Giving Back is Always in Season for El Gaucho Hospitality

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Community with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron

AQ@UGMThe holidays are always a time of giving, a special time of year we focus on giving to others who are less fortunate. “Building Community” is one of the pillars our company was founded upon and is a year-round focus for our family of restaurants. Not only do we provide a place of celebration, but we are also generous in our fundraising for local charities, by giving of our time, resources, and energy to help build better communities.

This foundation was laid by our owner and founder, Paul Mackay, when he reopened El Gaucho in 1996. We estimate that through financial giving, time, and resources, we have proudly donated over $3.5 million to local organizations since our inception, and that number steadily climbs every year.

In 2014 alone, the donations to local organizations have totaled over $250,000 – a combination of in-kind giving, through our Gridiron Society and charitable match programs, and our ongoing work with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission (UGM).

Since 1932, the Mission has dedicated its efforts to compassionately helping those in need with services in education, spiritual development, and basic life essentials. We strongly believe in their mission to “serve, rescue, and transform those in greatest need,” and are proud to partner with them to help restore hope in our community.

Our AQUA and El Gaucho Seattle restaurant teams sign up to donate their time preparing and serving lunch twice a month at UGM, feeding 250 homeless each time, with more than 11,000 lunches served to date. Once an employee experiences serving at the shelter, a transformation invariably occurs, and most agree that they receive so much by serving and giving.

El Gaucho President Chad Mackay with General Managers James Capangpangan, Tony Capra and Cooper Mills serving lunch at Seattle's Union Gospel Mission

El Gaucho President Chad Mackay with General Managers James Capangpangan, Tony Capra and Cooper Mills serving lunch at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission

“What we’ve received through working with UGM far outweighs what we have given. The opportunity to interact with those we feed is both humbling and enlightening,” said Sivi Mennen, AQUA by El Gaucho General Manager. “Hearing the stories of both struggles and triumphs, has altered the lives of our staff. Each month, I notice a difference in my team after we have visited; they are a bit gentler, kinder toward each other, thankful, and genuinely moved by their time at the shelter.”

El Gaucho and AQUA are the only restaurants that volunteer at this level at the Mission. We would love to see other restaurants serve in this capacity and are happy to assist other businesses achieve this level of donation. As noted in the 5/23/14 Puget Sound Business article about our work with UGM,  “While many companies contribute real dollars to charitable causes, it is the in-kind giving that can bring givers and beneficiaries face to face. Sometimes the best gift a company can give is the goods or services that are the core of their expertise.”

El Gaucho Hospitality gifted the $5,000 they won through the National Restaurant Association's Good Neighbor Award to Seattle's Union Gospel Mission.

El Gaucho Hospitality gifted the $5,000 they won through the National Restaurant Association’s Good Neighbor Award to Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.

In addition to serving lunch, El Gaucho Hospitality also assists with UGM fundraising efforts throughout the year, and donates items for auction. El Gaucho Hospitality was awarded the National Restaurant Association’s “Good Neighbor” award for our ongoing commitment to serving at UGM. Paul Mackay received the award on behalf of our company at their annual event in Washington, D.C. in 2012. This short video shows more about our work.

The El Gaucho Community
Incorporating our guests in our giving strategy has provided a huge impact on local charities and in the connections we have with our best customers. The charitable match program was created when the recession hit in 2010: funds were tight, and the donation requests outstripped our capacity to give. We have a hard time saying no, so we created a way to continue our generous giving program, and the charitable match program was born. We match every El Gaucho Hospitality gift card purchased at full value to benefit any non-profit organization’s fundraising need. We don’t set a on the amount we will match, and the only limit is the organization’s creativity on how to package or market the gift cards. The program has been extremely successful, with other high-profile, fine dining establishments following suit.

