Editorials — January 12, 2015 11:41 — 0 Comments

The Monarch Drinks With Tom Douglas & Thierry Rautureau


Over the years I’ve been fortunate to work with master chefs Tom Douglas (chef/owner of Lola, Palace Kitchen, Serious Pie, Dahlia Lounge, Etta’s, as well as many, many others) and Thierry Rautureau (chef/owner of restaurants Loulay and Luc) not only within the world of radio, both present day and back when the duo had their first radio show, In the Kitchen with Tom and Thierry, but I’ve assisted Mr. Douglas in the kitchen as well – in Hawaii no less! 

We were on the island of Oahu for the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival.  And, when I say “we” I don’t mean it was just Tom and I soaking in the sun and being all types of fancy among the locals.  The entire radio show crew: co-hosts Katie O. and Thierry and producer Tina were with us in order to help with the event.  Brittany, Tom’s lovely personal assistant, was also with us on the island and in the kitchen.  I’m proud to say that I am now the owner of an official Tom Douglas Restaurants tee-shirt, which I wore while in the kitchen of The Modern Honolulu Hotel as I dried sheet pan after sheet pan of oyster shells in some small, scorching hot, oven-type thing.

It was also in Hawaii that I had myself a bit of an unexpected island romance, which, to my surprise and delight, has continued here on the mainland.  So, I guess in some ways, Tom Douglas could also be considered somewhat of a matchmaker in addition to all of his other success’s.

The idea to have a conversation with Tom and Thierry at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant was born in the backseat of Mr. Douglas’ 2013 Chevy Tahoe. The three of us were returning to Seattle from the Gig Harbor Wine & Food Festival where we’d just recorded Seattle Kitchen, the duo’s current weekly culinary show for 97.3 FM KIRO radio. As we rolled along the freeway, Tom and Thierry reminisced about the beginnings of their long-standing friendship (they’ve been friends for 27 years and while Thierry says he first met Tom while he worked at Cafe Sport, Tom says he met Thierry while eating at his now defunct restaurant, Rover’s), discussed business, and inquired about each other’s (very successful) restaurants – past, present and future. I forget, now, how it came up in conversation but Thierry told us of his growing up in the Muscadet region of France and how at 20 years of age, after six years of traditional French training, he decided to move to the United States.

Upon setting foot on American soil, this young Frenchman, who would someday become both a locally- and nationally-recognized, multiple award winning chef, found that he was very, very hungry. I was surprised to learn that the VERY FIRST restaurant Mr. Rautureau patronized was none other than Arby’s. In turn, I was NOT surprised to learn that Thierry discovered the food to be absolutely disgusting.

It was at this point in the conversation, as we continued driving back toward Seattle, that Tom Douglas, owner of almost two dozen of the finest restaurants in town, said of Kentucky Fried Chicken “…for fast food, it’s a nice piece of chicken…” and Thierry, who has never been to the joint, has always wanted to give it a try.

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of an idea being born from the cranium, taking in its first gulp of oxygen and being held in the arms of its papa, lovingly and tightly.


It’s an overcast Tuesday morning in Seattle and the analog clock in my ’87 Volvo reads nine fifty-four a.m.  I’m to meet Tom and Thierry at the KFC/Taco Bell on Queen Anne at ten o’clock so I can get to know the two a bit better over a feast of fried chicken and sides.  Life is strange sometimes.  Tom arrives a few minutes after ten.  We exit our vehicles, greet, and make our way into the restaurant with small talk filling the space between us.  Thierry arrives shortly thereafter donning his trademark hat and a smile from ear to ear, as is his modus operandi.

“How fancy meeting you here,” Thierry laughs as I walk to greet him.  As Thierry and Tom greet, Thierry mentions something about how he had to take a couple of people to the airport earlier that morning and then, not surprisingly, his chat with Tom turns directly to food.  More specifically, their conversation is about another Seattle fried chicken joint and how KFC delivers a way better product.

Tom takes the lead and suggests we order the 10-piece bucket seeing as how this would give Thierry “the real experience” of KFC.  As we stand at the front counter perusing the menu, Tom points out to Thierry that the chicken is breaded in-house.

“That’s actually cool, they don’t buy the chicken breaded.  That is very cool, I’m impressed by that,” says Thierry as he looks past the front counter to the back of the kitchen where some of the employees are doing employee things.

