Chapter 5

Excitement sells short the way we felt when we got off the plane. We touched down 8pm local time, so in our heads, it was already after eleven. We couldn’t let our evening go to waste though, and our adrenaline allowed us to power through the evening as if we were locals. Ryan had a list of places he suggested for late night fun in Seattle and each site turned back the clock an hour as we found more energy to power us. We spent a lot of our time that night in Belltown grabbing cocktails at a prohibition-style speakeasy, Bathtub Gin & Co., popping in and out of a dive with pinball machines lining the walls, and tearing through a late night sushi happy hour at Umi Sake House. The randomness made sense in a very “us” sort of way, galavanting around the city eating, drinking, and laughing, like we were still living in Philadelphia. The chaos of the weeks leading up to Seattle resulted in meeting after meeting, coming home, and typically passing out on the couch by 9pm. Feeling down for anything and right at home in a foreign city felt absolutely wonderful and kickstarted that rush of love that makes one dizzy.

Late night wining and dining makes for a struggle on any morning. Pile on some jet lag and needless to say, our Friday morning took a bit of an effort. But I remember waking, excited to look out of our Hotel 1000 window (how much more poetic could this hotel’s name be?!) with the Great Wheel, the Puget Sound, and the bustle of 2nd Ave below. Despite its familiarity, it somehow also managed to feel like the most unique city we had traveled to together. It felt both very American, very Canadian, with Asian and native influences to shake expectations ever so slightly. With so much planned, I knew it was going to be a great trip. Though in fairness I never imagined what I was in for.

We started the day with a trip to Pike’s Place Market. Ryan and I are no strangers to city markets—some are better than others—but Pike’s Place really does live up to its hype. There’s no way you can fully appreciate everything the market has to offer in a weekend. There’s almost too much choice. Almost.

On our walk back to the hotel the night before, we took a detour to quickly scope out the market in the lull of darkness. Noticing a yogurt stand, I made it very clear that we would be revisiting during business hours as soon as humanly possible. So, bright and early, we followed through on my demands, sampling at Ellenos before making our decision. Anyone who knows me knows my weakness is Fro Yo, but this was not the frozen variety or just any ordinary greek yogurt. At the height of the pumpkin-crazed fall season, I suggested we try their pumpkin pie yogurt. The first taste quickly excused every other mediocre or half-assed pumpkin flavor in the world. It was hands down the most delicious pumpkin-flavored item I have ever eaten, and makes me question why we put whipped cream—as opposed to a tangy Greek yogurt—on pumpkin pie. Ryan takes any moment he can to rail against the “over-pumpkinization of America”, as he rather eye-rollingly puts it, and even he was on board with our choice. It was so good, Mr. Hater even suggested we go back for seconds later that weekend! As we savored the heaven in our mouths, we strolled through the famous fish market, checked out the gum wall (RIP), and worked our way through the various nooks and crannies offered by the market.

Pike’s Place makes a wonderful home to ChefSteps since you can find practically any ingredient imaginable within a stone’s throw. In our quick walkthrough the night before, we didn’t happen upon the entrance to Chefsteps, so part of our mission this morning was to actually locate the damned place, so that we wouldn’t have any problem later this evening. We decided to take a stroll along the waterfront as we searched for the address, and eventually Ryan pointed to the windows where we saw Nick, Ben, and Riley carrying equipment, presumably for our dinner that evening. I couldn’t stop laughing as I witnessed Ryan regress back into a three year-old, light up with joy, and try to wave up to them. Of course, they didn’t notice but the childlike excitement caught the better of him. I concede I felt the excitement too because at that moment my heart started to race in anticipation of the events ahead. For probably only the second time ever, I had to calm Ryan down and play it cool, since I didn’t want the Chefsteps crew to catch his behavior and our noticeably creeper status.

We kept walking, trying to decide what to eat next. We walked up the rear stairs to head to the main floor of the market and ended up passing a young woman on the way up. As we passed, Ryan whispered, “weird, I think that was Ellen.”

“Chefsteps Ellen?” I asked, as if I had so many friends named Ellen’s from Seattle.

“I’m not sure, but it looked a lot like her photo from the site,” he replied.

Walking around the market, we decided to do breakfast at Lowell’s because of the Seafood Benedicts on the menu. We made the right choice. From the moment Ryan and I sat down, it was all smiles. Our minds quickly turned to the mystery of the day: what were they going to ask us? This quandry got my nerves going and seeing Ellen was probably a bit nervewracking for Ryan. This looked like a job for some brunch cocktails! So we ordered the Benedicts with these outrageous Bloody Mary’s that completely stole the show at Lowell’s. I wouldn’t call myself a Bloody Mary fanatic (though I’m sure Ryan would jump at that opportunity to label me), but I must admit I’m a bit snooty when it comes to the overall flavors and garnishes if you wanna call what you’re drinking a Bloody Mary. (I will forever judge you if you serve me one ungarnished. You’re better than that.)

I ordered the “Hangtown” Mary, which they describe as “our bacon-infused vodka mixed with housemade citrus clamato mary mix, garnished with a fresh Pacific Northwest oyster.” Done.

Okay, so, between you and me, when I think of an oyster, I think of a delicate, briny, bit of the sea in your mouth. Ryan got me hooked on them early on, and I’ve never found a bivalve I didn’t like—especially with the right condiments. But, at Lowell’s, I met my match. It was as if someone knew my passion for this particular cocktail and wanted to really put me in my place. “I’ll show this Jersey girl what a garnished Bloody looks like,” said the imaginary antagonist I created in my head to call out my Bloody Mary pretense.