Around that same time, our guest loyalty programs launched, and we wanted to include a charitable component, as well as aspiring for our guests to direct where our donations should go. Today, our Gridiron Society members are able to annually donate a Chef’s Wine Dinner for four, valued at $600, to any charity of their choice. The Gridiron Society is an invitation only group exclusive to El Gaucho Hospitality restaurants, and while member’s names are not published, we will help organizations tap into this resource.

El Gaucho Hospitality serving at Catalyst, UGM's major fundraising event.

El Gaucho Hospitality serving at Catalyst, UGM’s major fundraising event.

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
We strongly feel that each of us has a certain obligation to help make our world a better place, and we are privileged to serve and give back to the communities we deeply care about.

For more information on our charitable giving, or to request a donation, please visit our website.

Employee Highlight – Meet David Shapland, Inn at El Gaucho Manager

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron

David Shapland has always felt a calling to serving others. “After studying for the ministry, I worked as a front desk agent at the Courtyard Marriott Boston and was instantly hooked on hospitality,” says David Shapland, Manager at the Inn at El Gaucho. His years of training and church work fit right into the hospitality field: both rely on a foundation of service and a deep love of people.

Born in Yorba Linda, California, David was raised in Hartlepool, England, until he moved to California at five years old. After studying theology at LIFE Bible College in California, David’s path took a different direction into hospitality. He “worked his way up the ladder” becoming the Assistant General Manager at Marriott Dulles in Virginia, when he met his soon-to-be husband, James, and found himself moving across the country to Seattle. In 2009, he was hired as the Inn at El Gaucho’s manager.

David with his partner, James.

David with his partner, James.

“I love what El Gaucho stands for and its values,” he says. “In my experience, the only thing El Gaucho values more than its employees are our guests.”

The Inn at El Gaucho opened in 2005 as a 17-room, boutique inn right above El Gaucho Seattle in Belltown. When Paul Mackay reopened El Gaucho Seattle in 1996, he moved from the original location to where it is today, at First and Wall. The building was originally the Sailor’s Union of the Pacific Hall, which included apartments for retired sailors on the second floor. When the restaurant was up and running, Paul decided it was time to offer dining guests the “ultimate nightcap,” and he remodeled the 2nd level into a luxury inn.

The Inn at El Gaucho lobby, which sits right above El Gaucho Seattle.

The Inn at El Gaucho lobby, which sits right above El Gaucho Seattle.

“Our staff thrives on service,” explains David. “We want all of our guests to feel at home when they stay with us. Because of our size, we can make every guest experience an intimate and personal one,” he exclaims.

David recently decided to take his knowledge and experience and give back to others, and earlier this year became a Technical Advisory board member for the South Sound College.

“I think that business and the community should have a symbiotic relationship, and I am fortunate to work for El Gaucho Hospitality, who shares the same philosophy,” he explains. “It’s important to me to give back to the community. I believe that I can help guide and mold the future leaders of our industry, by sharing my time, knowledge and experiences with them. That being said, I have also learned a lot from the current students already.”

Traveling is one of David's hobbies. Pictured here in Hong Kong.

Traveling is one of David’s hobbies. Pictured here in Hong Kong.

Some of that knowledge and experience also comes from his love of travel. In addition to exploring the Pacific Northwest, David has been all over the world, including England, France, Iceland, Hong Kong, Thailand, Argentina, Mexico, and Canada. He intentionally stays in boutique hotels and Bed & Breakfasts for ideas and amenities, and loves the personal connections he makes. “I find I learn the most about a place staying in smaller hotels or B&B’s,” he explains.

David's two dogs - Jacob and Ianto.

David’s two dogs – Jacob and Ianto.

David and his partner James recently bought their first house and share it with their two dogs, Jacob and Ianto. In his spare time, David loves to cook, garden, and hike. “I grew up in a family where my mother cooked every night and I have mostly carried on that tradition,” he says. “I love experimenting and just purchased a sous vide cooker which has been a lot of fun!”

David's chicken coop

David raises his own chickens.

The love of cooking and gardening has also expanded into raising chickens – six in fact, all with names: Mavis, Lucy, Ethel, Pauline, Doris and Gertrude. They supply enough eggs for James and David, and some lucky friends and coworkers.

