Lummi Island, WA – 2nd Annual First Harvest Dinner Recap at The Willows Inn Restaurant – Part 5/5

Follow Me Foodie to The Willows Inn First Harvest Dinner

A recap of the 2nd Annual First Harvest dinner at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island.

This post includes parts 1-5.

See – A behind the scenes look at the 2nd Annual First Harvest dinner here.

Mijune Pak Follow Me Foodie Willows Inn chefs 1lksajdnf!! Omg. Did that photo really happen?! And did I really have a Lummi Island style pow-wow over a beach bonfire at midnight with Dominique Crenn and the chefs at Willows Inn?! Shut the front door. I could pretend this stuff happens to me all the time and act like I wasn’t star struck, but I totally was. I’m not that cool, but this was cool. I’m getting jittery just looking back at the photos and I still can’t believe it happened.

I was so excited I couldn’t sleep for weeks leading up to this dinner and I almost cried even before it started. Never in my life would I think I’d be living these moments. I’ve been waiting for this dinner since last year when The Willows Inn hosted their first exclusive First Harvest dinner. It was a collaborative dinner with John Shields (Town House Restaurant), Sean Brock (McCrady’s Restaurant), Jason Fox (Commonwealth Restaurant), Kobe Desramaults (In De Wulf Restaurant, Belgium), Kyle Connaughton (Culinary director for Stevel Ells at Chipotle) and of course Blaine Wetzel, chef and co-owner of The Willows Inn. It was a star line up of chefs and I was on the edge of my seat anticipating the five new ones invited to cook at this year’s 2nd Annual First Harvest dinner.

chefs at First Harvest Willows InnAnd boom. From left to right: Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, CA), Grant Achatz (Alinea, Chicago), Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn, San Francisco), Justin Yu (Oxheart, Houston), Virgilio Martinez (Central Restaurante, Lima, Peru), and Blaine Wetzel (The Willows Inn, Washington). Photo credit Charity Burggraaf.

I know! I can almost hear your screams. Impressive line up huh?! It’s okay if you’re not familiar with all the chefs (I’ll judge you behind my monitor), but if you are, then you can understand why I almost lost my s*** my culinary enthusiasm for this dinner. I have no idea who the guest chefs are for next year, but this year will be hard to top.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (0.1)The 2nd Annual First Harvest Dinner took place July 24-25 at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island. There were two seatings (35 seats per seating) and I was invited to the second seating. What was once a culinary secret is now on the culinary map and food enthusiasts everywhere are making trips just to visit this 10 mile long island. The island itself is rural and quaint, but what makes it a destination is the restaurant – The Willows Inn. It is one of the three restaurants (under the same family) on Lummi Island and I had the pleasure of dining here earlier this year – see my post here.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (8)Chef and co-owner of The Willows Inn, Blaine, selected five widely-acclaimed chefs to collaborate in this once in a lifetime dinner. The chefs had little to no preparation since the ingredients had to be sourced from the island. They fished, foraged and gathered all their ingredients with the help of the local fisherman, farmer, and supplier, and explored all the island had to offer.

In a short few days they each created three dishes for the special 18 course dinner starting from scratch. Most, if not all, of these chefs can take months before they put a dish on their menu, so this was really a change of pace. I didn’t get to witness it all happen, but I got to taste the final product… served by the chefs themselves. I know! I’m jealous of myself right now.

It was possibly the culinary equivalent to a #1 hits concert and every artist was singing their own tune. Each dish was from a new artist who had a new vision and interpretation using the same ingredients. Not all the ingredients were the same, but there was overlap since it was all sourced from the same land and water. Their personalities and tastes were so different, so my palate was constantly changing with every dish. The style, flavour, seasoning and presentation were all unique to each chef and it was like speed dating on a plate. Hey, now there’s an idea!

The theme of the dinner was ingredients from Lummi Island, but there was no real connection between each dish. It flowed because the dinner was executed by outstanding chefs with the same passion and talent for creating. Three dishes won’t tell me everything about a chef or their restaurant, but it gave me an idea of how they approach food. Considering they were working out of their own kitchen, without their staff, and with new ingredients, it was interesting to see how each took on the challenge. The overall experience was more valuable than what was served, although what was served was nothing short of exquisite.

These chefs are the influencers, mentors, and leaders of the current culinary scene. It was truly an honour to be here. As some of the most highly acclaimed chefs at the moment they need little introduction, but here is a brief bio and how I experienced their food.

