If your family loves to taste delicacies from around the world and learn about where food comes from — including less-pretty items such as sausages and organ meat — Eat Seattle, a behind-the-scenes, chef-guided tour of Pike Place Market, might be for you. It's recommended for families with children ages 10 and older (or with interested younger children) or as a fab date-morning experience.
I have lived in Seattle for, um, 20 years, and worked within a few blocks of Pike Place Market for 10 of those years. I pride myself on knowing the market well, and have been to beloved Beecher’s Cheese dozens of times. However, until several weeks ago, I had never once noticed the 30,000-square foot Beecher's holding tank on the south side of the shop (right by a window, for convenient oudoor viewing), where big and small blocks of cheese in process float along before they become cheese, curds and whey.
What prompted my sudden flash of observation that interrupted my well-trod journey to the mac-and-cheese counter at Beecher's? I was on the Eat Seattle tour of Pike Place Market, a new behind-the-scenes tour of the market led by local chefs.
This was one of the most fun aspects of the tour – discovering hidden pockets of the market and the story behind the wares I thought I knew so well. At Beecher's, for example, the tour leader shared interesting facts about the cheese such as the agreement Beecher's has with the city that allows them to slowly put whey — a byproduct of the cheesemaking process— into the sewers, which helps balance out the Ph of the sewer.
The other fun thing about the tour is that excellent tastes always followed fascinating facts; in this case, trays of Beecher's flagship cheddar and crackers.
Our Eat Seattle tour started at Seattle Coffee Works, a roastery a block from Pike Place Market that brews up some of the tastiest coffee around Seattle. (The tour, however, does not make an official stop there, so if you want to get a coffee, arrive a few minutes early.) Our leader, a charming woman from Guam named Cris Miiller, met us there. Miller, who was garbed in a chef's outfit (handy for locating her in the throngs of market-goers) is a trained chef and baker. (Eat Seattle was started by Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef named Elizabeth McCune, who also leads tours.)
Miller started the tour by giving us a brief history of Pike Place Market's 70-year history, before leading us to Beecher's. Next, we stopped at another familiar spot a few doors down, Local Color, a café that spotlights local art and artisan coffee. We tasted Café Vita coffee and learned that the owners do direct trade for the coffee. We also found – date day alert! – they serve $4 beers all day.
Next we headed to a longtime market resident that I had also never visited, BB Butcher, a whole-animal butcher that is located in one of the oldest sections of the market, on the site of an early butcher at the market (you can see the original weighing rack on the tour). Hidden in a warren of shops at the beginning of the market (near Shy Giant frozen yogurt and Frank’s Produce), BB is one of the few dry-age butchers in Seattle (a process of tenderizing the meat by keeping it at a constant temperature with circulating air for three weeks) and prides itself on being "head 2 tail," meaning it uses every part of the meat (kidney sticks, anyone?).
If you really want to get in touch with your protein, ask to check out BB's meat locker (which will also cool you off on a steamy day). On the day we visited, we saw pigs’ heads, sides of veal and more.
The tour continued to fascinate. We tasted Britt’s pickles, which are fermented instead of pickled in vinegar. We had a solemn moment near Pike Place Market bakery, where we saw a mural honoring Japanese-American farmers who had sold at the market before they were interned during World War II (the number of Japanese-Americans at the market dwindled from 600 to 50 during the war). We learned the origin of the famous Pike Place Market pig Rachel, and visited a terrace that houses a lovely, whimsical garden (Pike Place Urban Garden) maintained in part by Pike Place Senior Center residents. Here, we munched on delicious chai profiteroles created by the chefs of the tour.
We also visted Uli’s Sausage, a 15-year-old sausage place owned by a Westphalia German certified sausage meister; no artificial flavors and no water. We tasted alderwood-smoked salmon at Pure Food Fish Market, a sustainable seafood operation that will ship anywhere in the world. And we ended at an appropriate place, a small, elegant shop called Indi Chocolate — also a new find for me — which sources its cocoa berries directly from cocoa farmers for its chocolate. Kids will learn fun facts about their favorite sweet, such as that chocolate grows from a tree and that the chocolate-making process includes fermentation and drying out.
The tour made seven stops total, each with a substantial taste included (big takeaway: come hungry!). (The number of stops, McCune says, has now increased to 10.)
Is this right for my kid?
Older kids – probably ages 10 and up — who enjoy learning about the origin of various foods will likely enjoy the tour, though younger kids with a culinary bent might do fine.
Eat Seattle owner McCune says, "The decision, ultimately, comes from the parents' ability to assess if this is something their children would enjoy. We’ve had 8-year-olds that are fully engaged and I find their palates to be incredible."
The tour is engaging throughout and packed with fun little facts about the market, the vendors and the foods highlighted. On the other hand, the tour might be a bit too fast-paced for a family of serious foodies, who might want more depth or hands-on experiences. A cooking tour might be a better investment.
If you go ....
What: Eat Seattle Chef's Tour
When: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.–noon
Where: Pike Place Market, leaving from Seattle Coffee Works, at the corner of First Ave. and Pike St.
Cost: $49.99, includes a 10 percent discount at all the vendors you visit for three days after the tour
Tips: Come hungry! I was pretty full by the fourth or fifth stop and wish that I had not eaten breakfast that morning.
Other Eat Seattle programs: Eat Seattle also offers a hands-on cooking class consisting of a tour through Pike Place Market to select ingredients for a three-course menu, followed by a cooking class at the Atrium kitchen in the market. Cost is $129 per person. McCune recommends that class for ages 12 and older.