My First Time: Pilchuck Glass School

| August 28, 2014

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For those who didn’t already know, the Pacific Northwest is home to some of the finest and most talented creatives in the world.

Blending backgrounds and styles from different nations, artists seem to get inspiration from their roots, before sharing them with those of us who call this region home.

One of the most decorated artist hubs in the Northwest is the Pilchuck Glass School, which is located in Stanwood, Wa. about an hour north of Seattle.

Since it’s beginning in 1971, Pilchuck has housed students from as many as 32 different countries for their summer programs. From May through September each year, Pilchuk offers courses taught by some of the most renowned artists and instructors in the glass-blowing industry.

And with long hours spent conceptualizing and, eventually, completing their projects, students, professors and staff rely on Caffe Vita coffee to power their creativity after sleepless nights of working on their craft—so much so that one student even lasted three-straight days without sleep to create his masterpiece, living on cups of Vita coffee, with the staff having to put him to sleep because of the dangers of being up for so long.

We were fortunate enough to take a trip to meet Pilchuck’s Director of Development, Whitney Hazzard last week. During our tour of the incredible campus, Whitney shared the rich history of Pilchuk and a crash course in the art of glass-blowing, which we quickly learned is a time and labor intensive process.

Founded by Dale Chihuly, along with patrons Anne Gould Hauberg and John H. Hauberg, Chihuly’s philosophy of “artists teaching artists,” became the mantra for Pilchuck’s educational regime, with the some of the buildings built by the artists himself still standing on campus today. Using a $2,000 loan to build his dream school, he chose the venue on the foothills of the Cascade mountains for its view of the natural landscape and its somewhat hidden, rare mushroom plantation.

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As Whitney walked the grounds with us, she was quick to show-off the hot shop, where students stood amongst each other, working on glass as hot, fiery stoves were burning.

While the students heated their glass to begin molding it, we got the first-hand experience of what it takes to complete just one piece—and it sure is extensive.

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Along our walk, Whitney named some of the renowned alumni who have stayed, taught and worked at Pilchuk.

Artists like Ruben and Isabel Toledo—famous for designing First Lady Michelle Obama’s inauguration dress in 2008—have studied and gave lessons at the school, where they developed a wealth of professional knowledge and experience to share with students.

She also shared incredible stories of some of the men and women involved in the school’s adaptation.

The aforementioned Anne Hauberg’s father, Carl F. Gould, not only founded the University of Washington’s architecture program, but is also credited with constructing famous Seattle landmarks like the Seattle Art Museum and the campus plan at UW.

Another inspiring story involved glass artist William Morris, who began as the school’s shuttle driver before his career began to blossom under the guidance of Chilhuly. Morris is now considered one of the most influential artists in the world.

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Following a quick stop for lunch—which included a presentation from the dining staff for new students on why keeping squirrels away is always a good idea—our tour continued to some of the staples on campus like the famous Buster Simpson tree house residence and the Trojan Horse, a beautifully-designed structure made of concrete with glass accents that reflect the natural pizazz. In fact, we saw the leftovers from a wedding that took place in the Trojan Horse just a few days prior.

The Trojan Horse was a secret, rogue project that students built in the nearby woods. Seeing how beautiful it was upon completion, staff could only marvel at how it came to be—much like we all did.

The wedding was between two students who met at the school, coming back to where they fell in love to say their vows as their home state of Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.

Upon walking in and around the sculpture, it was easy to see the romanticism in it.

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Words and even pictures can’t describe just how amazing these installations are, so when visiting Pilchuck—which can only be arranged ahead of time for non-students—make sure to conquer the forest surrounding the main campus.

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Offering a unique experience in a camp-like setting on the hills above the Skagit River Valley, Pilchuck one can certainly see why this landscape and private retreat appeals to the artists.

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While the staff develops a new strategy to feature and sell their art planned for 2015, they host art collectors, events and auctions to promote Pilchuk’s rich history—which anyone can get involved in supporting, as the school’s 36th annual auction event will be held this October.

From incredible art, amazing scenery and delicious food prepared by specialty chefs and bakers, no detail goes unnoticed at Pilchuck.

Somewhat of a summer camp for adults, students are encouraged to be themselves by expressing their personalities through art and around the campus, finding inspiration where needed—which isn’t difficult when walking the grounds.

