Food for Thought by Chef Tom


Being a 4th of July baby, there have not been many times when I have been able to enjoy a warm fire on my birthday. There was one such time, however, while we were on vacation in the pacific northwest. Before an incredibly memorable dinner, we sat around a roaring fire on the rocky and rustic beach of Lummi Island in Washington State. After seeing The Willows Inn on Lummi mentioned in a New York Times list of the Top 10 Restaurants in the U.S. Worth a Plane Ride, my wife booked a reservation for my birthday.

En route to Lummi Island from Seattle, we passed Taylor Shellfish Farms in Samish, which has been in business since the 1890’s. Over the years I have used their products, and I could not resist pulling over to breathe in the salty air and see the dark and mineral-rich soil that grows their oysters, clams, geoduck and mussels. I highly recommend meandering along Highway 11 up the coast north of Seattle where we also stopped many times to enjoy fresh produce, cheese and other things from roadside farmers’ stands. With up to seventeen hours of summer sunlight, the grapes, berries and flowers really pop throughout this whole region.

Dinner on Lummi was created by Chef Blaine Wetzel and his talented team, and it was one of the most indigenous, unique and delicious dining experiences I’ve had. Most everything served was either “fished, foraged, farmed” or raised either on or within a small radius of the island. There is no regular menu, as everything revolves around the seasons and what is provided by nature on any given day. There were many courses brought to us, including aged venison leg that had been cured over the winter, elk tartare, poached spot prawns, mussels served over smoking embers, fiddlehead fronds, stewed nettles, smoked sockeye, fried halibut skin, razor clams. Fresh herbs, edible flowers and different varieties of lettuce were woven into the menu, as well. We enjoyed walking through Nettles Farm and then in the cold pacific water where we saw fishermen get their boats and gear ready for the busy fall salmon spawning. Chef Blaine Wetzel continues his work to make this restaurant worthy of a plane ride, and I hope to return and enjoy dinner with a fire in July, again, one day.

One of the things I create in July to serve as my own indigenous experience using ingredients right out of my garden is ratatouille. I grow the eggplant, squash, peppers, basil and use the recipe below. You can also use vine ripened tomatoes (not store-ripened), but the San Marzano plum tomatoes are a perfect and easy substitute. Ratatouille is a delicious and healthy accompaniment to fish, poultry, pork and sausage. Many also enjoy ratatouille with poached eggs for breakfast.

Enjoy and happy summer!

Chef Tom McEachern
Executive Chef at Indian Hills Country Club

¼ cup + 1 T. extra virgin olive oil | 1 T. garlic, chopped
10 oz. onion, diced (usually 1 medium onion)
6 oz. red bell pepper, seeded, medium dice
6 oz. green bell pepper, seeded, medium dice
22 oz. eggplant (approx. 1 med. eggplant), medium dice
1 tsp. kosher salt | 1 tsp. ground pepper
28 oz. can of san marzano plum tomatoes
1 med yellow squash (approx. 1 med squash), medium dice
12 oz. zucchini squash (approx. 1 med zucchini), med. dice
2 T. tomato paste | 6 ea. fresh basil leaves

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is heated, sauté the garlic for 1 minute (be careful not to burn the garlic because it can get bitter). Add the onion and sauté for approx. 4 minutes, or until they are lightly caramelized. Add the eggplant, salt and pepper and continue to cook for approximately 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the red bell pepper, green bell pepper, yellow and zucchini squash and sauté for 2 more minutes. Fold-in the tomato paste and basil leaves. Place the entire mixture in a casserole and bake, covered, for 45 minutes.