RSS Feed

Tag Archives: restaurant

Reality Cooking Competition Tested Me

This Cooking Competition was a Live Challenge Like No Other

Chipotle Beurre Blanc Glazed Lobster with Chanterelles on a bed of Micro Greens

Chipotle Beurre Blanc Glazed Lobster with Roasted Chanterelles on a bed of Micro Greens

It’s one of those memorable lifetime experiences – a moment that’s over before you know it. That’s how it felt to participate in a cooking competition at a four-star restaurant in Seattle.

The competition – Kitchen Circus – brought nine home cooks together to test how we could handle stepping into the professional kitchen at Rover’s restaurant and serving food for up to 50 people. Three of us competed each night, making an amuse bouche and one course, with only one person moving onto the finale.

But what was this Solo Cook thinking. Usually I’m creating recipes perfect for one person and telling followers what hot spots to dine at in the Seattle area.

The menu at Rover's Restaurant includes my amuse bouche and appetizer

The menu at Rover’s Restaurant includes my amuse bouche and appetizer.

Concocting recipes that measured up to the four-star quality of Rover’s and preparing them for several dozen guests – well that bordered on either moxy or crazy or maybe a little of both. My night – Nov. 20 – I was amped to prepare an amuse bouche and an appetizer, while another contestant made a main entrée and the other a dessert.

Excitement bubbled inside me when I saw my Grilled Scallop in a Chilled Coconut Lime Soup as an amuse bouche and my Chipotle Beurre Blanc Glazed Lobster with Roasted Chanterelles on a bed of Micro Greens listed as an appetizer on the menu. I created these one-of-a-kind recipes that focused on ingredients with sentimental value.

My Passion Comes Alive

Before I stepped into the kitchen at Rover's to compete, a makeup artist polished my face and camera crew hooked up a microphone.

Before I stepped into the kitchen at Rover’s to compete, a makeup artist polished my face and camera crew hooked up a microphone.

The day of the Kitchen Circus competition, I felt as prepared as I could have been after practicing the menu on friends, killing live lobsters and borrowing a professional kitchen to get comfortable with a powerful gas stove.

The late morning started with makeup, excitement and nerves. I tried to stay calm, but with a sinus infection clouding my head, I felt fuzzy.  And I was distracted to say the least – some friends knew my plate was full so-to-speak with a recent death in the family, water in my basement and no heat.

But with cameras in my face and a microphone attached to my shirt, I knew there was no turning back. As soon as we stepped in the kitchen I was ecstatic – I saw my ingredients piled up in my corner of the kitchen.

Competition Heats Up

By 12:30 p.m. I was all about business. I put on my red apron and showed my sous chef, Katy Wentworth, the plan of attack.

There would be no room for error – and we both knew it.  Timing everything was essential. I had a printed timeline with lists and tasks for each of us that would take us right to the edge. With the amuse bouche being served at 6:30 p.m. and the appetizer being served just a half hour later it was going to be a squeeze to get up to 50 plates of each out on time and prepared perfectly. I thought this is what professional chefs do every day, an elaborate dance routine in which every step and move must be perfectly orchestrated with a flawless finish. With my intense game face on, I chopped, grilled and killed.

My seared scallop in a chilled coconut lime soup on the left was one of three amuse bouches served the night of the competition.

My seared scallop in a chilled coconut lime soup on the left was one of three amuse bouches served the night of the competition.

But as with anything in life there were a couple surprises I faced throughout the night that forced me to adapt. Two ingredients  – poblanos and coconut cream – were missing. While Chef Thierry Rautureau grabbed pasillas from a nearby store, I separated the coconut milk to capture the cream.

Also seeing only 12 live lobsters I knew we were going to have to use every bit of meat from those beautiful crustaceans. I gave all the lobsters pats on their heads and thanked them for their life, then plunged a large chef knife into each one’s head, driving the blade down and between the eyes. It was a juicy, messy operation. After they went limp, I dipped them into boiling water for a couple minutes. Later we chilled, cleaned and then poach them for the appetizer.

As typical of my nature, I mumbled, rambled and second-guessed some of the flavors. With a sinus infection, the chilled soup tasted to acidic and I was concerned the chipotle glaze might be too spicy for the mild palate of Seattleites. But my sous chef – Wentworth – calmed my nerves with her confidence and relaxed demeanor.

I’m not sure where the hours went, but they evaporated like hot water left boiling on a stovetop. I took a total of about five minutes of break during the day, of which several minutes were bathroom breaks. I was so busy and focused I didn’t even take photos of my own food – that tells you just how intense it was in the kitchen.

