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.

Supplier Highlight – Oregon’s Anderson Ranch Lamb

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Supplier Highlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron

Experience our Special October Menu and Celebrate American Lamb with us!
By Chris S. Nishiwaki

Farm-to-Table dining has evolved from a fad to a way of life for many American lamb ranchers because it heightens the locavore experience, going from feed, to farm, to fork.

El Gaucho sources our lamb from Anderson Ranch based in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Pictured: Reed Anderson and his son.

El Gaucho sources our lamb from Anderson Ranch based in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Pictured: Reed Anderson and his son.

Reed Anderson of Oregon’s Anderson Ranch grows the grass on which his sheep graze, raises the animals, processes them on-site, and carefully selects his customers based on his stringent demands for quality.

“You can taste the care and quality of Anderson Ranch lamb – they are great El Gaucho partners,” said Chad Mackay, El Gaucho President and COO.

Many American lamb ranchers are involved in every step of the process, like Anderson and his wife and business partner Robyn, up to the plate in front of guests at fine dining restaurants such as AQUA and  El Gaucho.

El Gaucho is a great local company,” Anderson said. “The thing I tell people is I don’t sell to everybody. I only sell to people who will treat the product right.”

The farm-to-table philosophy is no fad for the Andersons, now on its fifth generation of farming sustainably. Reed is a fourth generation sheep farmer. His sons Jake, 28, and Travis, 26, are now the fifth generation in the business.

Anderson Ranch is one of over 82,000 sheep operations in the country. Many of them are family owned and operated with the families intimately engaged in the entire process, ensuring quality and freshness for consumers.

El Gaucho and AQUA by El Gaucho are celebrating American lamb the month of October with special lamb dishes featured on our menu.

El Gaucho and AQUA by El Gaucho are celebrating American lamb the month of October with special lamb dishes featured on our menu.

Similar to the concept of “terroir” in wine, the quality of lamb reflects and adapts to its fertile surroundings. That is why the Anderson family’s farming practices ensure that their flock has the best of everything, and that their diet never includes hormones or grain. For the Andersons, watching grass grow is exciting stuff. It translates to happy animals and a superior product for diners. Anderson Ranch’s sheep graze on over 1,000 acres of their land providing plenty of nutrients year round and abundant space for them to roam. The Northwest’s notorious rainfall lends to the terroir that makes the local grass superior and abundant. The Willamette Valley grows up to 90 percent of the world’s grass seed.

“It is important for us to control and know what our sheep are eating,” Anderson said. “That’s why we insist on controlling the growth of the plant for the sheep’s diet.”

The Anderson Ranch flock drinks well, eats well and lives well. The family ensures a stress free environment by surrounding his sheep with guard dogs and guard llamas, rather than protecting them with restrictive fencing. This healthy living means lamb naturally contains many essential nutrients; it is an easy fit for healthy diets and is an excellent source of protein, vitamin B12, niacin, zinc, selenium, iron and riboflavin.

The Andersons built their own facility last year to process their animals, allowing them to control the quality and timing of the process, catering to the needs of retailers and restaurants such as El Gaucho, and ultimately the consumer.

“We do a better job trimming,” Anderson says. “We are more conscious on the cutting specifications. I think it’s just because we have control of the product from conception to the plate.”

El Gaucho Bellevue's Executive Chef Sarah Scott shows one of the featured lamb dishes on our menu - Hazelnut Crusted Rack of Lamb with Merlot Demi Glaze

El Gaucho Bellevue’s Executive Chef Sarah Scott shows one of the featured lamb dishes on our menu – Hazelnut Crusted Rack of Lamb with Merlot Demi Glaze

All of this expertise and care produces the highest quality lamb, which is why El Gaucho Restaurants all proudly serve only Anderson Ranch lamb.

“We want people to have a great experience with our product. When someone is having a 50th wedding anniversary we want to be a highlight of that event. El Gaucho has those same concerns in mind,” Anderson said.

Since opening our doors, our mission is simply to find the best for our patrons and guests to enjoy: no excuses and no compromise. This is why relationships with our key partners are paramount. We will not settle for anything less than the best, and our family of restaurants constantly works to bring you the finest the world has to offer. Bon appétit!

The ABCs of Bourbon

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Spirited with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron

Our family of restaurants constantly works to bring our guests the best that the world has to offer. An important component to accomplish this is through the continuing education, training and professional development of our employees. We offer opportunities for all of our employees to further their knowledge so that they can continue to be a terrific resource for our guests.

David Kearns from Jim Beam led us through the ABCs of Bourbon

David Kearns from Jim Beam led us through the ABCs of Bourbon

Did you know that bourbon was declared the national spirit by Congress in 1964? Fifty years later, whiskey is the fastest growing category in spirits, and millenials consume more spirits than any other generation while drinking less beer and wine. Based on current growth rate, it’s predicted that in just six short years, by 2020, bourbon consumption will double.

Our team had a fantastic opportunity to learn more about this type of whiskey from a local expert, David Kearns from Jim Beam, one of the oldest distilleries in America.

A Little History
The story begins in the United States in 1764, even before the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed. Scottish and Irish immigrants moved in to the country with their stills, and a history of distillation from their native lands of Ireland and Scotland. Because corn grew abundantly and farmers had a surplus, they turned to distilling it as a way to use their surplus grain. Corn was America’s native grain, it became the basis of their new whiskey, with malted barley or rye added in for some flavor muscle.

Aging in barrels actually was a mistake, as they were originally stored in jugs and other earthenware. Thankfully, the barrels were burned to sanitize them because they were used for everything, from storing pickles to fish to nails. Over time, the distillers noticed that the charring actually mellowed the flavor; therefore, the quality of wood and depth of char became more important to the process.

By the early 1800s there were 2,000 independent whiskey producers, including Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and Mark Brown (Brown Foreman). When prohibition occurred between 1918-1933, only five whiskey producers survived, mostly because they were able to sell their current stock medicinally. No surprise, consumption of alcohol actually increased during prohibition – most of it was smuggled in from other countries to satiate the American thirst. For comparison, today there are seven major distilleries and eight minors, but with recent legislation, Washington state currently has more distilleries than Kentucky, where most of the bourbon is made.

Just a few of the brands under the Suntory Beam portfolio

Just a few of the brands under the Suntory Beam portfolio

Production
Bourbon is a type of whiskey, but there are certain laws to be able to call it Bourbon, these are the A, B, C’s of Bourbon:
A-America. All bourbon must be made in America (fun fact: 96% is currently made in Kentucky)
B-Barrel. All bourbon must be aged in a brand new, American oak charred barrel, which can only be used once.
C-Corn. Bourbon must made be with at least 51% corn.
D-Distilled. The law states that a bourbon can be distilled to 160 proof.
E-Entered. Distillers cannot enter the barrel for aging at higher than 125 proof. Water is used to bring it to 125 proof if distilled to more than 125.
F-Filled. Bourbon cannot be bottled at less than 80 proof.
G-Genuine. No flavoring or color can be added for it to be called bourbon.

Jim Beam has 1.2 million barrels of whiskey stored in Kentucky right now, with 57 rack houses (where the whiskey is aged and stored). Currently they are producing 650 barrels of whiskey a day while pulling 500 barrels a day, positioning themselves for the predicted growth in popularity in the coming years.

A selection of our tastings for the class.

A selection of our tastings for the class.

After this fantastic overview of Bourbon, our team set in to taste eight different bourbons from the Jim Beam portfolio, starting with the Knob Creek White Dog – nothing like a 134.5 proof bam in our mouths to wake us all up! We made the rounds to Maker’s Mark (one of the top 25 most identifiable brands in the world), followed by the fairly new Maker’s Mark 46 – which was just introduced in 2011. We continued through our placemat of tastes to Basil Hayden – dubbed a beginner whiskey and one of the fastest growing bourbons in the country, followed by Booker’s, to Knob Creek 9 year, Knob Creek Single barrel, Knob Creek Rye, and lastly, Yamakazi – a Japanese single malt whiskey.

Interested in expanding your bourbon knowledge? We invite you taste these bourbons, and some of our unique cocktails: El Gaucho Bellevue is currently offering a Sazerac and Gaucho Mule, featuring the exclusive El Gaucho Knob Creek Rye, which bar captains Dasha Mulein and Lonnie Anderson hand blended on a recent trip to Kentucky. Click here to read more about their experience.

We are proud to share the passion and stories behind creating the world-class products we enjoy from our trusted brands like Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Knob Creek, and we look forward to imparting the knowledge we gained with our guests. Cheers!

Our class enjoyed tasting many bourbons!

Our class enjoyed tasting many bourbons!

El Gaucho Employees Visit Northstar Winery for a Wine Blending Experience

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Featured Wine, Supplier Highlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron

Our family of restaurants constantly works to bring our guests the best that the world has to offer. An important component to accomplish this is through the continuing education, training and professional development of our employees. We offer opportunities for all of our employees to further their knowledge so that they can continue to be a terrific resource for our guests.