The Featured Chefs at the 2nd Annual First Harvest Dinner…

Meet Chef Blaine Wetzel

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (125)Chef Blaine Wetzel, The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Lummi Island

Born and raised in Washington, Blaine Wetzel is the co-owner and chef of The Willows Inn on Lummi Island. I tried his tasting menu in April and wrote about my experience here. He was named Best New Chef 2012 by Food & Wine Magazine and was nominated as Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation. He has been at The Willows Inn since he was 24, and before that he was chef de partie for 3 years at Rene Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. He’s only 27, but his accomplishments are of chefs who have been around for much longer. Since being at The Willows Inn he’s rescued it from closing, and New York Times listed it as one of their “10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride” in 2011.

Chef Blaine Wetzel’s courses…

1 Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn - BlaineI’ll start with the host, or “the boy laying the golden eggs” as my friend Mike would say. Since I’ve dined at The Willows Inn before, I had an idea of what to expect from Blaine. At this dinner he repeated two of his signature courses which were actually a couple of my favourites from his seed to table Tasting Menu. Three words to describe Blaine’s cooking style would be: simple, honest, and natural, which is more or less his personality too. Blaine had the advantage of being in his own kitchen so he was ready. I actually found his food refreshing due to its simplicity and use of few ingredients, it was quite the opposite of what the other chefs were doing. It was primitive without being dated.

Twitter: @Blaine_Wetzel @WillowsInn

Meet Chef Dominique Crenn

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (117)Chef Dominique Crenn, Atelier Crenn, San Francisco, “Iron Chef America” Winner (2010)

Dominique Crenn is the owner and chef at 2 Michelin Star Atelier Crenn, which she named after her father’s art atelier (meaning studio). She was born and raised in Versailles, France, and moved to San Francisco in 1988 to continue her culinary training working under highly celebrated chefs. Her parents loved fine dining and her mother initially taught her how to cook, but her refined style and tastes come from her father who was a politician and artist. Dominique made history in 2012 as America’s first two-Michelin-starred female chef and won “Iron Chef America” in 2010. This year Chef Crenn was nominated as a semi-finalist for Best Chef: West by the James Beard Awards.

Chef Dominique Crenn‘s courses…

1 Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn - Dominique CrennBeautiful inside and out. Having never went to culinary school, she’s a natural talent who cooks, speaks and creates from the heart. For Crenn, plates are her canvas and food is her art. At Atelier Crenn she emphasizes a modern take on fine French cuisine using local and seasonal ingredients with international inspiration. There was an undeniably feminine touch in her dishes, and they were colourful, soft and elegant in style. Interesting enough she made the riskiest dish of the night too.

Twitter: @DominiqueCrenn @AtelierCrenn

Meet Chef Christopher Kostow

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (92)Chef Christopher Kostow, The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, California, 2 James Beard Awards this year

Originally from Chicago, Christopher Kostow (pictured with his lovely wife, Martina) was a one Michelin Star chef before the age of 30. In 1999 he trained with Trey Foshee at George’s at the Cove in San Diego, where he was trusted to create his own dishes at 22. He continued his training in France and moved to San Francisco as Daniel Humm’s sous chef at Campton Place Restaurant. In 2008 he became the Executive Chef at The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley which went from a 2 Michelin Star to a 3 Michelin Star in 2011.

Food & Wine magazine named him Best New Chefs 2009 and this year he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: West. The Restaurant at Meadowood also earned the 2013 James Beard Award in the Outstanding Service category.

Chef Christopher Kostow’s courses…

1 Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn - Christopher KostowWe bonded over our dislike for “best of” lists and lists in general. While they do give some restaurants much deserved attention, they can be really annoying. That’s coming from a guy who makes it on many too.

At Meadowood he is used to having his own garden and gardener, so this seed to table concept is familiar, but Chris’s food was focused on technique and ingredient, much like Blaine’s. Neither of them play too much with molecular gastronomy, but they still used modern techniques to improve the classics. He had the heartiest dishes of the night and even his vegetarian courses were meaty in texture. I liked his attention to sauces which were all quite delicate, and the various salty ingredients he used to bring umami to the plate were inspiring.

Twitter: @CKostow @TheRestaurantMW

Meet Chef Virgilio Martinez

Mijune Pak Follow Me Foodie Willows Inn chef Virjilio MartinezChef Virgilio Martinez, Central Restaurante, Lima, Peru 

The friendly and outgoing 36 year old Virgilio Martinez is a chef and restauranteur in Lima, Peru. His Peruvian restaurants include Senzo in Cuzco, Lima in London, and his flagship restaurant Central Restaurante in Lima, which was listed as #50 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013. The Summum Guide, which ranks the best restaurants in Peru, named Central as the best restaurant in Peru for 2012 and 2013.

According to this article he was a professional skateboarder with a degree in law before he became a chef. He spent 10 years traveling and working at restaurants including Spain’s 2 Michelin Star El Raco Can Fabe, and Astrid Y Gaston which was #14 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013. Next year he plans to open a 4th restaurant in London featuring fine dining Peruvian cuisine.