Tom orders a 10-piece combo bucket with half original chicken and half extra crispy, along with cole slaw and mashed potatoes for the side dishes.  As for drinks, Tom asks for a small Diet Pepsi after learning from the cashier that KFC doesn’t have plain iced tea, just sweet.  Thierry orders a Mountain Dew soda.

As we wait for our order, I learn that Thierry is not a soda guy and never buys the stuff although he will indulge on occasion just to see “what the whole thing is.”  Tom, on the other hand, samples his way through a bit of Diet Pepsi and a Pepsi Max (one of which “tastes like a urinal cookie”) until he finally settles on a Dr. Pepper.

Our feast of fried chicken and sides arrive!

Thierry expresses his enthusiasm about finally getting his chance to experience what most Americans ingest on a daily basis as the three of us eagerly tear into the bucket o’ chicken.  After securing a piece of extra crispy fried chicken for myself, my next move is loading my plate with mashed potatoes, which Tom continuously refers to as “potato pearls.”  “Yo, you better make a well,” Tom blurts out as I’m about to smother my mound of mash with gravy.  “Apparently you’re the professional here so it’s nice to have you around for this,” I say with a bit of sly sarcasm.  “I’ve been round my whole life,” Tom snaps back, showing his quick wit and want for silliness.

I ask him what it is about Kentucky Fried Chicken he likes and he tells me that for fast food it’s quite good.  He appreciates the fact that KFC is still a place where you can find the option of bone-in chicken, even though, rumor has it, the company is thinking about dropping that choice.  Tom then quips that it’s easier to farm boneless chickens because you don’t have to take the bone out, however, the problem is you have to drag them from their cage and back, because they can’t walk.

Finger licking, lips smacking, gullets swallowing.

After some discussion of whether or not the “Buttery Spread” is in fact butter (the jury is still out on this one), Thierry, running down the laundry list of ingredients that make up the “Hot Sauce” and the discovery that KFC’s “Honey Sauce” contains 7% real honey, I ask Thierry his opinion of the fried chicken.  “It’s delicious, it’s really good.”  He continues, “The meat is tender, as it should be.  It tastes good and there’s a crispiness to the batter. The chicken is a little bit under seasoned.  It would be nice if they brined it.”   Without missing a beat Thierry reflects on what he just said about brining.  “Listen to me,” he chuckles to himself. “I think they should have brined the chicken.  Why would they even think about that!?”

There’s a segment on the duo’s radio show called “Ordinary to Extraordinary” where Tom and Thierry take an ordinary dish and make it extraordinary in some way.  I decide to take the two of them to task and ask them how they would do just that with Kentucky Fried Chicken’s chicken.  Thierry chimes in first and says he would change the seasoning of the original chicken, but before he can continue, Tom interrupts.  “Thierry, their whole world is about 11 herbs and spices,” he says. “It’s everything they’re all about.”

Thierry pays no attention and continues in earnest with his extraordinary suggestion to improve this fried chicken.  “I would definitely revise the salt level.  I’d probably add some celery salt and some sea salt.  That’s the first thing I would do.”  Tom disagrees.  With almost an annoyance in his tone Tom explains that this food is trashy good.  “It’s what we say about our trashy prawns, it is what it is.  They [KFC] are not trying to be anything other than what they are.  As for making this better… I mean, it’s perfectly fried and the coleslaw is good.”  Tom continues, now with a not-so-subtle-sarcasm in his voice, “That gravy is spectacular.”

The three of us begin to wind down a bit as almost an hour has past since the start of ‪our Kentucky Fried Chicken dining experience.  The conversation flows in and out of an array of topics.  Thierry recounts the time he tried a burger from McDonald’s and being absolutely grossed out, ‪the beauty of a big bowl of Pho and how Tom might choose to grab a burger from Dick’s Drive-In and just sit and people watch after a long night of catering, but that he sometimes misses Louie’s Cuisine of China.  “A big plate of broccoli and black bean sauce, to me, is just awesome.  I would do that over a burger any day,” Tom says with smile on his face. 

I find myself feeling refreshed, despite the chicken, knowing that two people so involved in the Seattle food scene can appreciate the cuisine most everyone else loves, too.


Sean De Tore hosts the mixtape Podcast and works for KIRO 97.3

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney