It was a trip to Paris and a book by Ernest Hemingway that solidified Jon Rowley’s infectious passion for food.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste,” longtime Seattle food writer Cynthia Nims read from “A Moveable Feast.”
The metallic taste, she says, could describe the taste of Olympia oysters, which Rowley advocated for, elevating their profile.
“When I read that, it makes me think about of the soulfulness of Jon’s appreciation for food,” said Nims, who was friends with Rowley for more than 20 years.
The influential food consultant died from kidney failure at his home on Vashon Island on Tuesday.
The longtime consultant made Copper River salmon -- a fish that was, at the time, bound for canning – covetable. He also convinced people to eat foods such as Bainbridge strawberries, wild mushrooms, local peaches and tomatoes in season for peak flavor – long before the practice was trendy.
“He’s known as a food finder,” said Chef Paul Duncan, of Ray’s Boathouse. “Bringing Copper River salmon to Seattle and saving the Olympia oyster from near extinction. You see him with Julia Child – him pointing out and showing her something new: white king salmon.”
Duncan says Rowley helped define what we now call Pacific Northwest cuisine.
“Finding perfect fish, perfect seafood, perfect protein, perfect vegetables, perfect fruit,” Duncan said. “He believed we needed to justly hold on to the idea of perfection. It means even if you think you have something so wonderful…inspire yourself to find a method that personifies the perfection.”
For Nims, it’s not the food she will miss the most, but the company that came with it.
“I went to Le Dome and sat out on the sidewalk area, and I had some oysters and I got some wine and I toasted Jon. Right there in Paris, thinking of him, thinking of Hemingway, thinking of the oyster-wine bliss factor,” Nims said about her trip to France while Rowley was ill, and continues reading Hemingway’s words:
“The cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
Ray’s Boathouse is donating all proceeds from a Taylor Shellfish oyster special to Rowley’s family to cover medical bills. The restaurant hopes to have a celebration of life event sometime this month.