Spring starts slowly in the Inland Northwest, with blossoms appearing months later than they do on the west side of the state. This analogy sometimes seems to hold true for food and fashion trends as well.
In 2005, Chef David Blaine of Latah Bistro began blogging about food in From the Back Kitchen (thebackkitchen.blogspot.com). Now, 700 posts later, he feels he has accomplished his goal of helping to forge connections among an active food community in Spokane. His final blog entry was posted in January.
“It’s time for something new. We now have many local food Websites and organizations like Slow Food,” wrote Blaine. “The global connectivity of the Internet has allowed neighbors to come together … The opening of the Main Market Co-op ... Spokane can expect great things from their combined efforts.”
Latah Bistro has been at the forefront of embracing new ideas and trends in food service in Spokane. When the bistro opened, the chocolate industry in America was experiencing a renaissance. “It is not an overstatement to say I was paid to eat chocolate,” says Blaine, who describes himself as “endlessly challenged and intensely curious about the restaurant industry.” His dessert menu featured one of the area’s first “chocolate samplers.”
Latah Bistro’s menu also reflects the chef’s passion for local connections. Blaine touts his convictions on the restaurant’s Website: “Our close relationships with growers ensures you will be eating the tastiest healthy food from farm to table.”
Many of the chefs involved in the sustainability movement have passions, often for the outdoors, that help balance their busy lives, and Blaine is no different. As a young boy, he says, he would take his BMX bike and venture into the foothills of the Spokane Valley for hours. He’s still a guy who loves to ride a bike — he’s one of few chefs who can say they have attempted the Great Divide Race, a self-supported solo trek from Canada to Mexico.
Blaine commutes by bike whenever he can, and having strong legs definitely assists with standing at a stove and sautéing for six straight hours. But when Spokane roads get icy or loaded with snow, he heads for Mount Spokane. Blaine has carved out a work schedule of four days a week so that he can breathe in plenty of fresh air and enjoy the slopes with his family.
“I have learned that to avoid the damage that stress can do, I have to stay balanced,” says Blaine. “Balance for me doesn’t mean keeping two heavy objects on opposite ends of the teeter-totter — it means finding the middle. I might be less ambitious in some of my individual pursuits than I used to be, but I see how, when combined, it makes for a full and rich life.”
Krista Kautzman, owner/manager at South Perry Pizza appreciates Blaine’s attention to creating a balanced life. “He is passionate about more than just food,” she says. “He truly loves his family and being active … making sure they all have equal priority in his life.” She says that balance actually strengthens his work. “Once you bend yourself or your ideals to fit what people want you to be, you compromise your entire vision and concept.”
Blaine says it this way: “Cooking has become less about creating that one dish that showcases my skill, and more about using food as an important component in creating lives worth living.”
At the Bistro, the goal is to offer a place to gather for community and connection. There is a mood in the space that draws customers to come in, relax and enjoy the fresh combinations the chef has discovered. That connection is enhanced with the open invitation for diners to sit close in at “The Zoo” — front counter seats with an unobstructed view of the open kitchen. Blaine often enjoys a steady banter about the creative process with his curious patrons.
“We all have eating in common,” he says, “and food can be a great connector of people.”
Olive Pork with Couscous
Historically, Americans have overconsumed protein. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By using big, bold flavors, the meat can become a condiment for the dish rather than the centerpiece. The flavors of this dish can also be applied to chicken or halibut, which will make it healthier and quicker.
1 to 1-1/2 pounds pork shoulder (2-3 oz. per person)
2 cups Kalamata olives, pitted
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic
1 orange (juice and zest)
Pinch red chili flakes
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 cup red wine
1 cup water
1 5.7-oz. package dry couscous
1/2 small onion, finely diced (not minced)
1/2 carrot, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeds removed and julienned
1 Tablespoon parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cumin, ground
Salt to taste
Prepare the olive spread by mincing the olives, garlic, orange zest and chili flakes together. Combine olive mixture with olive oil and juice from orange. Spread mixture over the top of the pork (or chicken or halibut). Place in a baking dish with wine and water. Bake pork at 400 degrees until sides of the pork begins to brown, and then cook covered at 300 degrees until the meat easily tears apart when stabbed with a fork. Depending on the size of the roast this could take several hours. (If using chicken or halibut, bake at 350 degrees until protein is just done.)
Prepare the couscous to package specifications. Toss with vegetables and seasoning. Top a portion of the couscous with a small portion of the meat.
Nutrition Facts: 294 calories, 12g fat, 18g carbohydrates, 21g protein