This sucker was no joke. Imagine the plumpest, juiciest, engorged, no-messing-around, oyster you can imagine. No way was I getting that thing in my mouth. I giggled about it for a moment, we toasted to the day, and then the conversation drifted to what we would say in our interviews. It was so much fun quizzing him and playing interviewer. We both impressed ourselves. It felt like we had rehearsed.

Ryan kept coming back to my oyster. His more modest Mary was decked with shrimp, and fully called me out, disappointed that I would leave a garnish behind. He dared me. Who am I to concede a Bloody Mary dare?

Lets just say that I put up a gallant fight but decided to let the oyster win. It ended up back in the glass unswallowed. The absurdity of the moment led to a solid shared laugh for what seemed like fifteen minutes. Ryan took a video as a souvenir, making the moment even more hysterical. If you ask me nicely, maybe I’ll let you see it. Its a healthy dose of ridiculous fun and borderline obscenity. With my cheeks warmed with tomato juice, worcestershire, and vodka, all I could think was that I felt really close to him.

On a side note, what they say about Seattle weather is definitely true. In typical fashion, that Friday was a mixture of sun and rain – the type of rain that starts and stops that makes you unable to decide what to wear and whether to bother fixing your hair. I did that morning and the mist led to frizz-city so I really wanted to redo it before the interview. And so, with the hour or so we had, we walked back to the hotel to freshen up and gather our thoughts before opening up the ChefSteps crew.

Around 12:30 we hopped in a cab and headed probably 1,500 yards back to the market in an effort to avoid the mist. Not wanting to loiter, we spent the next 25 minutes coming up with ways to pretend to not be waiting at the front door, eager to begin our scheduled day. At exactly 1, with nervous anticipation, we approached the door and saw Ellen coming through the kitchen to greet us. Trying to not show the sweat that was puddling in my palms, we embraced and she had this perfect personality that immediately made us feel comfortable in this instantly recognizable kitchen we have seen many-a-time in their videos. “It looks exactly how it does on the Internet,” I remember thinking to myself as we made our way through. We met Grant, and Ben, and Nick, and Riley – the core four chefs at the time (Riley, we miss you), and, trying to not seem starstruck, played it cool as we got to the back room to get briefed on the plan. There, they made us coffee, we met Jessica, our interviewer, and made small talk with Ellen as she explained the schedule. She also let us in on some behind the scenes ChefSteps tips, tricks, and secrets, making each moment cooler than the next.

They prepared another office space around the corner from their kitchen for the interviews. Ellen showed us the way and once there, we were greeted by Tyler, our videographer, and Hans, our James Beard Award-winning audio guy. I was chosen to be interviewed first (which I later found out was to allow Ryan time to go back into the kitchen and work out last minute details with Grant, Ellen, and the team) and they hooked me up to the mic and performed a sound check. After a moment their warmth loosened me up and made me feel comfortable, even as an anxiety pulsed through me. It went so quickly, but covered so much. They asked about my relationship with Ryan, what cooking meant to me, us, and how cooking strengthened our relationship outside of the kitchen. For my first on-film interview, I think I did alright! Then, it was Ryan’s turn and I stepped outside with Ellen and we walked around the streets nearby. There was an awesome letterpress shop that we explored and chatted about my relationship with Ryan (It must have been so interesting hearing my side after already knowing the other perspective). When she got the word that Ryan had finished, we made our way back to the studio for a combined interview. This was the most fun portion as we played off of each other’s energy and excitement! Our shared stories perfectly underscored the way I described our partnership in the one on one session, reconfirming my feelings.

After calling it a wrap, Ellen escorted us out, leading us on a different route so that we couldn’t sneak a peak at the kitchen space being transformed for the evening. With about two hours until dinner, the only thing on my mind was ice cream. (Ha!) Naturally, we found this gelateria and got a sweet treat to reenergize us as we walked back to the hotel.

Unbeknownst to me, Ryan had been scheming most of the day to ensure that things went as planned. When passing Ellen that morning, she was on her way back from our hotel, acting as a courier, with my ring secured under her arm. Cleverly, he brought the ring to the concierge while I was showering that morning, keeping the box’s contents a secret to everyone but Ellen. While downstairs, he also spoke to the hotel to have things specially arranged for our return to the hotel that evening.

While I napped and got ready for the evening, Ryan emailed Ellen.

To: Ellen
From: Ryan
Subject: she’s glowing

I just want to share with you a few quick thoughts:

Jaci has been in cloud 9 since leaving the filming. She is so incredibly happy.

She also said this to me a short while ago:

“This year has been tremendously hectic for the both of us and right now is the closest I’ve felt to you in such a long time. I love this feeling.”

I am on top of the world right now.  And it couldn’t have happened without the chefsteps team. Thank you a million times.

See you soon!

Best,
Ryan

It was a perfect build up to a perfect evening ahead. From the moment we stepped back into the Chefsteps kitchen, time seemed to stand still. Grant and the team had a little surprise for us. We were going to make a new macaron recipe they had been working on and joked that we were going to need to put in some work if we wanted to enjoy our dessert. This brought things full circle. Just as we had suggested a few hours earlier, sharing the kitchen with Ryan transformed us into a unit, working off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, knowing that the sum of our collaboration was greater than each individual part.

We floated through the evening in a trance. We laughed. We were silly. We were curious. We ate. We wandered. We were us. Experiencing food in this way with him felt both surreal yet perfectly normal. . At one point before dessert, I remember staring at Ryan and thinking how absolutely lucky I am to have this man by my side. And a few minutes later, after being almost embarrassed as Ryan told Grant that the Chef’s edible masterpiece was missing something, he asked me to be his forever.

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