I took considerable license in the telling of this story. Some (but not all) names have been changed, a few facts may have been exaggerated, several important dates might be wrong, and all memories have faded, but no animals were hurt during the process.
Photographs by Peter W. Murray
It was during a 1978 business trip to Seattle that the Harlows decided to hop on a ferry and visit Vashon. They climbed up ferry hill in their rented Mercedes, paused downtown at the four-way stop in front of Peoples’ National Bank, found just the right lug nut at the Vashon Hardware, appeased Rosemary with a Dilly Bar from the Dairy Queen, browsed for over-looked valuables at Owen’s Antiques, picked up a few hitchhikers in front of Vile Be’s Country Store, and stopped at Sound Food for a late lunch.
Vy Biel’s Original Country Store
We knew they were trouble as soon as they walked in. As John and I leaned against the reach-in (stepping aside each time Pat got an armload of side salads), he reported that (according to Liz, whose boyfriend’s sister’s daughter worked at the Dairy Queen) they were a rich couple from LA—Bruce, a mildly arrogant food photographer in his fifties, Jan, a former model/dancer/artist/psychic in her late twenties, and their mildly bratty daughter, Rosemary. Bruce ordered a roast beef, avocado, and provolone on rye, Jan chose a Supernatural Salad, and Rosemary demanded basted eggs, turned over once, sprinkled with grated white cheese and served with a slice of toast, buttered-on-both-sides.
It was love at first bite. Jan chatted up the cashier (who happened to be one of the owners), found out that Sound Food was for sale, and persuaded Bruce to take a meeting with Frank and the Johnsons the next day. On their way out, they picked up a dozen granola bars, a pink box of almond galette Bretons, a loaf of Bob’s French bread, four sesame bagels, three still-warm croissants, and two Big Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Ample fuel for any future tantrums—from Rosemary or Jan. They were back that night for dinner. Bruce ordered one of the specials—Red Snapper Cozumel, Jan chose the French Onion Soup, and Rosemary demanded basted eggs, turned over once, sprinkled with grated white cheese and served with a slice of toast, buttered-on-both-sides.
Dorothy and Dave gratefully accepted their first offer to buy out the remaining four owners and Sound Food changed hands. Along with the building’s long-term lease, an antiquated septic system, a failing dishwashing machine, and a well-used 1963 blue van, came a quirky staff of thirty moderately hard-working, commune and tepee-dwelling, college dropouts, and Jeffrey, the intense, artistic, long-bearded Chef who was firmly in charge, governed with a sharp tongue, and dressed like a Sikh. They had never worked in a restaurant; he started as a prep cook at fifteen, sharpening his knife skills in France and on the East Coast. They “thought it would be fun to own a restaurant”; he worked on the line for ten years in top Seattle kitchens, but was never able to raise the capital necessary to open his own place. They wanted to attract the steak-and-scotch, Vashon-Country-Club-member, Spinnaker regulars; he wanted to put more vegan food on the menu and add a juice bar.
Jeffrey (front right foreground) in Don Joseph and Liz Water’s production of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.”
For the Harlows, the move to Vashon was an escape from Hollywood and the pressures, stresses, and social obligations “blocking their natural aura.” Bruce had a successful career staging and photographing food shoots for television and magazine ads; Jan loved to cook and entertain; and Rosemary was along for the ride. Jeffrey moved with his family from Capitol Hill in Seattle to pursue his interest in Tibetan Buddhism and cook in an atmosphere free from corporate supervision. He introduced Island diners to exotic food with an Asian bent—tofu, tempeh, wakame, wasabi, ginger-steamed black cod, tahini, umeboshi plums, and miso. Like his more famous counterpart in Berkeley, he was determined to buy less from the Rykoff man and more from local farmers.
The battle lines were drawn.
Recipes from “Recherché Recipes, Sound Food Restaurant and Bakery”
Red Snapper Cozumel
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 1⁄2 cup olive oil
- 1⁄2 finely diced onion
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp. thyme
- 1 tsp. oregano
- 1 T. coriander
- 1⁄4 tsp. cayenne
- 1 finely diced jalapeño
- 1⁄2 diced green pepper
- 1⁄2 diced red pepper
- 3 Tbs. capers
- 1⁄2 c. pimento stuffed olives
- 5 Roma tomatoes peeled, seeded, and diced
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
Mash 4 cloves garlic with 1⁄2 tsp. salt, forming a paste. Add 1⁄2 c. lime juice. Marinate fish pieces for 30 minutes or whole fish for 2 hours. If using a whole fish, make knife cuts in body and pour marinade inside cavity and over whole fish.
Sauté onion and garlic in oil until onions are soft. Add bay leaves, thyme, oregano, coriander, cayenne, and salt/pepper to taste. Add jalapeños, peppers, olives, capers, and tomatoes. Simmer 1 hour or until sauce is thickened.
Remove bay leaves and add parsley.
If using fish pieces, brown snapper on one side in separate pan, add sauce and simmer 5 minutes to finish.
If using whole fish, cover snapper with half the sauce and bake covered in a pre-heated 350 ̊ oven for 45 minutes or until fish flakes. Use spatula to cut portions from head to tail, and lift exposed backbone out.
French Onion Soup
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 4 medium sweet white onions, ends trimmed, peeled, cut in half end to end, then thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup flour
Melt butter over medium heat, add onions and salt, sauté briefly. Turn heat down to medium, cover, and simmer 5 minutes or until juices come out. Remove cover, simmer slowly until all liquid is cooked off and onions are caramelized and golden brown.
Add flour, stir until mixture begins to brown.
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Add thyme and pepper, sauté briefly.
- 1 cup white wine
Add wine and reduce until syrupy.
- 8 cups chicken or veal stock
Add stock, and simmer for 1 hour.
- 6 pieces of dried French bread
- 3 cups Swiss cheese
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Ladle soup into bowls, top with slice of bread. Mound with Swiss and Parmesan cheese. Broil until bubbly.