Thirty El Gaucho Hospitality Employees traveled to Northstar Winery near Walla Walla, WA for a fantastic wine blending experience.

Thirty El Gaucho Hospitality Employees traveled to Northstar Winery near Walla Walla, WA for a fantastic wine blending experience.

“Walla Walla, Washington – the place so nice, they named it twice!” locals like to say.

A select group of 30 employees from El Gaucho Hospitality boarded a bus last week for a picturesque road trip across the state to Washington’s pioneering wine region. As we neared our destination at Northstar Winery, the increased anticipation was apparent, as one of us would call out familiar winery names as we passed their vineyards: Amavi, Va Piano, Sleight of Hand… just to name a few.

Our mid-afternoon arrival was breathtaking: the meticulously cared-for grapes, ripe for picking, along with the lush green leaves, provided ample inspiration for photos. A back drop of the just-harvested wheat fields and Blue Mountains, along with a gorgeous, sunny fall day, captured a stunning experience.

Our hosts and wine educators - Northstar Winemaker "Merf" and Joe Aschbacher of Chateau Ste. Michelle

Our hosts and wine educators – Northstar Winemaker “Merf” and Joe Aschbacher of Chateau Ste. Michelle

We were greeted by the friendly staff at Northstar with a glass of Stella Blanca, and were introduced to winemaker David “Merf” Merfield, who personally led us on a tour of the Northstar 15-acre estate, vineyards and facilities. Our timing was perfect – just a week before the busy harvest, with beautiful weather, meant we had the winemaker’s undivided attention. As Merf explained, it’s “the calm before the storm,” describing the 16+ hour harvest days ahead, which were to commence the following week.

A view from above of the Blending Experience room at Northstar Winery

A view from above of the Blending Experience room at Northstar Winery

After our outside tour of the grounds and equipment, we were led inside to the incredible “Blending Experience” room, where each table was set with what looked like a scientific laboratory, full of beakers, graduated cylinders, wine bottles, cups and professional guides to blending. After a brief presentation on Washington’s wine-growing regions, we set right to work, tasting 2013 Merlot straight from the barrel from four different Washington AVAs (Walla Walla, Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven, and Red Mountain), along with a Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. A 2010 Columbia Valley Merlot was provided to use as our base.

Some of the components used for our blending experience at Northstar Winery

Some of the components used for our blending experience at Northstar Winery

Using the same blending components that Merf uses to craft his acclaimed Merlot-based blends, we were each given free reign to create our own blend to bottle and take home. We completely geeked out, sharing tasting notes, collaborating on blending percentages, and tasting each other’s concoctions. In the end, it was amazing to see not only the mess we created, but also the differences in our individual palates and preferences. Each of us walked away with a bottle of our personally made wine, complete with a customized label.

Happy winemakers with their unique and customized bottled wine!

Happy winemakers with their unique and customized bottled wine!

Following our mad science experiment, we were ushered upstairs to the outside patio and treated to an amazing three-course BBQ, each paired with the exclusive Northstar wines that will soon be featured in each of our restaurants: Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. In the past, these varietals have been used mainly as minor blending components, or offered exclusively only to Northstar Wine Club members. Soon, however, El Gaucho will be showcasing these varietals for our guests to enjoy, along with other fantastic wines in the Northstar portfolio: Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot, and Northstar Cabernet Sauvignon.

The team enjoyed an amazing BBQ at the Northstar winery following our wine blending experience.

The team enjoyed an amazing BBQ at the Northstar winery following our wine blending experience.

Winemaking is a blend of artistry and science, and a window into the art of blending world-class wine for a day was an amazing educational experience for our team. We are proud to share the passion and stories behind creating the world-class products we enjoy from our trusted partners like Northstar, and we look forward to imparting the knowledge we gained with our guests. Cheers!

Cheers to Northstar for incredible hospitality and amazing wine experience!

Cheers to Northstar for incredible hospitality and amazing wine experience!

More photos from our Walla Walla Wine Trip:

El Gaucho employees tour the fermentation room at Northstar Winery

El Gaucho employees tour the fermentation room at Northstar Winery

Nothing like being greeted with a glass of wine upon arrival to the Northstar tasting room!

Nothing like being greeted with a glass of wine upon arrival to the Northstar tasting room!

The team enjoying a sunny day in the Northstar estate vineyard

The team enjoying a sunny day in the Northstar estate vineyard

El Gaucho team gets a tour of the Northstar Winery facility from Winemaker Merf

El Gaucho team gets a tour of the Northstar Winery facility from Winemaker Merf

These barrels hold world-class Merlot from Northstar Winery

These barrels hold world-class Merlot from Northstar Winery

Our wine blending experience is complete!