Chef Virgilio Martinez’s courses…

1 Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn - Virgillio MartinezBeing from another continent, Virgilio was probably up for the biggest challenge. He specializes in Peruvian cuisine and uses ingredients close to home, so he was totally out of his element. It is hard to showcase his Peruvian cooking using Lummi Island ingredients, but he made it work. His two courses were ying and yang in colour, but they represented Peruvian cuisine despite the ingredients. He made a ceviche and a crudo which are both raw courses, and he tried to keep it as authentic to his style given the circumstances. In Peru they use a lot of lemons and limes which are not grown on Lummi Island, so he had to borrow them from the restaurant bar. That just puts it into perspective the extent he had to go just to create these two dishes.

Peruvian cuisine is up and coming and apparently Blaine learned more than 100 ceviche recipes from Virgilio. It is a hybrid cuisine from indigenous ethnic groups in South America combined with influences from Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and European food. It is a multi-cultural country which uses mostly local ingredients, so I didn’t get to try the real deal here, but hopefully one day.

Twitter: @VirgilioCentral

Meet Chef Justin Yu

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (89)Chef Justin Yu, Oxheart, Houston

Native to Houston, Justin Yu is the chef and owner of Oxheart which opened March 2012. Bon Appetit magazine listed it as America’s top 10 Best New Restaurants of 2012, and this year it earned a nomination for Best New Restaurant at the James Beard Awards. At the same time Justin was a semi-finalists as Rising Star Chef. He attended New York’s Culinary Institute of America and worked at Green Zebra and Spring in Chicago, *17 in Houston, and Ubuntu in Napa, California before opening Oxheart. He was also a stagiaire at Michelin Starred In de Wulf in Dranouter, Belgium, and at AOC and Geranium (2011 Bocuse d’Or Gold Medal winner’s Rasmus Kofoed’s restaurant) in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Chef Justin Yu’s courses…

1 Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn - Justin YuHe might have been the underdog (the down to earth chef would say so himself), but he should give himself more credit. His presentation wasn’t as elaborate, but the dishes tasted great and he made a couple of my favourite courses. Being Asian, I related to his food differently and it was one course in particular that was a bit nostalgic. He is American born Chinese and his Asian palate and background were not obvious in the food, but I could tell (for a couple dishes at least). He used some really interesting techniques and inspiring concepts, and he has a long and promising career ahead. This is the beginning.

Twitter: @TetsuJustin @OxheartHouston

Meet Chef Grant Achatz

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (13)Chef Grant Achatz, Alinea – Chicago, 6 James Beard Awards, Outstanding Chef (2008)

Grant Achatz is one of the world’s most celebrated chefs. Period.

He worked under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry for four years and eventually became his sous chef. In 2001 he moved to Chicago and eventually opened Alinea in 2005. The owner of Next, Aviary, and 3 Michelin Star Alinea (which was #7 in the World’s Best 50 Restaurants in 2012, but dropped to #15 this year) is most known for his progressive cooking which combines food with science and art. The James Beard Foundation has awarded him 6 times, which include awards for Rising Star Chef (2003), Best Chef: Great Lakes (’07), and Outstanding Chef (’08).

Chef Grant Achatz’s courses…

1 Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn - Grant AchatzWhat can I say? I said it all here… in 13 373 words. He gave me one of the most memorable dining experiences in my life at Alinea. His courses weren’t really representable of Alinea, which offers much more of an interactive and sensory experience, but I would never doubt his cooking ability. His time consuming dishes and labour intensive techniques come across effortlessly, and I would never guess he put this menu together in 3 days. He made my favourite course of the night, and he was also the only chef who brought a sous chef, so credit to Eric Rivera for helping with his vision and execution.

Twitter: @GAchatz @Alinea

Meet Mary VonKrusenstiern

Willows Inn Farm on Lummi Island  (17)Mary VonKrusenstiern, The Willows Inn on Lummi Island

So she wasn’t one of the 6 chefs at The Willows Inn First Harvest Dinner, but she deserves more than sunlight, so I’m putting her in the spotlight. Mary is the Farm Manager for Loganita, the organic farm which supplies The Willows Inn and the Beach Store Cafe with vegetables, fruits, herbs, and specialty crops. Without her, the dinner wouldn’t have happened (she hand picked all the chefs’ requests from the farm) and The Willows Inn wouldn’t be where it is today.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (0.2)Photo from Joe Ray

And last but not least, was me! A good eater. I had the pleasure of dining with other good eaters. PS: The whole table was taking photos and while I didn’t see what was happening in the main dining room, I bet you anything they were taking photos too.