Whether Seattle is a travel destination, or you’re booking a staycation, David and his team would love to make your stay a special experience at the Inn at El Gaucho. Visit for more information and reservations, or call 206-728-1133.

Culinary Feature – Meet El Gaucho Events Chef Steve Cain

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron

We are excited to feature the talented people behind the scenes – those who create and prepare the tasty treats that we all get to enjoy in our restaurants. Each month we will be introducing you to the gifted and passionate individuals who make up to our culinary team. Bon Appétit!

Steve Cain, El Gaucho Event's Executive Chef

Steve Cain, El Gaucho Event’s Executive Chef

When you think of the quintessential chef, what image comes to mind? Beyond the white uniform with chef’s toque, if you picture a-larger-than-life person with a gregarious nature, a man in love with life and the food he creates, then you have met Steve Cain, El Gaucho Events Executive Chef.

Affectionately known simply as “Chef” or “Big Poppa,” Steve came to the El Gaucho team in 2002 as a broiler cook, and quickly worked his way to Head Chef of AQUA (then known as the Waterfront). Transferred in 2008 to open El Gaucho Bellevue as Chef de Cuisine, he came “home” to AQUA in January 2012 as Executive Chef before being promoted to El Gaucho Events Executive Chef in August 2013.

“I love going to different venues and guest’s houses,” he shares about his new gig. “They all present a different challenge, which I love.”

Chef Steve shucking oysters with Corporate Chef Ken Sharp at Taste Washington.

Chef Steve shucking oysters with Corporate Chef Ken Sharp at Taste Washington.

Born in Tacoma, and living in many places across the state, he graduated from Walla Walla High School. Soon after graduating, he came to Seattle and immediately started working in restaurants. After four attempts, he was hired on as a dishwasher and to prep the chef, Bruce Bonholzer, who had graduated from Le Cordon Blue in France. Cain’s culinary journey since then includes 13 years at Schwartz Brothers (he opened Daniel’s Broiler and Chandler’s Crab House for them), Arnold Shain consulting (working with the talented chefs Leslie Dillon and Ted Furst), and a short stint at Entros on South Lake Union, before joining El Gaucho.

Chef Steve with his culinary peers, serving lunch at Seattle's Union Gospel Mission.

Chef Steve with his culinary teammates, serving lunch at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. L to R: Corp. Exec Chef Ken Sharp, El Gaucho Tacoma Exec Chef Jesus DeBoites, Steve, El Gaucho Seattle Exec Chef Matt Brandsey, El Gaucho Bellevue Chef John Broulette, El Gaucho Portland Exec Chef Alex Parsons

Out of all the culinary accomplishments Chef has obtained, his favorite is being able to give back by involving himself in the charity events El Gaucho Hospitality has participated in over the years. One moment in particular stands out: “We were at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s Catalyst (their major fundraising event), and Tony, a former FareStart student I hired at AQUA, came up and shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you.’” He explains, “He had become a leader at Seattle’s UGM, helping men recover and change their lives. It had such an impact on me, because he had succeeded, and I saw first hand the difference that El Gaucho Hospitality’s involvement makes. It affects positive and powerful change, and strengthens the fabric of the community.”

Cain is referring to the commitment that El Gaucho Seattle and AQUA by El Gaucho made each month to prepare and serve at Seattle’s UGM since 2009.

Chef Steve with Tony and El Gaucho Tacoma Exec Chef Jesus DeBoites

Chef Steve with Tony and El Gaucho Tacoma Exec Chef Jesus DeBoites prepping for the 2014 Catalyst fundraising event, benefiting Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission

Cooking during the holidays is one of Chef’s favorites. He credits his mother with instilling a love of cooking from an early age. Always experimenting with different foods, from curries to French to German to Asian cuisine, she amassed a heap of cookbooks along the way, including Pierre Franey, Craig Claiborne, and Julia Child. A voracious reader, Chef Cain read the cookbooks and, subconsciously, they directed him on his career path.