Our wine blending experience is complete!

Joe, Jason, Tom, Sophie and Jarod from AQUA by El Gaucho in the Northstar Winery Barrel Room

Joe, Jason, Tom, Sophie and Jarod from AQUA by El Gaucho in the Northstar Winery Barrel Room

Northstar 2014 dinner menu

Our BBQ menu and paired wines – yum!

The team from El Gaucho Bellevue in the Northstar Barrel room

The team from El Gaucho Bellevue in the Northstar Barrel room

Allie, David, Ryan and Gillian from El Gaucho Portland at Northstar winery

Allie, David, Ryan and Gillian from El Gaucho Portland at Northstar winery

Joe and Jacob from El Gaucho Tacoma in the barrel room

Joe and Jacob from El Gaucho Tacoma in the barrel room

Northstar Winemaker Merf giving an overview on the varietals used for blending

Northstar Winemaker Merf giving an overview on the varietals used for blending

Hard at work creating the perfect blend

Hard at work creating the perfect blend

Yes, wine blending is messy!

Yes, wine blending is messy!

Canada carefully measures wine from the barrel for his particular wine blend.

Canada carefully measures wine from the barrel for his particular wine blend.

 

Artist Feature of the Month – Meet Josephine Howell, Vocalist at El Gaucho Seattle

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron

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.

 

Josephine Howell performs with Paul Richardson at El Gaucho Seattle every Sunday night

Josephine Howell performs with Paul Richardson at El Gaucho Seattle every Sunday night

“You were born to help others live,” Josephine’s mother wrote to her. It was exactly what she needed to hear to help her, and her children, get out of homelessness.

She had moved to Seattle from Chicago to find a better life. Recently widowed and with four children still at home, her two grown children encouraged her to move closer to them in the Pacific Northwest. Through a series of events, including suffering through domestic violence, Josephine found herself in and out of shelters and half-way houses, on and off for five years, with four children in tow.

She recalls taking her children on the city bus during the cold winter months, just so they could keep warm. She found the longest route possible, which went from Renton around Lake Washington to Lake City, where they would hop on another bus. “I’m so grateful for those bus drivers, who knew our plight, and didn’t say a word,” she recalls. “I was going through hell.”

Through her strong faith, passion for music, and lots of help from family and friends, Josephine pulled herself out of that hopeless situation, which she considers her greatest accomplishment. “Being able to show my children the steps and the courage it took for a better life is incredibly important to me,” she says. “My family is everything.”

Josephine now has a total of 12 children, which include 6 step-children, and 18 grandkids, 13 of which are under the age of 5-years-old. Her job allows her to help raise and shuttle everyone around. “I’m the designated drop-off,” she laughs.

Vocalist Josephine Howell has 12 children and 18 grandchildren.

Vocalist Josephine Howell has 12 children and 18 grandchildren.

How she finds the time to perform and share her gift with the world is truly a feat. And “Josie’s” list of career accomplishments is incredible. She has performed in venues nationally and internationally, gracing stages from Chicago to Nashville at the Grand Ole Opry, Kenya to Austria. She has also shared the stage with Madonna, Queen Latifah, Ernestine Anderson, BeBe Winan, and many more. She performed at the 2014 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, with the song “Same Love.”

Josephine says she’s always known that her gift was singing and sharing that with others through performing. She loves any performance where she knows she sees a positive change in someone. Some of her most requested songs to sing are “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Don’t Know Why,” by Norah Jones and “Home,” from the play, “The Wiz.”

Besides performing at El Gaucho Seattle every Sunday with pianist Paul Richardson, Josephine also performs at Shuga Jazz Bistro in Renton, Bake’s Place in Bellevue, Ray Gibson’s Caballeros Club in Tacoma, Tula’s Restaurant and Jazz Club in Seattle, and Village Theatre in Issaquah.

Josephine and Paul perform together at El Gaucho Seattle Sunday nights.

Josephine and Paul perform together at El Gaucho Seattle Sunday nights.

Josephine feels strongly about bettering her community, city, and country by using her gifts. She participates in many community events through singing, performing, entertaining, and directing, but also speaking very candidly to those in need.

“It’s important for them to hear from someone who has walked in their shoes, and I try to empower them,” she explains. “It’s hard to see that it’s the situation, and not ‘me.’”

