Taste of Tulalip: Big Bites at the Small-mouthed Bay

We often forget that long and embattled history has played out for hundreds or thousands of years on the ground on which we stand. Tulalip Resort seems like it sprang from I-5 itself, fully formed in all its casino-y glory, there to serve the weary and hungry traveler.

But the land surrounding this super-modern casino has been Tulalip land for centuries; and after the chaos of the late 18th and early 19th century, it was only in 1979 that the Tulalip tribe revived the First Salmon Ceremony, the old way of gathering people of the region together to eat, drink, dance and celebrate the return of the life-bringing salmon.

They catch and feast on Big Chief “King” Salmon, the first king salmon of the year, and “feed the fires” with his remains, sharing the meal with their ancestors through the fire, honoring the things that the ancestors have taught and passed on to the next generations.

“Our ancestors are alive and are still with us each and everyday,” says tribal leader Glen Gobin after the 2008 ceremony (Google it – pretty cool). “They help us and guide us through our lives from young age to adulthood, and those things that we take the time to learn and remember and cherish are what keeps our culture alive today. It is our responsibility to learn it, practice and carry it forward.” He sounds like a chef, a winemaker … or a grandfather.

Stan Jones
Stan Jones, Tulalip Tribal Chairman was instrumental in bringing the First Salmon Ceremony back to the Tulalip Tribe; he led the annual ceremony for 30 years.

People of this area, and tribes throughout the Salish Sea spoke a similar language, Lutshootseed, in which the name of Tulalip Bay meant – small-mouthed bay. A small-mouth meant protection, and it wasn’t until 1792 that these people had first contact with Europeans – Captain Vancouver ran aground on a sandbar around here, and in 1841 the Puget Sound was first “explored” by Charles Wilkes.

Just a bit of history to go with dinner.

Since I have lived on Orcas Island, working at Doe Bay Café (a resort as well), I’ve become much more aware of the islands and inlets around the Salish Sea as its own region and ecosystem, food system and culture. On the Tulalip Tribe’s website, they share a fascinating list of some of the foods foraged here historically:

  • Fish: five kinds of salmon (spring, humpback, silver, dog, sockeye), steelhead, sturgeon, smelts, herring, flounder, trout, cod, rock cod, skate
  • Shellfish: clams, oysters, barnacles and crabs
  • Eggs: fish eggs from salmon and herring, bird eggs from pheasant, lark and duck
  • Meat: deer and elk meat
  • Berries: salmonberries, huckleberries, elderberries, salal berries, blackcaps, blackberries, wild strawberries, and wild raspberries.
  • Roots and bulbs: brake fern, wood fern, dandelion, cattail, camas, tiger lily

It is interesting that these foods are the ones that are still in demand and considered luxuries now. On Orcas, and throughout the Northwest, people have access to more types of food than you can imagine, but they still go berry picking in summer, deer and elk hunting in the fall, and fishing whenever they can. Although fish, elk and other populations are miniscule (except deer, maybe!) compared to what they once were, at least they are managed now, and in some places, the historically local people, such as the Makah Tribe of Neah Bay,  have a hand in their management.  Plentiful or not, these are foraged foods and mostly not grown in volume. How our world has changed in just one hundred years. Still, we long for the connection to our culinary pasts, whether it be on the oyster-studded shores of the Salish Sea or in vineyards across the globe.

I know this is a weird segue, but it was strange to be at the super casino-y, yet super classy Tulalip Casino, at the Taste of Tulalip, being aware of the native people that were and are still here, and taste wines from France, Italy, California and Oregon and see the very dapper Chef Marcus Samuelsson (an Ethiopian born, Swedish-adopted New Yorker) give a cooking demonstration on coconut-milk/buttermilk fried chicken, a dish like his grandmother made, from his new book, Yes, Chef, and one that he serves in his Soul Food restaurant Red Rooster in Harlem (named after a neighborhood in Amsterdam). Whew!

And Tulalip Tribal memeber Glen Gobin’s words ring in my ears, reaching across cultures and generations:  “Our ancestors are alive and are still with us each and everyday. …those things that we take the time to learn and remember and cherish is what keeps our culture alive today.” At these festivals, in a sense, we are gathering to learn the skills and passions of those who have come before – winemakers, chefs…and grandmothers.

Marcus is a dynamo of energy, and an incredibly gracious human being. There are a lot of things wrong with our culture, our environment, our politics and the world. But food and wine really does bring people together. I know these events are elite and expensive, and yes, we have so many problems to overcome, but it just seems like a better way to spend time – connecting with other cultures over what we all love – food.

Marcus fried up the simplest of chicken recipes: Marinate thighs in coconut and buttermilk and a bit of curry powder; simmer till tender. Eat as is with rice. The next day, dry off and bread the chicken in breadcrumbs, deep-fry. Serve with collard greens with a bit of coconut milk. Delicious. I loved it with the wine presented by Marc Perrin of the Chateau de Beaucastel winery family. Monsieur Perrin brought his 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre (and others) blend that paired beautifully well with the curry and sweet coconut notes of the chicken. Other wines in that tasting workshop were Brett deLeuze of ZD in Napa, California, Sean Boyd of Woodinville Wine Cellars in Woodinville, Washington and Lynn and Ron Penner-Ash from the Willamette Valley, Oregon. All winemakers were very informative and their wines showed well at this special tasting.

The wines (and beers) were amazing, too. Two stood out for me: Evening Land 2009 Pinot Noir (biodynamically grown) – which had the most perfumey and heady aromas of lilac and cherry blossom that I have ever experienced in a Pinot Noir. The other was a rare and amazing white dessert wine by winemaker Lucio Gomiero, who was there from Vignalta winery in the Colli Euganei, or the Eugenean Hills in the Veneto region of Italy to present his 2007 Fior d’Arancioi wine. It was made from dried Orange Muscat grapes, which went through a long – two year! – fermentation, ending up with 20 percent of the original weight of the grapes. This exercise in patience produced an incredibly aromatic, viscous wine with lychee, candied orange peel, honey, apricot jam, bergamot and orange blossom aromas and was not at all cloying on the palate. I think it was $28 for the split. The crowd gasped. And I did, too.

There’s too much to talk about here, but the Magnum tasting was incredible – complete with sommelier Cole Sisson sabering tops of bottles of Cristal. The main tasting gets bigger each year, and draws wineries from Washington, Oregon, California, Italy, Germany, Austria and France. It is so nice to be able to compare wines from so many different places. And as usual, sommelier  Tommy Thompson, chef Perry Mascitti, Honorary Winemaker Chris Sparkman of Sparkman Cellars, Norma Rosenthal and Allan Aquila and all the crew did an amazing job with this event.

Thanks for bringing worlds and generations and people together!


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