Globe-Trotting With Tom Douglas

By Leslie Kelly  |  November 4, 2013

Delaware native and undisputed king of the Seattle restaurant scene Tom Douglas has loved to travel since he was a kid. He road-tripped across the country after high school before finally running out of money in the city he’s called home for more than 30 years. Now he and his wife/business partner, Jackie Cross, give into wanderlust as often as possible, getting their passports stamped around the globe. Travel, Douglas said, has gone a long way in making him a better cook.

Zagat: Where have you been lately?

Tom Douglas: We rented a place in Vienna and took the train to to Munich for Oktoberfest. My nephews are serious beer heads and Oktoberfest is a world-class party, unlike anything I’ve ever been to. You cannot really grasp the size of it unless you’ve been there. It’s in tents that are the size of a football field. They seat anywhere from 5,500 to 10,000 people a day. You’re packed in there like sardines. It’s crazy. They’ll turn that tent in an hour. The kitchens are massive. There are huge rotisseries with at least 100 chickens on each of them. Each kitchen probably cooks 1,000 chickens a day. There’s a waiter for every couple of tables, so you never have to wait for anything. You order a beer and, boom, you’ve got your beer. Order dinner and five minutes later, you’ve got your food. Some of the menus are 100 items, so you wouldn’t think they could do a menu that large, but they really go all out.

Zagat: What were some discoveries on this trip?

TD: Opera! In Vienna, we were staying right across from the opera house and we went to see The Barber of Seville. I snoozed a little bit through the first half, but then saw there was a translation box, so I could follow along with what was going on, and it was much more fun. I want to go to the opera here in Seattle. There are beautiful markets in Vienna. We found this beverage we all liked called sturm, made around harvest time. It’s a little bit of a hard cider, kind of like kombucha, but without the big loogie in there. Old farmers bring it to market and they’ll fill your bottles. You don’t really see it in the states, but we could make it. Serve it in a sturm bar. That’d be fun.

Zagat: How do you decide where you’re going to go?

TD: We like going places we haven’t been, places where we can rent a house or an apartment, do some cooking. Australia and Vietnam are on our bucket list. I’ve been to China and Japan, but haven’t been to Korea. I’d go to Buenos Aires, but have never been to Mexico and don’t really want to go. Haven’t spent much time in the Netherlands, Denmark or Sweden. I’ve never been to Southern Italy or Greece. I’d go back to Munich, but only for Oktoberfest. Don’t really need to go back to Hong Kong. Cantonese food is kind of boring to me. I’ve spent enough time in Paris, but would definitely go back to the French countryside, especially where Thierry Rautureau grew up. We actually took a family trip together and stayed at La Varenne in Burgundy. Ann Willan was in the house with her husband and we ended up in her book, From My Chateau Kitchen. It was such a blast.

Zagat: Where’s the most obscure place you’ve been recognized?

TD: I wasn’t in Vienna more than two minutes and I was recognized. There are Seattleites everywhere. It’s usually somebody from Microsoft or Starbucks.

Zagat: What’s your strategy for enduring long trips?

TD: Buy business class seats, if you can. I love flying and always get a window seat on the north side of the plane, so you can open your window and won’t have the sun beating down on you. I’ll read or do crossword puzzles. I catch up on emails or write my newsletter. 

Zagat: What do you eat/drink while waiting for your flight?

TD: I get very frustrated with the bad American breakfast they serve at so many airports. I’d rather go get an order of Chinese black bean broccoli than yesterday’s scrambled eggs.