**Note: Given the context and it being a one off dinner I’m not going to get into too many details about the food.

On the table: 

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (15)Eaglemount Homestead Cider Semi-Sweet – It is made from heirloom apples on the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington State. It was crisp and sweet from the apples and it was The Willows Inn “champagne” or sparking wine to start the dinner. I liked it better than the Westcott Bay Traditional Cider they served to start their regular tasting menu.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (16)Oysters & Turnips – Justine Yu

  • Tokyo turnips poached in oyster juice
  • This was an illusion, and it brought me back to memories of Grant’s Oyster Leaf dish at Alinea, but it had more effort.
  • It was an oyster shell, without an actual oyster. That almost seems cruel, but you come to this dinner to be surprised.
  • A Tokyo turnip is a radish sized turnip and it is sweet with a crispy bite. It is a hybrid of a turnip and a radish.
  • The Tokyo turnip melon ball was compressed with oyster and turnip juice and it actually tasted like oysters, but the texture was different.
  • It was a meaty turnip, sweet in the beginning and then savoury and briney.
  • The juice tasted like oyster juice too and the mind games were starting early.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (17)Salmon & Barley – Dominique Crenn 

  • Salmon with barley, salmon mousseline
  • Poached salmon with mousseline sauce was an appetizer they had on the Titanic, but she reinvented the old fashioned dish.
  • It was a lightly smoked and lightly cured pink salmon with salmon mousseline on a barley cracker.
  • The sauces on top seemed like salmon mousseline alternating with lemon and thyme crème fraîche (?).
  • Salmon mousseline tasted like a salmon infused hollandaise which is what mousseline is.
  • The crème fraîche was possibly a pickled ramp mayonnaise, but it tasted along the lines of lemon and thyme crème fraîche.
  • The barley cracker was a thin and crisp chip and I liked it for texture, but it was frail for the weight and size of the cured salmon.
  • The salmon was rich and buttery and seasoned with what seemed like pepper and nori flakes.
  • The garnish was caper, fennel and I think shallot.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (18)Romaine Root – Christopher Kostow

  • Romaine root, grated herring roe, yogurt
  • Chris put a focus on the core ingredient which was the core part of the dish… puns intended. It was very “Ideas in Food”.
  • I actually enjoy the romaine root more than the leaves and this root was tender and young so it was still nice and sweet.
  • It was shaved thin and it was still a bit crunchy and the dish came chilled.
  • I wish there were a couple more to finish the whipped yogurt with though.
  • The whipped yogurt was not super thick, but it was very savoury from the grated herring roe on top. I loved it.
  • It was almost a deconstructed Ranch or dill dressing meets a deconstructed taramasalata (Greek fish roe dip).
  • The dill was fragrant and pretty strong given the sizes and portions of each component.
  • It was sprinkled with salty and crispy crumbs for texture and I think also sprinkled with nori.
  • The nori (?) enhanced the umami in the whole plate and it was more interesting than flaked salt.
  • It was garnished with some citrusy sweet leaves as well, but I’m not sure what kind of herb it was.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (18.6)Gazpacho – Grant Achatz

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (19)Gazpacho – Grant Achatz

  • Green tomato gazpacho with fennel olive oil and green onion straw
  • It was very “Achatz” in the sense that it was a playful and interactive course.
  • It was a chilled gazpacho soup made from unripened tomatoes.
  • The green onion straw had fennel, onion flowers (?), and lovage flowers (?) balanced at the tip, so when you drink the soup the initial hit is incredibly aromatic.
  • It was only in that sip though, and the aromatics lasted a couple other sips before it faded away.
  • He requested thick green onions straws which were almost like bubble tea straws and it surprised me because I got a lot of air using the thicker straw.
  • The gazpacho was smooth and thinner than a bisque, but thicker than vegetable juice.
  • It was a bit creamy, but not rich. I found it rather refreshing and light and it could have been emulsified with olive oil, but it wasn’t oily.
  • It was sweet, tangy, and savoury, and it was hard to pin down the flavours, but it was made with fennel, lovage and cilantro, and other things I couldn’t pick out.
  • There was a warm heat at the end, but I’m not sure from what.
  • They don’t grow jalapenos here, so it might have been a spice, or just the onion flowers.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (20)Cucumber Juice 

  • I ordered both the wine and juice pairings.
  • You want to do juice pairings here too because the vegetables and fruits used to make them are pristine.
  • The cucumber juice was not watery, bland, or bitter, but slightly refreshing, sweet and tangy.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (23.5)Peas & Raspberries – Justin Yu

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (21)Peas & Raspberries – Justin Yu