“It would not be Christmas without my mother’s steamed pudding and French vanilla sauce,” he explains. “We are mostly Danish and Scottish, but a long time ago this English-style steamed pudding found its way into the family holiday recipe book. It’s interesting because you combine finely grated potatoes, carrots, raisins, currants, flour and a custard mix that’s poured into a pudding mold and steamed in a water bath for several hours.  The end result is a tender and almost savory pudding, finished with the French vanilla sauce. It’s something you rarely see anymore, but oh so delicious!” he exclaims.

Chef Cain and his Smoked Turkey with Pomegranate Glaze and Pear and Herb Stuffing dish

Chef Cain and his Smoked Turkey with Pomegranate Glaze
and Pear and Herb Stuffing dish

Another holiday favorite is making sausage with his extended family. “In the 50s our family of 40-50 strong would gather at Lake St. Claire by Olympia and spend 2-3 days making the sausage and partying,” he recalls. “We only spend one day making it now, but it’s always special because our entire extended family spends the day hanging out.  We make about 140 pounds of a white pork sausage with onion and allspice, and split it all up to take home. We traditionally serve it on Christmas morning,” he explains.

In the spirit of the season, Chef Cain has graciously shared four of his favorite holiday recipes, which you can view on our website:
Smoked Ham and Gruyere Strata or watch video
Yorkshire Pudding or watch video
Smoked Turkey with Pomegranate Glaze, and Pear and Herb Stuffing
Fruit Shrub or watch video

Would you like Chef Steve at your next event? Contact Robbie for information, questions, or to reserve with El Gaucho Events. Call 206-596-8385 or email

Employee Highlight – Robbie Berger, El Gaucho Events Director

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron
After spending 7 years as AQUA's private dining manager, Robbie now directs El Gaucho Events.

After spending 7 years as AQUA’s private dining manager, Robbie now directs El Gaucho Events.

“The devil is in the details,” is something Robbie Berger, El Gaucho Events Director, knows a few things about. It’s no surprise that Robbie actually enjoys putting all of the pieces together, which is important for a role like hers.

After spending seven years as the Private Dining Director at AQUA by El GauchoRobbie, who is also lovingly referred to as “Berger,” was promoted and tasked with helping grow the off-site events business for El Gaucho Hospitality.

It’s a big undertaking: El Gaucho Events coordinates and plans everything from an intimate party of eight in a guest’s home, to gala dinners for 600 people.

Robbie loves her new role, which provides a lot of opportunities and challenges. “I get to work with all of the restaurants (El Gaucho Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Portland and AQUA by El Gaucho), which is something I enjoy immensely,” she says. “Everyone works together well – we all work for each other. We all enjoy what we’re doing, and it shows. It’s really a great family feeling.”

That family feeling is an important accomplishment for Robbie, which she enjoys both at home and at work. She and her husband Tymon, have two daughters: Ella James, 2-year-old, and Avi Marie, now 7 months.

Robbie with her family, husband Tymon, and daughters Ella and Avi. Robbie notes her first child was her pooch, Josie Mae.

Robbie with her family, husband Tymon, and daughters Ella and Avi. Robbie notes her first child was her pooch, Josie Mae.

“The dynamics of such a young family is incredibly exciting and always changing. It keeps us on our toes!” she exclaims. “I feel incredibly blessed to be their mom, and that I’m able to experience their worlds with them and help them grow on a daily basis. It’s a huge accomplishment.”

While her best personal accomplishment is certainly raising her young family, Robbie‘s most important professional one is taking on the role she has now. “It’s an ongoing achievement,” she explains. “Knowing that what we do has a direct impact on the success of this exciting and innovative way of delivering the El Gaucho experience.”

She goes on, “I can’t say enough about our team. It’s such a talented group that’s fun to be around.”

Robbie‘s biggest claim to fame with her teammates is the fact she’s a vegan – in a steak-driven culture. That, alone, probably helps her most in working with guest’s special requests.

