Thanks-Giving

Announcing the first stage of our annual Pellegrini awards.

Three years ago, at the beginning of my tenure as Seattle Weekly food editor, I put together a tribute to some of the people around Puget Sound who make this such an exceptionally great place to cook, drink, and dine. None of the people cited was a national celebrity on the order of Alice Waters or Julia Child, but in their different ways, as chefs, marketers, and growers, they were all frontline fighters in the cause of good, local, seasonal, healthy food. I am no longer the Weekly's food editor (hallelujah!—eating out ceases to be a treat when it's part of your job), but every time I check out the produce at Pike Place, survey the beautiful seafood at Wild Salmon, gloat over a plate of house-cured salami at Salumi, I'm grateful all over again that some people's passion and dedication produce such a bountiful payoff for me and the rest of the community. When Angelo Pellegrini's seminal book The Unprejudiced Palate was republished this spring (Modern Library Food Books, $13.95 paper), I discovered I was not alone in such thoughts; not by a very long chalk. My review and reminiscence of the Italian-born UW professor's lifelong evangelism for food as a central pillar of civilized living brought scores of phone calls and e-mails from people whose lives had literally been redirected by Pellegrini's writings. I learned that some of the iconic figures of the New American cuisine, chefs like Waters and Paul Bertolli, cited his influence in their early efforts. Among the many Northwesterners I heard from was Jon Rowley, a former fisherman who has worked for decades to make first-rate fresh food commercially available in our marketplace. Rowley, it turned out, had been fired by the reappearance of The Unprejudiced Palate to begin the groundwork for creating a Pellegrini foundation, to create a memorial and garden (the center of Pellegrini's food life was his garden) in his honor. Rowley's enthusiasm sparked me to think again about finding some way to pay ongoing tribute to the pioneers of Northwest taste. An image took shape in my mind: A bronze medallion bearing Pellegrini's profile, as nobly beaky as one of the more austere Roman emperors; an award . . . an annual award . . . the Pellegrini award for distinguished service to the food community. Once the blessings of Pellegrini's heirs were secured, my Weekly colleagues and I set about determining how the honor should be awarded. We felt that while nominations should be open to the general public, evaluation and final selection of honorees should be peer-reviewed. Only people who themselves were obvious choices to be Pellegrini laureates were qualified to put forward names to join the Pellegrini pantheon. So I approached leading food folk around town and asked for names of irreproachable individuals from the community who might best serve as first-time sponsor-jurors. Among the top suggestions, three seemed to have just the right credentials, track record, and range of achievement. We approached each, and each said yes. Let me introduce them. Bruce Naftali is currently the chef-proprietor of the Ballard restaurant-lounge complex Le Gourmand/Sambar. But he is also one of the founders of the classic Northwest way with food. At Robert Rosellini's legendary restaurant the Other Place, he was the first chef in town to emphasize the importance of absolutely fresh ingredients, above all seafood only hours out of the water. As a corollary, he was also the first to come to the conclusion that everything on a restaurant menu should be fresh, i.e., in season, and that a harmony created by mutually seasonal ingredients was an essential element in cooking and dining both sophisticated and simple. Chris Curtis was hardly alone in her irritation that she couldn't buy fresh seasonal produce in her own neighborhood, but she was all but alone when she set out to do something about the problem. From an initial outpost in the University District, Curtis and a mostly volunteer team have developed a network of six weekly neighborhood markets that draw close to 150 producer-merchants—not just of seasonal produce and preserves, but, thanks to efforts by Curtis and others to relax the county's stiff food-handling rules, eggs, dairy products, seafood, and meats as well. With suburbanization and farmland loss posing ongoing threats to the rural economy, institutions like the Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets are ever more important in preserving the link between small producer and individual consumer. Jo Robinson is that rarest of rare birds, a successful freelance writer. She's published on a broad range of subjects, mainly in the health and lifestyle fields, but one of her many projects has grown into something of a personal crusade. In books like Pasture Perfect (Vashon Island Press, $14.95 paper) and her Web site, www.eatwild.com, she has brought together widely scattered scientific and medical studies, which demonstrate that "natural" forage feeding produces healthier livestock and poultry, and healthier, more nourishing foods for humans as well. In her annual tasting invitational to pastured cattle producers, she has proved that lean beef, rich in Omega fatty acids and low in fat, can be just as tender and tasty as heavily marbled USDA-graded cuts. We'll update you on the progress of the Pellegrini awards as the new year progresses. In the meantime, if you'd like to suggest a name of a possible recipient, send your thoughts to foodnews@seattleweekly.com. rdowney@seattleweekly.com

 
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