Faster, Faster with the Food

As 6:30 p.m. arrived we were plating the amuse bouche. Using tweezers, I placed a thin slice of mango and cilantro on top of a seared and sliced scallop that was wading in spoonful of chilled coconut lime soup. Just as we finished those servings, we were also on deck for the appetizer.

Chef Thierry Rautureau's positive and intense spirit in the kitchen was intoxicating.

Chef Thierry Rautureau’s positive and intense spirit in the kitchen was intoxicating.

Within minutes we needed to place micro greens on the plate, place roasted mushrooms around them, top the greens with chunks of poached lobster and finish it with a drizzle of chipotle beurre blanc and a sprinkle of pepitas. And this had to be done for more than 45 plates all within minutes. When it comes to plating all of the courses in the competition, all chefs thankfully are on deck, helping prepare the plates so they can be rushed them out the door.

As we assembled the appetizer, I just remember Chef Rautureau saying in his adorable French accent “Christine you are not moving fast enough. Come on Christine, faster.”

The dishes whizzed by me as I added the glaze to the lobsters and inspected each plate.

The Finish

After finishing the lobster appetizer, I was all smiles in the kitchen, knowing I had challenged myself and survived.

After finishing the lobster appetizer, I was all smiles in the kitchen, knowing I had challenged myself and survived.

As the last plate left my fingertips, I smiled. I had pulled it off and done it well. All my creativity, practice and skills came together in one day.

The judges, who were the dinner guests, voted and I placed second that night. But I was emotionally soaring like a winner.

In looking back, I realized this experience was more intense than writing a breaking news story.

I was proud that I had stepped out of my comfort zone, tested my skills and succeeded. I plan to do this more in my life, because the rewards are immeasurable.

Stay tuned for my recipes from the Kitchen Circus competition and see how these can be made for one person. Episodes of Kitchen Circus will also be released on the Internet in early spring. A special thanks to all the chefs at Rover’s, their spirit and support in this competition was amazing.

Lights, Camera and Action – the Seattle cooking competition is underway

Today is the day, I’m competing in a reality cooking competition called Kitchen Circus at Rover’s in Seattle. I’ve been creating recipes, practicing my heart out and struggling with a cold, all at the same time. But this Solo Cook is ready to take on the two other contestants today and tonight. We will chop, blend and boil in the professional kitchen and serve food to 45 guests at this amazing Seattle restaurant. As I get ready for makeup and hair – I’ll let you in on a little secret.  No – I can’t tell you what I’m cooking yet or what course I’m preparing. But I can say that there are two emotions stirring in my belly and neither is related to hunger. I’m excited and nervous. As The Solo Cook I’ve been tailoring meals and food experiences for one person. Cooking an amuse bouche and one course for 45 people is a challenge and I’m ready for it. Stay tuned for details of the competition itself.



A live cooking competition at a Seattle restaurant – an opportunity I can’t pass up

This home cook is ready to play at Kitchen Circus

When I heard the news that I made it as a contestant for Kitchen Circus, a live cooking competition at the renowned Rover’s restaurant in Seattle, I jumped up and down with excitement like a little girl. Then I got nervous.

If you ask my friends what I’m passionate about they will tell you food and journalism. While being a hard-news reporter almost pays the bills, food fills my heart. I’m always chatting about food, creating new recipes, reading about food and, of course, eating it any chance I can get. That’s also part of the reason why I started this blog The Solo Cook.

So when I heard about the Kitchen Circus contest, I thought why not take it to the next level – right?

Why not challenge myself by stepping into a professional kitchen and cooking an incredible dish live and on camera – oh and for 45 people. So with nudges and encouragement from my friends, I submitted an application and a home video that talks about myself and shows me cooking an Italian fish dish.

Live Audition Nerves

To my surprise I made the first cut. But then I faced a live audition filmed at the restaurant, and I had no idea what to expect. Occasionally, I appear on local and national television stations, speaking about investigative stories I’ve written, but being on camera for this was different. I wondered what Chef Thierry Rautureau was going to ask me and how he would test me.

At the live audition, Chef Thierry Rautureau asked me questions about why I should compete in Kitchen Circus.

At the live audition, I met other potential contestants who equally loved cooking and I felt more at ease. As the camera rolled, the affable Rautureau peppered me with hard questions. On top of that – at the same time – I also had to separate an egg’s yolk and white, and later mince a shallot. I honestly don’t recall how I answered some of the questions. But soon the camera seemed to fade and there I was just chopping and chatting with Rautureau.