  • Salted raspberries and fresh peas with kale juice, bitter and sweet herbs.
  • I’ve never thought about pairing peas and raspberries, so this was new.
  • I loved the pop of colours and it looked like dessert, or a deconstructed smoothie.
  • The peas were firm, but cooked and the kale juice was not bitter.
  • I couldn’t really tell the raspberries were salted, so I’m not sure if the salt was just sprinkled on top?
  • The raspberries seemed quite natural and as is.
  • This one tasted like a direct translation of the description, but I didn’t find it bitter.
  • It was unique in theory, but more expected in the flavours it achieved.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (25)Smoked Sockeye Salmon - Blaine Wetzel

  • It was Blaine’s signature from his regular Tasting Menu. I gave it “6/6″ – see here.
  • It never fails, and impresses everyone… even if you don’t like fish, you might like this.
  • I didn’t mind that he served a course from his regular menu because it’s one of those items you would request if he didn’t.
  • He smoked it for 5 hours over green alderwood from Legoe Bay.
  • It is meant to be finger food and it tasted like the best Indian Candy ever.
  • I really hate saying anything is “the best”, but I actually blurted out loud “this is the best smoked salmon ever” after the first bite.
  • It was warm and smoky with a glossy finish from perhaps a brush of maple or brown sugar glaze.
  • It was so moist it was almost falling apart as I picked it up.
  • I could smell and taste the smoke, but it did not over power the natural flavours of the high quality fish.
  • It was buttery and savoury and I was surprised how rich and oily it was for being salmon.
  • It was a bit sticky on the outside and just tender with a silky flesh on the inside.
  • Usually people use lower quality salmon if they plan on smoking it or making it into candy or jerky, but they used a high quality one here.
  • High quality salmon is usually eaten sashimi, but in this case I was more than happy to have it smoked and served like this.
  • It was so perfectly cured and savoury with just a hint of sweetness and smoky aroma… it made my knees weak.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (27.5)Ceviche – Virgilio Martinez

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (27)Ceviche – Virgilio Martinez

  • Halibut with beetroot tiger’s milk
  • To be honest, the “Pepto-Bismol” pink colour reminded me of just that. It caught me off guard, but I don’t know enough about Peruvian food and this could be traditional.
  • In Peru, ceviche is eaten for breakfast or brunch, but this was served for dinner which I didn’t mind given the context of the event and North American culture.
  • It was a Peruvian style ceviche made from halibut which is a very mild and almost bland fish, so it needs to be marinated.
  • The chunks of halibut were quite large and they were sprinkled with crispy flaked salt.
  • The beet root was used just to dye the tiger’s milk, which tasted like yogurt.
  • Tiger’s milk or “leche de tigre” refers to the leftover juices produced from making ceviche.
  • It is supposed to be a great cure for hangovers and Peruvians will drink it in a shot glass sometimes.
  • I didn’t find the “Tiger’s Milk” “exotic” or even acquired, but I am quite an adventurous eater so it didn’t even phase me.
  • It was tangy, bright and acidic from lime or lemon, a bit creamy, but not sour and not spicy. Usually it is a bit spicy.
  • It might have been creamy from cream, but I think if he was in Peru he might have used coconut milk.
  • I’m not sure where they would find coconut milk on Lummi Island so I don’t think he used it.
  • He could have used the beet juice to sweeten it, but I couldn’t taste the beet so it was probably just for colour.
  • There was also a slice of potato which was interesting because I’ve never had that in ceviche.
  • The garnishes included a carrot and onion flowers.
  • Given the context it probably wasn’t representable of an authentic Peruvian ceviche he would make at his restaurant, but I still appreciated the effort to replicate and introduce.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (30)2011 Buty Winery Semillon, Sauvignon, Muscadelle – Columbia Valley, WA – It was supposed to be the Washington version of a Bordeaux white wine. It was 60% Sémillon, 19% Sauvignon, 21% Muscadelle and mostly dry with citrus notes of grapefruit and the sweetness of honey.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (46)Juice Pairing – Sorrel

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (31.6)Kohlrabi – Christopher Kostow

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (31)Kohlrabi – Christopher Kostow 