She also commits time to speak to government agencies about the plight of the homeless. “There are so many struggles and stigmas involved in that situation. It’s a horrible way of feeling invisible,” she says, and “it’s hard to break the cycle.”

Every month, she visits the places where she “lived” in homelessness, and sees where she was, and how far she’s come. “I meditate, and thank God for where I’m at.”

We’re thankful, too! Josephine shares her gift with us every Sunday night, with pianist Paul Richardson, at El Gaucho Seattle, at 6pm.

A Lesson in Scotch

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Spirited with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2014 by The Gaucho Gridiron

Our family of restaurants constantly works to bring our guests the best that the world has to offer. An important component to accomplish this is through the continuing education, training and professional development of our employees. We offer opportunities for all of our employees to further their knowledge so that they can continue to be a terrific resource for our guests.

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest,” Ben Franklin once said.

Macallan ambassador Kieron Elliott walks El Gaucho employees through a scotch tasting

Macallan ambassador Kieron Elliott teaching El Gaucho employees about scotch

Several El Gaucho employees recently had the opportunity to invest in their scotch knowledge, by spending some time with international Macallan ambassador, Kieron Elliott. In addition to being a scotch master, Kieron is also a Scottish actor, host, and comedian, with most recent works including the film “How to Train Your Dragon,” TV show, “Deadliest Warrior,” a host of the show “Aftermath,” serves as a BBC Three continuity announcer, and much more. We knew we were in for a treat…and who doesn’t love a good accent?

Since time was short, we started right in with the basics and terminology. Whisky is a grain alcohol made anywhere in the world; scotch must be made on Scottish soil, aged for at least 3 years, and be 40% alcohol by volume. The next level is a single malt scotch; malt being 100% malted barley. The difference with rye whiskey is that the malt need only contain 51% rye grain to be called that; 49% can be anything else.

Employees who attended the tasting sampled a few scotches from the Edrington (Macallan's parent company) portfolio.

Employees who attended the tasting sampled a few scotches from the Edrington (Macallan’s parent company) portfolio.

Macallan is one of the oldest licensed distilleries in Scotland, and has remained fundamentally unchanged for nearly 200 years. Their wood cask program is what sets Macallan apart from their competitors. In 2013, the company invested $34 million into their wood program. As a comparison, all of the other companies in the world combined invested $103 million.

Each Macallan cask is built by hand, and takes 2-3 years to “season,” even before the scotch sees the barrel. They are also lightly toasted – charred just enough to break down the wall in the wood to allow for liquid penetration. The other amazing element about Macallan scotch is that the color is 100% natural – many companies add a spirit caramel for additional color. Color in scotch whisky tells us nothing; however, consistency is obviously crucial, and difficult to maintain year after year when simply relying on charred wood for the result.

Employees sniff and sample during the scotch tasting class

Employees sniff and sample during the scotch tasting class

We started tasting with the Macallan 12 year, which is exclusively aged in sherry oak casks made from Spanish oak trees. Kieron walked the class through how to approach a scotch: slowly introduce it to the senses, smell it at least three times (bringing it closer to the nose each time), and opening the mouth slightly when breathing it in, before taking a sip and “chewing” it, at least five times, to let the taste envelop the mouth.

From there we went to the Macallan 15-year, which is considered the “fine oak range,” triple cask matured using a mix of European oak, and American oak ex-sherry, and ex-bourbon casks. It yields a lighter color, and flavor, which is why it’s a great entry-level scotch. Someone joked from the group it’s their “breakfast scotch.”

Josh enjoys one of the samples poured during the class

Josh enjoys one of the samples poured during the class

The Highland Park 18 year was next, a single malt scotch which has a gentle but aromatic smokiness to it. Highland Park is the most northern distillery in the world, and the peat comes from their moor, which is also a carefully managed bird sanctuary. This particular peat is from moss and heather, which is burned beneath the barley to help it dry, before cask-aging in 100% ex-Oloroso sherry casks.

Black Grouse was our final taste, a blend of single malts, and the #1 selling scotch in Scotland for 33 years. A combination of Highland Park and Macallan, Black Grouse is aged in unique, hand-selected oak sherry casks.

El Gaucho and AQUA by El Gaucho proudly offer Macallan 12, 18, and 25-year scotch, as well as Highland Park 18 year. Cutty Sark is soon to become our well scotch, and if you’re a true connoisseur with deep pockets, El Gaucho Bellevue proudly offers Macallan 55 year, which happens to be the only bottle in the state of Washington. You can try a shot for just $750.

A few of the brands in Edrington's portfolio

A few of the brands in Edrington’s portfolio

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