Chewing the Fat With Chef Tom Douglas

The kids and I chop the potent onion and garlic we picked up at the local Farmer’s Market.

There is definitely a difference between mass produced and local produce — like wild from tame. The cilantro was jalapeno green, wet and damply alive like flora in a rainforest.


The fresh garlic looks prehistoric and nothing like its plastic jugged cousins of pre-peeled bulbs available at Costco. The husk surrounding the garlic cloves has a purple hue with little bits of dirt still clinging to the tendrils.

I watch my daughter, Sophie strip the seeds from her pile of poblano chiles. She’s 10 years old and a budding culinary master.

Today we were on another culinary adventure or what we like to call our “food experiments” – -in homage to Albert Einstein’s famed “thought experiments” of which E=MC2 was the result.

The E=MC2 of today’s “food experiment” is Chef Tom Douglas Roasted Tomatillo Salsa with grilled chicken skewers.

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Kids and Native American Art

“Mommy, I’m hungr—“ Patrick’s cry for ice cream was cut short by the slow, steady drum beat. Seagulls circle around Pier 57 in downtown Seattle.

Patrick scoots down on his knees transfixed. I watch my 4-year-old boy squirm his body toward the steel barrier trying to get his neck between the bars for a closer view of a Native American man in ceremonial dress.

A native vocal undulates like a bird taking flight and my head starts nodding in time with the slow, even drum beat.

“Mommy, I want to climb up on your neck so I can see better!” 7-year-old Amelia paws at my clothes.

A half-man, half bird rattles the head of a raven high in his right hand. His back is adorned with a fan of feathers and two raven feet. A red weasel pelt dangles down his soft honey colored leather pants. As he dances he brandishes a wing of feathers that he waves toward the crowd and up to the sky. The overall effect is mesmerizing and the crowd stands at attention.


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Grabbing hold of ‘real world’ in downtown Renton

LEFT PHOTO: Sophie Ossorio, at right, lent a helping hand to Sachin Ajith, left, and David Israel at POP! in downtown Renton. RIGHT PHOTO: Amelia Ossorio, at right, spent a recent Saturday with owner Mary Clymer, learning all about happy delusions.— Image Credit: Carolyn Ossorio
LEFT PHOTO: Sophie Ossorio, at right, lent a helping hand to Sachin Ajith, left, and David Israel at POP! in downtown Renton. RIGHT PHOTO: Amelia Ossorio, at right, spent a recent Saturday with owner Mary Clymer, learning all about happy delusions.— Image Credit: Carolyn Ossorio


“Good luck,” I say, flashing Sophie a thumbs up.

As a parent, there are milestones you prepare for — the first day of pre-school or teaching your kiddo how to ride a bike without training wheels.  And then you have to just let go (gulp) and hope for the best.

But her first job interview . . . at 11?

It wasn’t exactly a job interview. She was going into POP! for a continuation of a “real world” learning lesson — one begun at the Springbrook Trout Farm.

Maybe you remember the article I wrote at the beginning of summer about fun things to do with your kids in Renton?

After meeting Bill Briere, the owner of the Springbrook Trout Farm, my mom got a part-time summer job.  A fringe benefit of working there was the kids got to hang out and visit grandma, learn how to catch and gut fish like aficionados.

“We got tipped!” Sophie and Amelia galloped into the car, jubilantly waving two crumpled dollar bills.

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Another McLendon experience: the Top Pot Doughnut

“I’m here to speak with Chris McLendon,” I say to Santa’s look-a-like wife behind the counter.

“Take a right on 20 and follow it to the back of the store,” Mrs. Klaus directed. There was a twinkle in her eye, cherubic cheeks and a smile that was as pleasant as hot cocoa and whip cream.

When you go to McLendon’s, there’s comfort in being helped by “real” people— like you’ve just stepped into the best of another era, a time before customer service was a title.

15, 16, 17, 18 19 and aisle 20 take a right.

At the faux kitchens I recognized the guy from the paint department — the one who reminds me to stir in a teaspoon of pure vanilla into my paint before getting started as a way to avoid the wet paint smell.

“For little kid’s rooms to get rid of the smell . . . But it has to be pure vanilla,” he always advises with conviction. And I’m grateful for the tip: As a McLendon’s customer for more than 10 years, with four kids we’ve painted a lot of rooms.

