Cooking It Up On Mercer Island, WA
I've been so fortunate to meet people with the same passion as I have for hospitality and feeding people. But, meeting Lisa Caruccio just by chance on the internet, turned out to be more than fate. Lisa lives in Mercer Island, Washington, just 15 minutes from downtown Seattle, and after raising her three children, she and her husband Rino, fulfilled her dream of opening Caruccio's in downtown Mercer Island where she hosts visiting chefs, throws parties, and welcomes the community to come together in the name of food and wine. She told me she finally made the decision to open Caruccios's after her very ill mother made her promise to to follow her dream. Soon after her mother's death Lisa found the perfect location, and she and Rino built their beautiful culinary event center.
Lisa and and I corresponded by emails and phone calls before I made my plan to visit and teach two classes at Caruccio's this month. I arrived on Monday, and we quickly confirmed that we were kindred spirits. We both love to cook, entertain, work long hours, and feed our friends. We spent the afternoon walking around the shops where Lisa introduced me to her friends in the community. We had pizza for lunch and went to the local grocery market to begin shopping for the upcoming events we would host together. She proudly showed me the beautiful facility where she spends most of her days. Caruccio's is an 1800 square foot space designed perfectly for cooking demonstrations, parties, pop-up dinners, and wine events. The teaching kitchen has state-of-the-art equipment, including audio-visual technology so everyone can view the chef demonstrations on multiple screens. There is also a prep kitchen in the back, and a mezzanine above the kitchen with a large hardwood table and chairs, and fireplace. We spent one evening in the mezzanine with a wine representative who provided a generous tasting for potential wines to sell.
My second day at Caruccio's I taught a lunch class for 17 people where I prepared Butternut Squash and Pumpkin soup with coffee-dusted pepitas. I also prepared my Spicy Black Bean Soup, and Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad. I couldn't let them leave without an Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie. It was a big success, and after announcing my Spanish Tapas class for later in the week, six more people signed up to attend. The following day Lisa and I prepared for "Wine Wednesday", a very fun evening she hosts every Wednesday night. We started cooking early in the morning preparing a multitude of snacks and appetizers for the 50-plus people who attended. Lisa loves to host Wine Wednesday because people from all over the community come together to purchase a glass of wine and eat the food she prepares for them. We creatively found things in her fridge and made delicious dips, toast toppers, and a few Spanish tapas that brought raves from our guests.
My final day in Mercer Island started early. I drove into Seattle to the Pikes Place Market to have a quiet breakfast overlooking the pier. I purchased the meat for my class that night, and returned to Caruccio's to begin preparations for my Spanish Tapas cooking class. I made cheese-stuffed piquillo peppers, stuffed mushrooms, and a cheese platter for appetizers as guests arrived. We offered three Spanish wines to pair with the food throughout the night. I demonstrated Spanish meatballs in almond sauce, steak with Cabrales sauce, fierce potatoes with garlic aioli, and garlic peppery shrimp. I had cooked the steak in a sous vide bath all day, so it was perfectly cooked to medium rare before I seared it in a hot skillet with butter and Spanish olive oil. For dessert I made churro and chocolate. By the end of the evening every person was filled and happy. I announced I would be returning to Caruccio's in the summer to cook my seven course "Around the World Dinner", and every person in the room requested to be on the list to attend.
Although the week at Mercer Island was a lot of work, I had the most marvelous time. Lisa and I became such good friends, and we look forward to working and playing in the kitchen again soon. Thankfully, I'll get to see her at the IACP conference in New York in a month, which is a conference for culinary professionals.
I never tire of making friends, especially those who share my passion for feeding people and bringing friends together. If you're ever in the Seattle area, check out Lisa's website at www.caruccios.com and register for a class or pop-up dinner. And don't forget about Wine Wednesday!