  • Kohlrabi glazed in its own juice, fresh rye, fire roasted crab, nasturtium
  • This was Chris’s second dish of the evening and it was probably my favourite of his. This was one of my top 5 dishes from the 18.
  • The kohlrabi was the highlight which is a cultivated cabbage also known as a German turnip.
  • It is good cooked or raw and it tastes like a turnip meets broccoli stems.
  • He treated it like meat and glazed it in its own juices and served it warm.
  • Each piece was super juicy, sweet and savoury, and licked in a stock that reminded me of Chinese “superior sauce”.
  • Chinese “superior sauce” is a seafood stock normally served with sauteed lobster or crab.
  • It was a soupy kohlrabi and seafood sauce and I could taste the crustaceans to make it. I think he used lobster crustaceans.
  • It had a bit of a gelatinous or jelly mouthfeel, so it almost seemed thickened with cornstarch or potato, but I’m not sure.
  • The little bit of fire roasted crab was secondary, but it was strong and complimented the lobster-like kohlrabi.
  • It seemed compressed and/or sous vide, so it was tender, but not soft and still had a nice bite.
  • It was sprinkled with fresh rye which could pass for nutty sunflower seeds in flavour.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (34)2010 Boedecker Cellars “Athena” Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, OR – It was an Oregon pinot noir with flavours of dark cherry and spices. It was earthy and quite bold to bring out as a wine pairing for the first course.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (36)Potato – Justin Yu

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (37)Potato – Justin Yu

  • Potatoes roasted over fire with sauce of dried clam
  • This was probably in my top 3 courses of the night. It didn’t look very pretty, but the flavour delivered.
  • It was the underdog dish by the “underdog” chef… and I loved it.
  • It was the first hot dish and the first one to have a nice aroma lifting off the plate.
  • The chewy potatoes were fire roasted with a crispy skin and they were super savoury potatoes.
  • They were a bit smoky, well seasoned and salty and not from just salt.
  • Instead of ordinary salt he sprinkled it with grated cured egg yolk which was richer and more pungent.
  • There was also some powdered seaweed as seasoning so it was a bit briney and very savoury.
  • Underneath the potatoes was a savoury and gritty sauteed onion and dehydrated clam sauce.
  • The sauce was delicious and it was really nostalgic for me.
  • It had an intense umami and reminded me of Asian cuisine, but it wasn’t obviously Asian.
  • His technique to make it was inspired by Chinese XO sauce which is traditionally made with dried scallops and/or dried shrimp.
  • The dish was not sweet or acidic, but incredibly savoury. For boring potatoes, he really showed them some love.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (43)Venison – Dominique Crenn

  • Ocean & Land
  • It was a classic Crenn description – vague, poetic, and open to interpretation.
  • This was the riskiest dish of the night and it was a “love it” or “hate it” course.
  • It was spot prawn sashimi lightly cured in rose vinegar, wrapped with aged venison, foie gras crustacean foam, black currant sorbet and salsa verde.
  • It was definitely a new vision for “surf and turf” that few would be gutsy enough to put out or even try… of course we all tried it.
  • It wasn’t a bacon wrapped prawn, but I could see the play.
  • The prawn and venison were cured, so similar to sashimi in texture, and it was a bit one dimensional and jelly-like eaten together.
  • The black currant sorbet was quite sour and not just tart and I’m not sure if that was meant to be the palate cleanser or what, but it was unexpected.
  • The foie gras foam lost a bit of body and I didn’t know what to do with it. I tried it alone and also with my spot prawn.
  • I had a bunch of flavours coming at me and I didn’t know how to take it, but I appreciated her show of character and free spirit in this dish.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (44)2011 Johan Vineyards Blaufränkisch – Willamette Velley, OR 

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (45)Juice pairing – Lingonberry

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (50.4)Swiss Chard – Grant Achatz

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (50)Swiss Chard – Grant Achatz

  • Swiss chard with shellfish, broccoli and kale
  • This was Grant’s second dish of the evening and I thought it presented beautifully.
  • It was almost like a seafood salad.
  • The kale leaf was the bedding and on top was razor clams, little neck clams and a mussel.
  • It was a savoury, peppery and juicy chilled mussel topped with finely minced broccoli stems.
  • The leaf was also garnished with broccoli flowers and nasturtiums.
  • I’m not sure how he treated the kale leaf and although this was the bigger component, I was actually more infatuated with the smaller one.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (49)

  • This was a swiss chard stem with shellfish pudding and pickled onions or pickled swiss chard ribbons.
  • This too was garnished with broccoli flowers and nasturtiums.
  • The shellfish pudding tasted like creamy celeriac or parsnip puree and it was very savoury and aioli like.
  • It was an interesting way to give the swiss chard stem seafood flavours without actually putting seafood on it like the kale.
  • It was a bit crunchy and slightly spicy and served chilled. It was like a vegetable stick and dip.
  • I liked the isolation and focus on the individual parts of swiss chard and kale.
  • It was a good dish although a bit forgettable.

 

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (40)Lummi Island sunset break!