Robbie at work - with her team at a recent UW event.

Robbie at work – with her team at a recent UW event.

“We are here for anything our guests need, and we deliver on that commitment,” she says. “Everyone here is committed to execution, and I think our guests sense that. New business is great, but repeat business is personally satisfying because it’s a huge complement to the entire team’s commitment. We gain a lot of trust in our guests.”

In her free time (which is hard to imagine she has!), Robbie enjoys shopping and photography. “I love to take pictures of things close up. There is something beautiful about the small pieces that fit together to make life possible.”

Do you need help with the details in planning your next event? Contact Robbie for information, questions, or to reserve with El Gaucho Events. Call 206-596-8385 or email

Partner Profile: Niman Ranch

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Supplier Highlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron

By Kathleen Finn

Our mission is simply to find the best for our patrons and guests to enjoy – no excuses and no compromise. The relationships we have built with our suppliers enable us to bring you the best products in the world. We are proud to highlight our valued partners, and to share their passion and commitment in producing the highest quality products available.

There’s a science to producing a high-quality steak. Start with a strong genetic Angus cattle profile, and add stringent record-keeping, specific nutritional inputs, exacting cleanliness standards, and many more detailed protocols. There’s also an art to producing a high quality steak. That’s what sets a great steak apart from the sublime.

John Tarpoff Niman Ranch beefAt Niman Ranch, John Tarpoff, Director of Beef Operations, employs both art and science to create all-natural, impeccably pedigreed beef that El Gaucho proudly serves its customers. It’s this attention to detail and unstinting search for perfection that makes Niman Ranch a trusted El Gaucho partner.

“There is no other program like this,” says Chad Mackay, President and COO at El Gaucho. They have a laser focus on quality.”

Tarpoff has labored to fine-tune the operations at Niman Ranch, where he oversees 115 family ranches that produce feeder and finish cattle. He and his staff watch, advise and work closely with ranchers who adhere to an 18-page animal care protocol that helps yield the country’s tastiest steaks.

Before we add a new product to our menu, it needs to align with our sourcing philosophy and our stringent quality requirements. Basically, it has to be the best.

From its inception, Niman Ranch has been committed to raising cattle using traditional humane husbandry methods and feeding them wholesome, all-natural feeds.

Niman Ranch began in the early 70s on a humble 11-acre tract of land north of San Francisco. Ranch owners Bill and Nicolette Niman committed to raising cattle using traditional humane husbandry methods and feeding them wholesome, all-natural feeds. More than 40 years later, Niman Ranch [under new ownership] is a leader in sustainable farming practices. Their 11-acre spread now encompasses a network of 700 family farms that produce an array of all-natural, high quality beef, lamb, and pork products.

When Tarpoff arrived at Niman Ranch nearly a decade ago, he was given carte blanche to make changes to the beef program in order to perfect the end product. “I had the genetics and nutrition down,” he says. “But there was still something missing.” A closer look at animal husbandry was called for, and this is where the art entered the equation. Tarpoff was convinced that a peaceful and low-stress lifestyle for cattle was the key to better beef.

Temple Grandin Weighs In

As Tarpoff began digging deeper into husbandry practices and teasing out what would best serve the animals, the world-renowned Temple Grandin, a doctor of animal science, approached him and offered her expertise. Together, they refined his already high-quality care by working to create a healthy, low-stress and clean environment for the cattle.

John Tarpoff, Director of Beef Operations for Niman Ranch, center, visits with family farmers, the Jaccas.

John Tarpoff, Director of Beef Operations for Niman Ranch, center, visits with family farmers, the Jaccas.

It turns out that making the animals comfortable and their daily life relatively peaceful, translates to more tender meat. His collaboration with Grandin inspired Tarpoff to rewrite the Niman Ranch protocols, which now consist of 18-pages of detailed instructions on how to feed, house, and care for their cattle.

