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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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August 13, 2008 9:00 AM

FareStart Guest Chef Nights: Why wait? I'll tell you . . .

Posted by Nancy Leson

In today's paper I wrote about FareStart, Seattle's much-applauded not-for-profit culinary training program. I recently volunteered my services there as a waitress at one of their frequently sold-out weekly "Guest Chef Nights." If you've never been, it's a screaming deal: only $24.95 for a three-course meal. I encourage you to check it out. Ditto for weekday lunch, another enormous value where you can eat good and do good all at the same time.

During Guest Chef Night, dinner is prepared by some of our city's finest, in concert with FareStart students and staff. And it was here that I met Seth Caswell, president of Seattle Chef's Collaborative and late of Stumbling Goat Bistro:



Later that evening, Seth told me about his plans to open his own restaurant, Emmer, ETA next spring. And though it's not a totally done deal, he's got his eye on South Lake Union. This was his third guest-chef appearance at FareStart, where he procured the local ingredients donated for tonight's dinner. Those included Full Circle Farms greens and River Valley Ranch goat cheese; Anderson Ranch lamb; Blue Bird Grains emmer; and dessert made with Empire ice cream, peaches from Rock Island Orchard and puff pastry from Columbia City Bakery.

At the end of service, volunteers (whose tips go directly back to support FareStart) ate the same three-course dinner the paying guests did -- though we ate our cafeteria-style, downstairs in the brightly-lit student dining room. But after dinner we hung out at the communal table in the restaurant, enjoying a glass of wine and one another's company:


I was especially impressed with my sauvignon blanc from SaintPaulia Vintners, sold to customers by the glass or bottle and poured here by volunteer "wine guy" Tim Hicks:



Maybe that's because I got to drink it in the company of winemaker (and regular volunteer) Paul Shinoda. That's Paul on the right, below, wearing glasses, standing alongside his friends from St. Luke's "Grub Club" -- some of whom were "newbies" here, as I was:



Hanging out with my friends after work was one of the things I loved most about waiting tables. Today Seattle's late-night dine-and-drink options are endless, but back in my day that was far from the case. Back then you pretty much had 13 Coins, Sea Garden and the Dog House. But those of us who working at the city's fine-dining venues inevitably ended up at the bar at Campagne where, come 1 a.m. on a Friday, we'd be eating country pate, drinking eau de vie and hanging from the rafters.

I was thinking about just that on Monday night, when I shared a bottle of rose and these incredible duck-fat-fried potatoes with my friends Chris and Jack in the courtyard at Campagne, in celebration of Chris's birthday:



Chris was pretty impressed when we were joined, at a nearby table, by a famous actor whose name I can't recall. But I was more impressed to be dining in the company of chef-exec Daisley Gordon, who has also been a guest-chef at FareStart, seen here on a "busman's holiday" with his wife, Shelley:


And now I'm wondering: Where's the "must go" after-hours place for restaurant folks these days? Can anyone clue me in?

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Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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