Timely lessons from Angelo Pellegrini

Seattle's pioneering food writer reminds us how to build a great city, one meal at a time.
Seattle's pioneering food writer reminds us how to build a great city, one meal at a time.

Some of us remember civic leaders of the 1960s who helped make Seattle what it is: Victor Steinbrueck who saved the Pike Place Market, for example. Another figure well known to old-timers and foodies, but lesser known to younger generations, is the late Angelo Pellegrini, the author and University of Washington professor who was an early advocate of local foods and the good life, and whose writings influenced the likes of Alice Waters and Mario Batali. He was one of the originators of the Seattle we know today for its slow food, micro brews, quality breads and wines, farmer's markets — in short the whole localvore thing.

Over on Seattle Weekly's Voracious blog, Pellegrini is remembered by food critic Jonathan Kauffman, the smart, perceptive food critic. The occasion is the third-annual presentation of the Pellegrini Award, which this year when to chef, columnist and author Greg Atkinson. Kauffman came to the Weekly from the Bay Area's East Bay Express a few years ago and one the things I like about Jonathan is how much he has learned about the Seattle food scene since his arrival, from following our movers and shakers to tracking down great strip-mall eateries on MLKing to sussing out fascinating historical tidbits like his memorable piece on how chicken teriyaki became a Seattle fast-food phenomenon (who knew?).

For background on Pellegrini, check out this Roger Downey story. But Kauffman also provides links to files of some of Pellegrini's 1980s Seattle Weekly columns from the archives, "Vintage Pellegrini," which I had forgotten about. On yellowed newsprint and with clip art (vintage indeed!) these pieces lay out his philosophy of good food and its value. Of the trends that have shaped Seattle in the last half century, the cultivation of our local food culture has been among the most positive.

One of the best columns is "The Perfect Meal" (pdf) in which Pellegrini describes in detail a fabulous dinner of Hood Canal shrimp, chanterelle mushrooms, greens and pork cutlets prepared for him and his wife by two young bachelor fishermen, one of whom Pellegrini has helped establish a kitchen garden. While he marvels over the food, his final impressions have more to do with the significance of the dinner itself:

The dinner described above was given for no special reason. It was simply a generous impulse made manifest; it, as well as the times they have been at our dinner table, merely celebrated a friendship. And isn't that the legitimate end of all dinner parties that are not given for some ulterior motive?

Our relationship with Jim and Greg is similar to several we have: our guests at the dinner table, or in sharing a glass of wine on the patio, or coffee and brandy in the evening, are frequently with the young. Such relationships are a social phenomenon that ought to be encouraged on ethical as well as aesthetic grounds. They strengthen the intergenerational bond, the fundamental ethical law of a healthy society. And they add pleasure to day-by-day living.

That, of course, is vintage Pellegrini, tying good food back into what it takes to have true happiness and connection. Intergenerational bonds are often tested here in Seattle, which is not only one of the most child-less cities in America, but also has one of the largest percentages of single-person households. These are young people starting out as well as empty nesters and seniors. One of the signs of Seattle's civic youth is often its impatience with age and history. Even our media tend to be demographics driven, catering either to young club-goers on Capitol Hill, or to matrons in Magnolia. Young and old often lead lives in which the twain rarely meet.

But Pellegrini reminds us of the importance of bonds across generations, as well as the virtues of king crab on the half-shell with lemon butter. Thanks to my former colleagues Roger Downey for thinking up these awards, and to Jonathan Kauffman for digging out this wonderful reminder of how food can bring a city together one meal at a time.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.