I must have impressed the chef and the crew because now I’m one of nine contestants who are up for the ultimate challenge. I will cook an appetizer, main entrée or dessert for at least 45 people; competing against two other home cooks during a Nov. 20 dinner at Rover’s. You can count on me channeling my competitive and creative streaks that night. Until then I will be obsessed with food and sharing that journey.



This small Seattle bar has sparks – The Yard Cafe

The light bulbs add a rustic feel to The Yard Cafe, a small Seattle bar and restaurant.

If you want a place where people spark up random and engaging conversations, then hit The Yard Cafe in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood. You also may end up with a phone number at the end of the night.

This is one of The Solo Cook’s Hot Spots. With bare light bulbs dangling from the ceiling and dark wood walls and booths, The Yard Cafe feels like a cozy mine shaft.

The Yard Cafe, at 8313 Greenwood Ave. N., evokes its name during the summer with outside seating at picnic tables, where people read books, peck at their computers and cuddle with their dogs.

Inside this small, dark bar and restaurant you’ll find amazing drinks, beers and a Latin-focused menu.

What’s refreshing is that there are no piñatas, colorful flags and wool blankets stapled to the walls. With autumn here, this is my hunker down locale that is casual and relaxed.

Cocktails and beers for the thirsty

The Break of Don cocktail is one of several on the drink list that you’ll want to try. There also is a great selection of beers on tap.

For a spin on the traditional margarita, order the Break of Don, with tequila, Campari and citrus. The Campari played off the citrus so well that the drink was gone within minutes and I was sucking on the ice cubes for the last bits of flavor.

The menu has the traditional favorites of tacos, arroz con pollo, and grilled fish Veracruz. But my eyes locked on the queso fundido with homemade chorizo. With small corn tortillas served on the side, I made bubbling, oozing pockets of creamy cheese, green chiles and chorizo. There’s no need to count the calories on this dish – it’s off the charts and totally worth it. This is a great dinner for $7.50.

Queso fundido with house-made chorizo oozes with flavor at The Yard Cafe.

When I arrived, I quickly realized this was a place for conversation and yes, meeting other single people. I shut the laptop down and was quickly immersed in chats about legalizing marijuana, the variety of beer hops in Washington state and the bitter loss my Green Bay Packers faced at the hands of the Seahawks and the amateur officials.

A drink you can nurse while chatting with new friends is the Burnt Orange, with rye, Grand Marnier, orange juice and bitters. But don’t forget the draft beer list with ever-changing taps of cider, IPA, pilsner, stout and more. The owners of the Dray in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood of Seattle also own the Yard – which is spelled backwards.

Cocktails are $8 and draft beers are $5-8. Happy hours of 4-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.-close make these drinks even more appealing with $1 off. It can be chilly inside because of the open deck area, so wear layers.



Anyone new to my blog can also follow me on twitter @TheSoloCook

The Yard Cafe on Urbanspoon

I’m a contestant in a live cooking competition – Kitchen Circus

This girl is taking food to another level as a contestant in a live cooking competition

This time, I’m not cooking just for me. I’m cooking for 45 people. I’m so excited to announce I’m a contestant on Kitchen Circus, a live cooking competition at Rover’s restaurant in Seattle. This competition challenges home cooks, like myself, to step into a professional restaurant kitchen and see if we can handle the heat. Kitchen Circus is organized by Thierry Rautureau, who owns and operates Rover’s and Luc restaurants.

Kitchen Circus contestants were announced recently and I’m one of nine (the last one on the right) who will be headed into Rover’s kitchen to compete.

Yes, this is hardly the type of cooking I’ve focused on with The Solo Cook blog. But what you may not know about me is that I often hold large dinner parties for friends and family. There is no doubt, this will stretch my cooking skills and creativity.

I am one of nine contestants chosen to compete, based on my application, video and live audition. I’ll tell you more about my live audition in upcoming posts. On Tuesday, Nov. 20, I will prepare one of a three-course meal for guests at Rover’s. I will have to prepare an appetizer, main course or dessert. Then, at the end of the night, guests will choose one home cook as the winner who will move on to the finale.

When I discovered I was one of the Kitchen Circus contestants, I literally jumped up and down like a little girl. I hope to bring my passion and love of food to a dining room full of guests at Rover’s. In the next couple weeks, I’ll be obsessed with food. I’ll be dreaming of food, taking notes on homemade recipes and trying out different meals on friends.

You, too, will be a part of this fun journey. I plan on sharing my Kitchen Circus experiences along the way.

You can follow the competition on facebook.

For more information about the Kitchen Circus competition, check out the press release.



