Arts and Entertainment

Famed culinary author returns to old stomping grounds on island

Tom Douglas spent two years cooking on Bainbridge Island before becoming an award winning chef, restaurateur, guest on TV cooking shows, and author of four books. - courtesy of Tom Douglas
Tom Douglas spent two years cooking on Bainbridge Island before becoming an award winning chef, restaurateur, guest on TV cooking shows, and author of four books.
— image credit: courtesy of Tom Douglas

It was the late ’70s when Tom Douglas found himself in a rather unique financial quandary.

The 19-year-old was near broke, but owed thousands of dollars. But with a little innovation, he was able to cook himself out of the red, and on to culinary fame.

And it all started on Bainbridge Island.

“The Bainbridge days are an interesting twist in my history,” Douglas said. “Being dead broke, to climbing back out of that hole and owning 15 food businesses, in six different countries — it’s been a nice ride since the Bainbridge days, and I still look fondly on them.”

It all started when Douglas was working as a cook on Capitol Hill in 1978 and got into a car crash.

“I got into a bind through a car wreck,” Douglas said. “I didn’t have insurance; at that time it was not required, and I needed some money.”

As luck would have it, a restaurant owner spotted his skills at his Capitol Hill job and gave Douglas the leg up he needed.

“This guy sat down and he asked me if I wanted to come cook out on Bainbridge Island,” Douglas said. “He asked me if I’d like to be sous chef. I said ‘sure’ — if he wanted to advance me $4,000.”

And just like that, Douglas became an island cook, dishing it up at Second Landing in the Winslow Mall. He rented a house near Agate Pass.

“Which was a stupid thing to do as a 19-year-old without a car,” Douglas noted. “I would hitchhike in the morning and at night, to and from work.”

He worked for two years on Bainbridge. Since that time, of course, Douglas has gone on to found a variety of restaurants, including the famous Dahlia Lounge in Seattle. He has been on television shows such as Top Chef, Emeril Live, Iron Chef and Martha Stewart, to name a few.

He has also authored four books, including the recently released “Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness in Seattle.”

Douglas will be at Eagle Harbor Book Co. to sign and talk about the book at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2.

Customers who bring in something they’ve baked from one of Douglas’ books will be entered into a drawing for a gift basket worth $225, including Douglas’ new book and items from the Berry Patch in the Winslow Mall.

Before his Eagle Harbor Books appearance, he will be on hand at the Town & Country Market from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Douglas wrote the “Dahlia Bakery Cookbook” with fellow cook Shelley Lance, with whom he has worked with for more than 25 years. Lance handles quality control at Douglas’ many restaurants, and tested all the recipes in the new book.

“She applied for a job at Cafe Sport in Seattle in 1984 and we’ve been working side by side ever since.” Douglas said. “She tried to retire and I wouldn’t let her.”

In fact, Douglas has a habit of taking along valuable co-workers on his ventures. He met Steven and Gigi Steinbock — then a cook and a waitress — while working on Bainbridge Island. The couple now works within his culinary empire.

Douglas will discuss the many recipes in his new book, many of which come from the Dahlia Bakery.

“It’s a little tiny bakery next to the Dahlia Lounge Restaurant,” Douglas said. “It is home to the coconut cream pie which we’ve been famous for, for a while.”

Richard D. Oxley can be reached at 206-842-6613 or roxley@bainbridgereview.com

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