Broad care requirements for Niman Ranch cattle include open space for roaming outdoors, dining on seasonal grasses and all-vegetarian feed, and having access to fresh, clean water. No antibiotics, steroids or hormones are used on the animals. Protocols drill down further to encompass providing safe haven from bad weather, monitoring the amount of ‘mud’ caked on a cow’s leg and closely accounting for nutritional requirements for a calving cow.

Tarpoff’s years of hard work and his uncanny ability to pick the right cattle and care for them in a way that yields the best meat in the country has earned him the moniker ‘the cattle whisperer.’ The holistic approach of addressing qualitative and quantitative properties means that each steak that El Gaucho serves up to its loyal customers, is as superlative as the steak before it.

For Mackay, this means his number one goal is met: source and serve the best products in the world. “We source local products as much as possible,” he says, “and search out natural and organic suppliers. Yet these are secondary to quality. They have to be the best products available.”


Artist Feature of the Month – Meet Masud Tahmassbi, Guitarist at El Gaucho Portland

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron
Masud Tahmassbi plays Latin Guitar live at El Gaucho Portland three nights a week.

Masud Tahmassbi plays Latin Guitar live at El Gaucho Portland three nights a week.

If music be the food of love, play on. ~William Shakespeare

Ambiance is a key part of the El Gaucho experience, and music plays an important role in setting the stage at our restaurants, which is why we are proud to offer live music, 7 nights a week. We introduce you to the talented and passionate musicians who share their gift with us.

One would think with Masud’s incredible talent, good looks, and warm personality, he’d be center stage in the Portland – if not a broader – music scene, but he actually prefers otherwise. With the addition of his daughter, Mia Rose, born just 7 months ago, Masud’s family takes center stage. “I’m blessed I can come in to work, and go home. I get a steady paycheck – I can take care of my family. That trumps any financial gain,” Masud explains.

Family takes center stage for Masud - his wife Melissa, and daughter Mia Rose.

Family takes center stage for Masud – his wife Melissa, and daughter Mia Rose.

Music has always been a big part of Masud’s life. Growing up in Lima, Peru, his mother, Connie Bieberach, is a well-known singer, performing on TV. His uncle, Alfredo Muro, is a Latin Grammy nominated guitarist, who perfomed with his sister, Masud’s mother, frequently. “They’re like the Carpenters of Latin America,” he explains. “While my mom is very talented and well-known, she put her children ahead of her career,” he said.

Part of his mother’s decision was moving her family from Peru to the United States when Masud was 13 years old. In the 80s, Peru was politically unstable and it “wasn’t the best place to raise a family,” he explains. They initially spent 18 months in San Francisco, but longed for a more suburban area to call home. Friends who lived in the area encouraged them to try Portland, and Lake Oswego has been home since.

Growing up in such a musical family, Masud’s talent is no surprise. After high school, he studied music theory for a year and played in rock ‘n roll bands. “I wanted to let loose,” he laughed. It was then he met his friend and band-mate, Mario Diez. They both found their way to auditioning at El Gaucho Portland.

“Mario knew a music store owner, who knew Paul Mackay. Paul was about to open El Gaucho and wanted live music, so we tried out. We heard he wanted Latin music, and while I speak Spanish fluently, we didn’t know any Latin songs,” Masud divulged. “We ended up playing the same song for 15 minutes for our audition – ‘Sabor a Mi’, a “bolero,” or traditional love song. Evidently it sounded legit enough and we got the gig,” he laughs.

Masud plays with his step-father, Mariano de Orbigoso, at El Gaucho Portland twice a week

Masud plays with his step-father, Mariano de Orbigoso, at El Gaucho Portland twice a week

Mario and Masud had a month before El Gaucho opened, and they set to work learning as many Latin tunes as they could to, “get our ducks in a row.” They were the only musicians at first and played 7 nights a week. While more musicians were eventually brought on, Masud longed for a break. He took a year off, went back to school and studied civil engineering. During that time he was also in a horrible snowboarding accident, breaking both of his legs, which bound him in a wheelchair with two hard casts. It was then that El Gaucho Portland called back and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. That was 2009, and since civil engineering jobs were scarce, he came back to playing music, this time, three nights a week (which is his current schedule); two of those nights he plays with his step-father, Mariano de Orbegoso.