Pilchuck Glass School may enjoy being the best kept secret in the Pacific Northwest, but there’s a reason why it’s widely considered to be the mecca for glass in the entire world, and it’s because of their approach and expertise in the art.

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Caffe Vita Donates Coffee to Fortnight Camp

| August 27, 2014

As we have done in previous years, Caffe Vita donated 20 pounds of both hot coffee and our cold brew to Fortnight Summer Camp, where high school students envision and build the fort of their dreams in just two weeks, learning necessary team-building skills through creative collaboration.

Held at the 365-acre Smoke Farm just outside of Seattle, many campers come from low income backgrounds, with their families completely new to the Pacific Northwest, so participation runs on a “donate as you can” basis and support is critical in giving this diverse group of students the opportunity to attend each year.

And with that support comes key volunteers and partners to make sure that campers enjoy a first-class experience. As such, Vita is always happy to provide coffee to help keep the volunteer staff energized.

To find out more about Fortnight and how you can help support their efforts, please take a look at their website.

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What We’re Diggin’ on August 26th

| August 26, 2014

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School is finally back in session for many of the kids, ending a summer filled with swimming pools and late nights.

But unlike those who are forced to sit in a classroom and stare at their textbooks all day long, we here at Vita have a ton of other things that are going on.

From our recent pop-up shop at Rudy’s Barbershop in Bellevue—where we’re giving away free coffee from 9am-4pm through September 5th—to upcoming events and fundraisers we take part in, there’s a lot of things that we’re diggin’ on today.

Here are just a few of them.

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Shawn P. Jennings, Digital Media Manager: “I’m diggin’ Buster Simpson’s treehouse at the Pilchuck Glass School.

Erin Bednarz, Customer Service Rep: “I’m diggin’ John Lennon Sunglasses and vintage silk dresses from Portland thrifting. I also can’t wait to watch Queen Bey’s VMA performance! Flawless”

Pearl Nelson, Sales: “I’m diggin’ on giving out free coffee in Bellevue Rudy’s and Vita’s pop-up.”

David Hong, Vita’s Renaissance Man: “I’m diggin’ on building a café in 17 hours in Bellevue. We walked into a small white room, and left it as fully functioning Caffe Vita.I’m also diggin’ on Daniel Shewmaker’s lamb and pork taco creations over the weekend—second to none!”

Nick Dimengo, Content Creator: “I’m diggin’ on the new furniture that I finally bought for my apartment. On the contrary, this is really just a sad way of realizing that I’m almost 30.”

Allison Campbell, Manager, Alberta Café: “I’m diggin’ the morning rush, the single origins as a French press on cooler mornings, the new green iced tea that we’ve been brewing (as another option to the black iced tea), and diggin’ on The Rolling Stones in the afternoons!”

Charlie Holloway, Sales Manager, Portland: “I’m diggin’ a midday stop at Cacao on SW 13th for a shot of Del Sol and a superbly rich Thai peanut butter cup. Also that I planned ahead and picked up an extra peanut butter cup for a picnic tonight at Cathedral Park. Yeah summer!”

Rick Friel, Grocery Field Representative: “I’m diggin’ our friendly morning barisras that I see here five days a week at the Capitol Hill cafe. Sam, Jeremy, Derek, Reese, Whitney, Leah and all. You’re the best!”

Something you need this week: Filtron Cold Water Coffee Brewing System—In order to increase your home brewing skills. (Buy Here)

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Vita Cohorts: New York’s Black Tree

| August 25, 2014

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You know the old adage that says it’s not the fight in the dog but the dog in the fight? Well, when it comes to the restaurant Black Tree in New York’s Lower East Side neighborhood, there might not be a better motto to describe this spot.

Not the largest space—featuring just a handful of tables and a narrow bar area—the food that chef and owner Sandy Dee Hall makes every day makes up for what the outside appearance may lack.

That’s not to say that the location doesn’t have charm and character. The interior makes you feel like you’re in a rustic old building, with exposed brick and solid wood accents.

But what makes Black Tree as unique and competitive in the popular New York City food scene is Sandy, who uses his self-taught love for food to whip up open face sandwiches that are some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

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Anytime a chef is as fixated on getting the freshest ingredients as Dee Hall is, like sticking to a 300-mile radius for all of his food components, it’s easy to see why the restaurant was featured on the popular Food Network show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, with host Guy Fieri amazed at the way Dee Hall prepares and serves his dishes.