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (52.5)Duck – Virgilio Martinez

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (54)Duck – Virgilio Martinez

  • Duck crudo, turnips, sea lettuce emulsion
  • This was Virgilio’s second and last dish and it was another raw dish.
  • It was duck tartare with mizuna greens, squid ink crumble, raw turnip and sea lettuce emulsion.
  • It was meant to be eaten with the hands and I wasn’t sure if there was a particular way to eat it.
  • I ended up picking up bits of the duck crudo and dipping it in the sauces and squid ink crumbs.
  • The duck was hand chopped, creamy, rich, naturally sweet and tender.
  • It was savoury with crispy and crunchy squid ink crumbs mixed into it.
  • The raw baby turnip was served with a sea lettuce emulsion, and it was slightly briney, but more sweet and sticky like honey.
  • It didn’t seem Latin influenced and I’m not sure if it was supposed to be, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (55.5)Hearth Bread with Butter & Chicken Drippings – Blaine Wetzel

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (56)Hearth Bread with Butter & Chicken Drippings – Blaine Wetzel

  • This was another one of my favourites from Blaine’s regular tasting menu at The Willows Inn, so again I didn’t mind seeing it again at this dinner.
  • This bread would make Europe envious!
  • It was served with chicken pan drippings and very good quality salty and creamy Oregon butter.
  • The garlicky, herby chicken pan drippings was almost like a sauce and it had intense umami!
  • It was very savoury and not salty and there wasn’t a ton of oil floating on top either.
  • It had a red tint from perhaps tomato paste, but it was not acidic. It just tasted like beautiful good quality chicken pan jus.
  • As much as I loved the chicken pan drippings I think it would be even better to serve a mussel broth with the bread.
  • Being such a seafood focused restaurant I think a seafood broth or mussel broth would suit the theme perfectly!
  • The bread was a rye bread baked in a wood stone oven that morning.
  • They served it over hot stones so the bread remained warm the whole time.
  • It reminded me of San Francisco sourdough/levain style artisan breads.
  • Since it was made right by the water they have excellent climate conditions for making levain style breads.
  • It had a thick and crunchy artisan crust, excellent spring, even hole structure, nice stretch and moisture.
  • It was rustic, nutty and fluffy. The inside was super moist and soft and the chew was not tiresome.
  • The type of bread craved pan drippings, broths and sauces. It was absorbent like a sponge.
  • I could eat just this bread alone and it was unexpectedly excellent.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (57)Lummi Island Chicken – Grant Achatz

  • Chicken with smoked oyster, currants and lavender
  • This was my favourite course in the 18 course dinner. It really stood out.
  • This was Grant’s last course and he ended with the strongest dish.
  • It was leg and breast of Lummi Island chicken poached and sous vide, crispy duck skin crumble, smoked oyster, oyster and chicken velouté, currants, thyme and lavender leaves.
  • It was rich and comforting and savoury in so many ways.
  • The sous vide chicken was incredibly tender, moist and aromatic from likely being brined and perhaps marinated overnight.
  • The smoked oyster was juicy and plump and it was almost the same texture as the chicken. Both were excellent.
  • Beside the cube of sous vide chicken leg was a piece of sous vide chicken breast crusted with crispy duck skin crumbs.
  • The texture was excellent and the pops of tangy sweet currants with the chicken reminded me of Thanksgiving turkey and cranberry sauce.
  • Velouté is one of my all time favourite French sauces. It is very rich and buttery and made from chicken stock, butter, and flour.
  • This sauce was so intense with savoury chicken flavour, and it had an unexpected lemony tang which was subtle, and maybe even a bit of white pepper (?).
  • It wasn’t a spicy sauce, but it had depth and it tasted more complex than most classic styles of velouté I’ve had.
  • I could have eaten a big plate of this. It had texture, balance and umami, and it could be one of the most memorable fine dining chicken dishes I’ve had.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (59)2011 Evening Land Gamay Noir – Eola-Amity Hills, OR

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (60)Juice pairing – Carrot

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (63)Escarole – Blaine Wetzel

  • Braised escarole lettuce with capers made from apples
  • This was Blaine’s second course not including the Hearth Bread.
  • Escarole is in the same family as Belgian endive, but it is not as bitter.
  • He treated it like meat, similar to Christopher’s kohlrabi and Justin’s potato dish.
  • It was braised with onions and pickled roses until tender, soft and caramelized. It was roasted and/or char grilled to finish.
  • It was almost like a steak or filet mignon for vegetarians and it was mildy floral and very aromatic.
  • It was sweet, savoury and a bit tangy from perhaps balsamic vinegar, and the escarole was soaked in jus.
  • It was adorned all over with fresh thyme, thyme flowers, and I think even thyme oil.
  • For the size of the escarole there was a lot of fresh thyme on it, and it was slightly strong.
  • The capers were made from apples and they were dehydrated, pickled and a bit chewy.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (64)Caper made from apples

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (68.5)Pork – Christopher Kostow