When asked what it’s like working with family, Masud exclaims, “…it’s the best! We know each other so well and that familiarity is beneficial to how we play together. It can also be tricky – family squabbles more bitterly than with colleagues, because we are close. But it’s fun.”

Masud and Mariano have collaborated on one CD, titled “Quiet Nights.” Masud has hundreds of songs that he hasn’t consolidated, but says he’s not ready to start that journey. “I like being under the radar,” he says. “I’m happy in my little nook.”

His little nook, of course, being his family – wife Melissa, of six years, his daughter, Mia; Masud’s “greatest accomplishments.” In his spare time, Masud also plays soccer – he’s in two local leagues and has won three titles.

Except for taking a year hiatus, Masud has been playing guitar at El Gaucho Portland since the day it opened.

Except for taking a year hiatus, Masud has been playing guitar at El Gaucho Portland since the day it opened.

It doesn’t take long to understand that Masud relishes his life. In addition to playing guitar, he also plays drums, keyboards, and bass. He performs at private parties locally.

“I am so grateful to Paul Mackay for giving me this opportunity, and the value he places on music as part of the ambiance here,” Masud conveys. “He had a specific vision for El Gaucho Portland and he wanted to create the best ambiance possible for our patrons. I think he achieved that with flying colors and I’m satisfied that I’ve been a small part of that story,” he explains. “I love continuing to work here because of the relationships and friendships I’ve made.”

You can listen to Masud three nights a week at El Gaucho Portland: Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday starting at 6pm.


Five ‘Wine’derful Days Through Washington State

Posted in Behind the Scenes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron

Each year, a select group of wine professionals are invited on a Washington Wine Commission sponsored trip to learn all about Washington State wine. The packed itinerary includes focus seminars, group tastings, and small group exercises in the vineyards and wineries, stretching from Seattle to Walla Walla. Attendees also enjoy delicious dining experiences and some serious fun with leaders in the Washington wine industry during the most exciting time of the year – harvest!  It is an intense, demanding five days which requires lots of positive energy and a desire to “get purple.” El Gaucho Portland’s Wine Captain Corey Hightower was one of the chosen few invited on this year’s trip. Here he recaps his trip:

El Gaucho Portland's Wine Captain Corey Hightower with Chris Sparkman from Sparkman Cellars

El Gaucho Portland’s Wine Captain Corey Hightower with Chris Sparkman from Sparkman Cellars

Day 1 – Emerald City Welcome

I left Portland on the train to Seattle and quickly remembered that the Seahawks were playing Denver at home – lots of fans and energy! I took a cab through all the fans and ended at the Edgewater Hotel, where I have wanted to stay since I was a kid (I was fascinated with the Beatles picture when they stayed there in the sixties). I met up with our group, which included buyers and sommeliers from around the country. We headed to the Space Needle for a regional wine tasting that included Mark Ryan, DeLille Cellars, Brian Carter Cellars, Andrew Will and many others. It was a beautiful Seattle night and a great stay.

Day 2 – Woodinville to Richland

We left the Edgewater early on a cloudy, cool morning and headed to Woodinville for some winery exercises. I joined Brian Carter Cellars for some punch downs, sugar level measuring and tasting. The fruit was only about 8-10 days along and the winery was just starting the hard work that goes into this amazing process. We discussed the potential issues that can happen to wine grapes in the vineyards such as sunburn, shot berries, bird and hail damage, and possible ways to prevent them.