But I wasn’t at McLendon’s to write about kitchens, paint or small-town customer service. Of course I appreciate it but giving top-notch customer service for 85 years isn’t necessarily news.

I was at McLendon’s because a sleek, sexy, futuristic vision had touched down in their parking lot like a shiny silver Phoenix.

The Airstream, a beacon of retro swag crowned with a silver doughnut and two words: Top Pot.

The Top Pot Doughnut is an experience and the maple old-fashioned my favorite: perfectly crunchified dough that sits majestically glazed like the snow-peaked Mount Rainier, with sumptuous frosting as if tapped from a Vermont maple.

These infamous glistening sirens have become famous. Bewitching Seahawk rookie Golden Tate into nabbing a few bars before the store opened. Or the tale of Howard Schultz after a one-week Top Pot binge and three dozen doughnuts that led to a multi-million dollar partnership. Even Obama had been wooed into sharing half a glazed old fashioned with Sen. Patty Murray. And now they’re available in Renton.

Top Pot owners Mark and Mike Kleback are former contractor brothers who have picker hearts and a love of retro-mod designers like Charles and Ray Eames.

So it’s no surprise the Klebeck brothers designed and built out the McLendon Airstream themselves. The success of Top Pot is a secret 1920s doughnut recipe and their signature vintage aesthetic of their cafes. So the Airstream was a perfect choice for Top Pot’s successful blending of “the old with the new.”

On a tour of the Top Pot flagship downtown store and bakery, I asked Mark how Top Pot came to Renton.

“McLendon Hardware contacted us and asked us to set up at their new food court. It’s a great Puget Sound company with a great history. We think it’s a great match for Top Pot.” Mark added, “You should really talk to Chris McLendon.”

I figured I was in the right spot at the McLendon back office when I saw a family picture behind the reception desk. The kind of picture commissioned by the Nordstrom or Boeing families — Northwest institutions of which McLendon’s surely qualifies.

Christopher McLendon strode toward me and he was younger than I expected. I asked him about the family lineage.

“I am the youngest member of the third generation in the business. There are three of us who are senior executives and decision makers of the company. The third generation has been running the business for the last 15 years or so. All total there are 22 family members throughout the business representing the third and fourth generations, ranging from the president all the way down to a part-time store helper.”

I asked Chris who had the idea to approach Top Pot.

“We completed a remodel to add food vendors. The family asked, ‘What would be cool?’ And Top Pot jumped to the top of the list. Something Northwest. So we went to their website, saw the Airstream and we were like “that’s it!”

“Judging by the lines, I guess Top Pot is a success here in Renton?” I asked.

“I get in at 6 a.m. and there’s a line of people,” Chris said with a smile. “We are definitely looking for more vendors. Three or four more with Northwest roots that offer something new, different and exciting.”

On my way out of McLendon’s I paused, watching a dead ringer for “Pop” McLendon feeding his time card into the machine. He was the same older gent who helped us with the supplies for our chicken coop and the verbal schematic.

The Top Pot Airstream was cool . . . but so was a family business that has been a fixture for 85 years and continues to thrive under a creative leadership with deep Renton roots.

“We are a unique type of business in this day and age, and a great place to work. We have a number of long-time employees on staff throughout the company, some from 25 to 40 plus years!” Chris explained.

I asked Chris about the family picture hanging above the reception desk.

“My father and his siblings taken 12 years ago by Renton photographer Bruce Hudson at my dad’s 70th birthday party. They are the second generation of the business that took over running it from my grandfather. Ted McLendon (my father), brothers Pat, Jan and Bob McLendon, and sisters Wanda Kauffman and Dorothy Thompson.”

McLendon’s like Top Pot is a successful blend of the old and new.

If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at Also follow Carolyn on her blog,

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Mr. Rogers and Top Pot Doughnuts

“So let’s make the most of this beautiful day, since we’re together, we might as well say — “ I pause for effect as we cruise past the Seattle Space Needle.

“Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Baby Ty giggled at my crooning rendition of the Mr. Roger’s theme song. Four-year-old Patrick shouted for an encore with a fist bump.

Seven-year-old Amelia peered out the rear window as the Seattle Monorail shuttled past on tracks above our Routan.

“When I was a kid I’d watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.” I stop, trying out how to explain Mr. Rogers to kids who weren’t alive during his thoughtful reign on PBS.

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