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (71)Pork – Christopher Kostow

  • Pork collar smoked in seaweed, dried smelt and mustard succulents
  • This was Chris’s last course and it was deadly. It made Blaine’s chicken drippings look like diet food.
  • Pork collar is always going to be fatty and rich, but this was an extra big and fat pig. It was a super fat pig neck.
  • It was nicely cured and reminded me of country ham. It was Christmas ham at Kostow’s.
  • It was very smoky and I liked how he smoked it in seaweed for saltiness and umami. It was creative.
  • Pork neck is extremely tough and bouncy if it isn’t made properly, but this one was impressive.
  • The meat was tender and moist, and the fat was mostly tender, but some of it was was still a bit chewy although still edible.
  • Every bite of fat would squirt out oil, or pig fat juice, and it was an indulgent piece of meat.
  • The pork collar needed some acidity or bitter flavours to cut the richness.
  • The crunchy pickled mustard seeds seemed toasted and slightly bitter so it helped ease the heaviness of the pork.
  • The jus seemed like it was made from a bit of the natural pork drippings, seaweed and dried smelt broth, but I couldn’t see any actual smelt.
  • The sauce was almost like a Japanese smoked (seafood) dashi broth and it wasn’t as heavy as a pork jus which is nice.
  • It was easily the most carnivorous dish of the night and it was another unexpected and original “surf and turf”.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (74)2011 Rasa Vineyards “The Composer” Riesling – Columbia Valley, WA

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (75)Squash Blossom – Justin Yu

  • Warm squash blossom anglaise with shortbread
  • This was Justin’s final course and it was another one of my top 5 dishes of the night. I actually liked it more with every bite.
  • It was modern day “milk and cookies” and it started to feel like Christmas especially after Chris’s pork collar dish.
  • The shortbread was smoked shortbread which I’ve never had before.
  • The shortbread itself could possibly get better, but it was a good classic shortbread cookie with a slight crunch.
  • I put smoking on my list of Top 10 Food Trends in 2013, as well as on my list of Top 10 Food Trends I Want to See Die in 2013.
  • Smoking does wonders, but it can also be too gimmicky and overly used, but with this dessert it actually worked and I thought it was going to be a novelty.
  • It was mildy smoky, buttery and not melt in your mouth short bread, but it was begging to be dipped in a hot tea, or warm milk, shortbread.
  • The smoked shortbread was served with warm squash blossom anglaise which smelled like egg nog meets souffle batter. It kind of tasted like it too.
  • At first I thought it was a liquefied shortbread batter and it still tasted slightly floury, so it could have used a bit longer on the stove, but it was still amazing.
  • The squash blossom was not obvious and it came off as corn. I would have loved a bit of vanilla bean, but it was still nice as is.
  • The sweetness was natural as well as enhanced with sugar, but it wasn’t too sweet.
  • It was as thick as a latte and thinner than eggnog and he did an excellent job with this dessert.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (77)Berries – Dominique Crenn

  • Berries from Lummi Island
  • This was Dominique’s final course and it was the second raspberry dish of the night (the first being Justin’s salted raspberries).
  • It was an olive oil mousse, sweet cream, wildberries, raspberries, apple cider gel and pine crumble.
  • It smelled like herbs and the outdoors and it was a very floral and earthy dish.
  • The wildberries tasted like tart fruit roll up and overall the dessert was mostly tart.
  • There was also crispy and crunchy bits and it was hard to detect specific flavours since it was all piled together.
  • It looked like potpourri and it was quite a natural dessert, but she made some unique condiments for it.

Lummi Island First Harvest at Willows Inn (81)Blueberries – Blaine Wetzel

  • Blueberries glazed with salted barley and woodruff
  • Blaine finished the 18 course dinner with blueberries glazed with salted malt barley, woodruff ice cream, and crispy meringues.
  • Wooruff is also known as wild baby’s breath and I think he picked the leaves and steeped them in milk to make the ice cream.
  • Woodruff ice cream is a traditional German ice cream, but the woodruff is also used to flavour jams, jellies, liqueurs and sausages.
  • It tasted like matcha ice cream and it was sweet, but not overly so.
  • It was a creamy ice cream and I found it quite refreshing.
  • The warm blueberry sauce went nicely, but only some were sweet and others a bit tart.
  • There were crispy bits of I think dehydrated blueberry meringue as well.
  • All the desserts were fruity, so I was actually ready for more dessert, but dinner was complete… although there was still the staff meal in the kitchen.
  • Bonus “Behind the scenes and “after party” at the 2nd annual First Harvest dinner at The Willows Inn” post soon!

See – A behind the scenes look at the 2nd Annual First Harvest dinner here.



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