Corey "punching down" the grapes

Corey “punching down” the grapes

After the winery exercises we walked upstairs at Columbia Winery for a blind white wine tasting with Master Sommelier Robert Bigelow from Chateau Ste. Michelle (CSM), Sean Sullivan from the Wine Enthusiast, winemaker Wendy Stuckey White from CSM, Mark McNeilly from Mark Ryan Winery and Chris Sparkman from Sparkman Cellars. We tasted Riesling, Viognier and Chardonnay. The purpose was to show where Washington wines fit in the wide world of wine – blind tasting is the only true way to judge wine.

We had lunch at CSM and immediately hopped a bus to Terra Blanca winery near Richland, WA. We enjoyed a beautiful dinner and it was there that I got a chance to dine with Tim Hightower from Hightower Cellars. While we have spoken on the phone, we had never met, and it was fun to put a face to “our” name.

Day 3 – Yakima and Red Mountain/Columbia Valley

Skyfall Vineyard

Skyfall Vineyard

First stop was to the newly replanted “Skyfall” vineyard just outside of Richland. We toured the vineyard and tasted fresh Sauvignon Blanc that was just starting to ferment. We noticed a huge car-sized piece of granite that was transported from Montana during the Missoula floods: too big to dig up so they planted right over top of it.

We lunched at the Walter Clore Center and went right into another blind tasting – all Red Mountain red wines, which included Betz Cabernet Sauvignon, Col Solare and Force Majeure. All of these incredible wines were age worthy, showed great tannic structure and beautiful fruit flavors. We were joined by Bob Betz, Master of Wine and a Washington state pioneer.

Afterwards it was back to Terra Blanca for a vertical tasting of their “Onyx” blend from 1999-2010. It was an amazing experience, and one of my favorite memories of the entire trip.

Dinner that evening was at the 14 Hands facility by James Beard award-winning chef Tom Douglas. It was the best dinner of the trip by far (black bean tamales and citrus salsa was my favorite).

Vertical Tasting of Onyx at Terra Blanca

Vertical Tasting of Onyx at Terra Blanca

Day 4 – Walla Walla

We traveled to Figgins Estate vineyard and started with a picking contest. Let’s just say “grape harvester” is not in my future. After thirty minutes of picking Merlot I was able to fill five buckets, which is not considered very good at all; I wanted to take my time and make all the cuts perfect. Our next stop was downtown Walla Walla for a tasting with Master Sommelier Greg Harrington from Gramercy Cellars, Anna Shafer from a’Maurice, Rick Small from Woodward Canyon and Marty Clubb from L’Ecole No.41. We tasted Walla Walla Merlot, Bordeaux blends and Syrahs. After lunch we joined Jerry Soloman and Trey Busch from Sleight of Hand Cellars. I thoroughly enjoyed their tasting room which has over 1400 vinyl records and an old school jukebox. We learned about their winemaking style and visited “The Rocks” vineyard where ancient river bed rocks reach down some 100-300 feet in some places. We tasted the vast differences between Syrah grapes that were planted only a few miles from each other. For our final night, we enjoyed a fun dinner at Charles Smith Winery with amazing library wines from many different wineries: this was followed by lots of dancing!

A little fun at Sleight of Hand Cellars with their vinyl record collection

A little fun at Sleight of Hand Cellars with their vinyl record collection

Day 5 – Horse Heaven Hills

Our first stop was “The Benches” vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, which is where Long Shadows Vintners sources many of their different wines such as Feather Cabernet Sauvignon, Poet’s Leap Riesling and Sequel Syrah. The dusty, bumpy road to the vineyard was 8 miles long -a reminder of the vast Eastern Washington space available, and the beauty of the Columbia River along the steep cliffs. After lunch at J. Brookwalter we all parted ways and headed back to our own corners of the country.

A view from "The Benches" vineyard

A view from “The Benches” vineyard

I can not thank enough the people involved in getting me on this trip: Chris Sparkman for nominating me, Chad Mackay for providing an unbelievable restaurant group to buy wine for, and my fellow employees for covering me. Also thanks to Steve Warner and Chris Stone from the Wine Commission for their hospitality, and all the fellow attendees who made this trip enlightening and very educational.


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