Tapas bar in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood is a hit for singles

Ocho – a Hot Solo Spot

This deviled egg delight combines salmon roe, pickled onion, tomato dust and dill.

Turn to Ocho in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, if you want a restaurant that has small bites, made just for one person with an artistic impression.  As The Solo Cook, I look for places that single people can enjoy, whether it’s the vibe of the place or the menu that is eclectic and perfect for one. I’ll share my secret hot solo spots with you and I’ll also discover new places along the way.

At Ocho they throw great cocktails behind the bar and create bite-size menu items that are loaded with flavors from Spain.

This small tapas bar at 2325 NW Market St. is hopping, but there’s usually an empty seat at the bar. I also like to people-watch so I sit in the outdoor area, just in front, where I’m entertained by the foot, bike and car traffic, zooming by the table.

The Solo Cook enjoys the San Miguel cocktail at Ocho, a tapas bar in Seattle.

What’s fantastic about Ocho and other tapas bars is that you get to try several menu items, without getting full like you would if you ordered a large entrée.

Visually, these tapas tempt the eyes. I craved deviled eggs as a child, so when I saw Ocho’s grown-up version, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the creamy egg. Their Huevo del Diablo for just $2.50 is an explosion of flavors in the mouth with salmon roe, dill, fried capers, pickled onion and tomato dust.

Another great menu item at $1.75 is the Banderilla de Boqueron, which combines skewered anchovy, red pepper, deep-fried artichoke and aioli.

“I wanted to convince people to try anchovies because in Spain they’re eaten like candy,” said Ocho owner and manager Zach Harjo.

While chatting with Harjo, I discovered his inspiration for the restaurant.

This tapas dish at Ocho will make you an anchovy and artichoke lover.

After graduating with several art degrees from University of Washington in 2003, Harjo backpacked through several regions of Spain. He discovered a vibrant nightlife with people standing at bars, nibbling food and having cocktails.

“I wanted to bring the bar nightlife of Spain to here,” he said about opening Ocho in 2008.  “The two or three dollar items inspired me in Spain and I love the flavors.”

To quench your thirst, I recommend you sip on the herbaceous and refreshing San Miguel drink with gin, St. Germain, rhubarb bitters and a touch of lemon.

Another gin drink called El Picador, changes colors as you imbibe. Because the speared beet bleeds into the drink, it turns red much like a Spanish bull bleeding in the ring, Harjo said. Drinks cost $8 and tapas about $2-9.



My twitter account has changed, now follow me @thesolocook

Ocho on Urbanspoon

For small sweet and savory pies turn to Pie restaurant

Hot Solo Spots

This part of my website focuses on restaurants and bars that are great for single people, whether it’s the vibe of the place or the menu that is eclectic and perfect for one.

I’ll share my secret spots with you and I’ll also discover new places. These locations will be places where people are open to sparking conversations and chefs and their staff make you feel comfortable and informed. No longer will you hide in the corner or act like your cell phone is your date or best friend. Great restaurants and bars are places where you can chat with strangers, make friends and yes, even, find a possible date. I recently changed my Twitter account, so please now follow me @thesolocook

Pie – a great savory and sweet spot

The English meat pie at Pie restaurant is the perfect size for one person.

My first Hot Solo Spot is Pie, a small restaurant in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle that opened a year and a half ago. Pie, at 3515 Fremont Ave. N., serves individual savory and sweet pies that are so delicious, I was craving them days later. I believe a crust can make or break a pie, and this place delivers with a buttery, flaky crust that’s not too thick. My favorite is the English meat pie, although I couldn’t pass up their peach raspberry pie, which melded the sweetness and the tartness of the fruits perfectly. On any given day you can choose from a dozen types of small pies made fresh every morning, costing $4.50-$5.45 each. Co-owner Jessamy Whitsitt, who started making individual pies in muffin tins as a hobby, says they make traditional pies as well as interesting flavors like mojito meringue and BBQ pulled pork.

Pie has two Seattle locations, one in the Fremont neighborhood and another at the Seattle Center.

Just one month ago, they opened up a restaurant in the Armory Building at the Seattle Center, at 305 Harrison St., just across from the new Chihuly exhibit.

“We decided to take a leap of faith,” on the location and it seems to be paying off, says Whitsitt. “Pie brings out nostalgic feelings.”

She says people from England and Australia try their savory pies, and with tears in their eyes, say it reminds them of home.

To quench your thirst, Pie offers hard ciders, old-fashioned sodas and local beers.

You can sit down for lunch or dinner and if you are in a rush just grab one or two for home.

More details about Pie can be found at



Pie on Urbanspoon