maybe tarragon, and certainly absinthe, for the mild anise flavor was, however lightly, curb stomped all over that oyster’s face. I generally enjoyed this, though my oyster was overcooked. Sadly I didn’t get a pearl; I suppose I’ll have to go back to polishing your mom’s pearl instead. Unsavory work, that.

Moving along, shreds of lamb shoulder, braised in a rich tomato sauce and perched on top of a silken pile of titanium white grits. This was no swarthy southern Mediterranean polenta, mind you: this mound of WASPy Caucasian grits would be right at home in the country club, sweater knotted about its shoulders, Izod collar rakishly popped. And lest you think this dish TOO rich, take note: to perhaps avoid a nondiscrimination lawsuit, they broke up the party by admitting a couple of pickled chanterelles. There goes the neighborhood.

Finally, a fairly innocuous grilled shrimp rounded out our plates. It was rubbed with the standard chili rub, the application of which was non confrontational and designed to offend no one except possibly those lunatic religions which consider the eating of shellfish to be a more serious offense than lopping off your infant daughter’s clit.

I was accused of being a ringer at this event, though I personally don’t see it that way. All of us are artists, and we must hunger for new technique wherever we may find it. I enjoyed a fine meal in a classy hotel with interesting people. What more could you ask for? Well my drink took way too long for the bartender to pour a double Buffalo Trace, neat. But nothing in this world is perfect.

Rating: 7 symposiums out of 10

The Sorrento Hotel is located at 900 Madison St.
For reservations call 206-622-6400