Cooking up his popular Pork Winter sandwich that uses Caffe Vita coffee as a dry rub, Fieri’s taste buds were blown away by the strong taste that came from the complex sandwich.

I had the chance to sit down with Sandy during a recent trip to New York, and he gave me the skinny on how the concept for Black Tree came to be, and where he developed a passion for using local and fresh ingredients for all of his dishes.

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How does coffee as a dry rub add to a dish?

“I think it just stands out a little bit more. When you first taste green coffee; it’s just a little tannic and sour. But, with meats especially, I think that coffee does a lot with our profile because it adds an acidity that’s missing when you don’t use something like a lemon. Just using the dry rub with the coffee, I think that’s really cool.”

Can you talk about the 300-mile radius you use to get your food?

“From New York City, we only go as far as 300 miles around, so I don’t have any citrus at the bar, or anything. All my liquor is beer or wine, and all the food comes from within that 300 miles. But, for instance, with Vita, I understand that the coffee beans themselves aren’t from around here, but they roast them right around the corner, (in Vita’s Lower East Side café).”

What drew you to Caffe Vita?

“I think you guys have an outstanding product. Since it’s such small batch stuff, I really like that it’s a nine-pound roast, and that’s it. The fact that you guys supply all of New York with your coffee by using just those nine-pound batches, I think that’s pretty exceptional and is a cool concept. I can really appreciate what you’re doing; it adds a special quality that you can tell makes a difference. It’s some of the little things that you’re doing that people come to appreciate.

How did you get to know about Caffe Vita?

“I’ve actually liked your guys’ brand for a long time. I opened up The Meatball Shop in Williamsburg, which is the first time I was introduced to Caffe Vita. And I always liked the coffee and the roast profile. It wasn’t particularly sour, which I like, since I prefer a dark, bold taste.”

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Where did the idea for Black Tree’s unique menu come from?

“I’m just basically insane, I guess? We wanted our menu to show things that people would normally get on a plate, but that we could do as a sandwich. When you get something as a sandwich, it can look messy, and doesn’t have to be exactly plated; which takes out a lot of labor since things don’t have to be peeled a certain way. All the meat doesn’t have to be formed in a certain way. And I thought that the only way to do that was by doing a sandwich. So lots of my original ideas were things that would normally be plated, but I can prepare as a sandwich. I can do a lot of these things on a plate, but it would cost me about twice as much because I would have to put so much effort into the entire process. But because it’s on a sandwich, the flavor stays the same, but it doesn’t matter how it looks because it’s not on a plate anymore.”

What separates Black Tree from some other restaurants in New York City?

“It’s the concept of a farm-to-table that’s accessible. It’s the price point being really low that continues to drive back regulars each week. I used to work at these really high-end restaurants, and when I started Black Tree, I knew that I couldn’t afford a $34 pork dish, even though it might be good and fresh. I could do the same thing at a lower price, though, because of the plating concept; which is really our main difference.”

How did you get the idea to use Vita coffee as a dry rub?

“I actually use your guys’ coffee in almost every piece of meat. The duck leg, it has coffee on it, but I just don’t advertise it on the menu like I do with the pork. Coffee, in a sense, can be difficult to use in certain things when cooking because of the texture, and because I’m using different braises and stuff, it almost dissipates into the liquid to make it a gritty texture. But it hits something in your mouth that just tastes good.”

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Where did you get the name Black Tree?

“It’s like an old concept that came from something I thought up a long time ago, which I knew would probably never happen. I just wanted this tree that would be growing in the center of the restaurant, and a floor that showed the root system underneath. So when I opened this place, people were wondering what I would name it, and I thought Black Tree, and my friends just thought it was cooler than Sandy’s Sandwiches or something.”

What made you decide on this location?

“I knew that I wanted to be on the Lower East Side. You get scared, because you don’t want to open up anything too big, but I feel like, even though we’re in a tiny area and get overwhelmed at times, the vibe’s good and we’re staying busy, so that’s always good.”

How do you deal with so much food competition in New York?

“You know, I’m really self-conscious with my cooking because I wasn’t classically trained. There are lots of people who went to culinary school and then traveled around to some of the better restaurants in the world, but just seeing people’s reaction to our food, it kind of changes my mind on things, and proves that our dishes are at the same level as some of the higher end places in the city. We might get a bad wrap because people think we’re just sandwiches or whatever, but if they want great food at a great price point, I always tell people to come here over spending $80 somewhere else.”

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