Book City: Tom Douglas is cooking up a new one

With so many restaurants, how does Seattle's most prolific chef have time to read - or write - anything?
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Tom Douglas

With so many restaurants, how does Seattle's most prolific chef have time to read - or write - anything?

Tom Douglas is bigger-than-life on the Seattle food scene. His dedication to regional ingredients not only put Seattle on the culinary map, but catapulted him to win three James Beard awards. Douglas’s growing restaurant empire includes Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, Lola, Etta’s, Cuoco and Serious Pie in two locations. The whirlwind-of-an-entrepreneur writes cookbooks, runs a catering business and an event space (The Palace Ballroom), sells a specialty food line nationwide and co-hosts a weekly radio show. Does the man have time to read?

Valerie Easton: You’re opening more new restaurants this spring…how do you find time to crack a book?

Tom Douglas: I’m not much of a reader, I never have been. But I get all the newspapers. I read the New York Times and the Seattle Times every day. And I read the The Week Magazine to keep up with the infrastructure of the news.

Do you have a book open on your nightstand right now?

“Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I tried to listen to it on CD, but she’s the reader, and has the worst voice. So I’m reading the book.

Any book you’ve read lately that caught your imagination or inspired you?

“The Greatest Speeches of President John F. Kennedy” was an inspirational book. When he wrote his speeches he’d go into seclusion and edit, edit, edit. I’ve also read a book about Martin Luther King’s speeches; they had such an amazing influence on our country.

Do you give quite a few speeches?

I’ve been giving more talks lately and getting more comfortable with it. A dry martini with a twist 15 minutes before a talk helps.

Any books you’d recommend to friends?

“Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. I like to ponder his reasoning, though I don’t always agree with it. I really liked Stephen Ambrose’s book “Undaunted Courage” about Meriwether Lewis.  

Do you have a favorite among the four cookbooks you’ve written?

No, they’re all different. It took me a long time to write my first cookbook – I wasn’t sure anyone would give a damn. In a funny way, writing a cookbook is harder than opening a restaurant. The books are more personal, the restaurant is more of a business decision. My editor told me that no one reads cookbooks cover to cover, but people tell me they take my books to bed and read them.

Do you tend to buy books, get them from the library? Download them?

I buy books on CD, current history like Hilary’s book, and biographies of John Adams and George Washington, to listen to during the three hour drive to the farm in Prosser. We have seven acres under cultivation there. My wife Jackie Cross is the chief farmer. Last summer, we shipped 24,000 pounds of tomatoes in a refrigerator truck from the farm to our Seattle restaurants.

What were your most cherished books when you were a child?

I didn’t read when I was a kid. I’ve always liked to work. I delivered newspapers in Newark, Delaware where I grew up, and I still remember the headlines when Satchmo and Ella Fitzgerald died.

What are you going to read next?

Maria Semple sent me her new book “Where’d You Go Bernadette?” I guess she writes horrible things about Seattle, but gives one of my restaurants a shout out. And I still have Nora Ephron’s book “I Feel Bad About My Neck” sitting here. She came into the restaurant when she was in Seattle, and loved our peanut butter sandwich cookies, so I sent her the recipe and some cookies and she sent me the book.

Are you working on a new cookbook?

I’m writing a love letter of a book about the food scene in Seattle. I’m not sure what it’ll look like; probably it’ll be more of a coffee table book about Seattle chefs and farmer’s markets. We have a customer base here that cares where salmon comes from. We live what we talk — recycling, gardening, a culture committed to sustainable food sources.

Will it include recipes?

There’ll be recipes.

What Val’s Reading This Week: “The New Yorker Book of Dogs,” a Christmas present that I’ve been savoring, reading slowly, because I love it so. I’m convinced all the best writers are dog worshippers. Included are poems, drawings, fiction, cartoons and feature articles by the likes of Jeffrey Toobin, John Updike, Roald Dahl and E.B. White, with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Valerie Easton

Valerie Easton started her career as a librarian shelving books at Lake City Library when she was in high school. Now she writes full time, and has authored five books, includingThe New Low Maintenance Garden and her newest title Petal & Twig. She writes a weekly column and feature stories for Pacific Northwest magazine in the Seattle Times.