Tom Douglas’s Prosser Farm
A delivery truck drives up to Palace Kitchen, the restaurant opened in 1996 by Seattle’s culinary maestro, Tom Douglas. The driver steps out, and an eager Tom bounds up to greet him. “What’d you bring me today? Let’s go see,” he says in his jovial tenor before the driver can get a word in edge-wise.
Tom lifts the cargo door revealing crates of rainbow chard, purple and white eggplants, green beans, and other seasonal vegetables grown at his farm in Prosser, Washington.
In 2006, Tom and his wife/business partner Jackie Cross bought 20 acres in the lower Yakima Valley, Washington’s prime wine country, about 2½ hours east of Seattle. At the time of the purchase, chefs at their restaurants were already using everything local they could—whole animals, cheeses, and foraged mushrooms, for instance. Prosser Farm allowed them to close the gap from farm to table just that much more.
“Farming is tough business,” says Douglas, “so the idea that we could use every pound of produce we grow was important to us.” Last year his Prosser Farm supplied 50,000 pounds—21,000 pounds of tomatoes alone—to his restaurants.
The fruits and vegetables from Prosser Farm appear on all of the menus at Tom’s restaurants—from the tomatoes in Lola’s Greek salad to the roasted peppers on Serious Pie’s pizza.
“In a funny way, the most important produce, those areas a customer really latches onto, are tomatoes. It’s a crop everyone loves, everyone wants to eat at the peak of season—you know, not the bad tomatoes you find in the market.” This year he’s hoping for a crop closer to 40,000 pounds, so that excess product can be preserved for use during the winter months.
It’s paying dividends at Douglas’ 12 Seattle-area restaurants, and in ways he hadn’t anticipated. “We have staff outings to the farm, so the waiter who waits on customers may have actually picked the tomatoes—weeded, seeded, and served the product. In the past the story they told was the chefs’, now it’s theirs, and it’s cool to see that turned around. We didn’t know the extent of the conversation.”