The Washington State Liquor Control Board has halted the lawless drinking of chardonnay during cooking classes on Beacon Hill. Culinary Communion House, a cooking school in a lovingly restored Craftsman, was quiet last Wednesday afternoon until, according to owner Gabriel Claycamp, a "shitstorm" hit when a Washington State Liquor Control Board enforcement officer arrived. The demonstration kitchen and airy dining room, with its long communal tables, awaited that night's hands-on "Northwest Seafood" class when the knock at the door came.
According to Claycamp, the officer, who ordered Culinary Communion to cease and desist using alcohol on the premises (including for wine reduction sauces), said, "I'm not here to arrest you, though I could. But I will next time." No fine was issued.
State law prohibits drinking alcohol during culinary courses and requires written approval to cook with alcohol during such courses. Should a culinary school wish to serve wine during classes (or make pears poached in Calvados without a note from the WSLCB), it must obtain a restaurant license or a beer/wine specialty shop license. A restaurant wine license is $200, but attendant equipment and other requirements must be met; a specialty shop license is $100, which entails maintaining a $3,000 wholesale beer and/or wine inventory. Claycamp said Culinary Communion has been operating for the last seven years under his understanding that no liquor license was required. The WSLCB says the officer was responding to a specific complaint and that enforcement occurs on a complaint-driven basis.
Complaints about culinary schools are uncommon, says the WSLCB, though the law seems ill understood. The Stranger spoke with three of the handful of private culinary schools in the area: One, Dish it up! in Magnolia, has a liquor license; another said they obtained individual banquet permits for classes involving wine, which according to the WSLCB is still illegal; the third, like Culinary Communion, has been operating without a license.
Claycamp suspects a disgruntled former employee filed the Culinary Communion complaint (the complainant requested anonymity, as allowed by the law).
Claycamp has also been what he terms "a regular contributor" to the local underground restaurant Gypsy. Underground restaurants, a recent urban trend, operate without liquor licenses and health inspections, with diners paying stipulated "donations." They're typically kept hush-hush; Gypsy has been featured in local press as well as on Anthony Bourdain's television series No Reservations. Claycamp is listed as a guest chef in the "Rogue's Gallery" on the Gypsy website (gypsydinners.com), along with prominent local chefs such as Ethan Stowell (of Union, Tavolata, and How to Cook a Wolf) and Tamara Murphy (of Brasa).
A histrionic e-mail to the Gypsy community last Thursday—the day after Culinary Communion's WSLCB visit—said Gypsy had been "betrayed" and that "Camelot has ended... We are going much deeper underground... And to the traitor to the clan we offer you this: May you never sleep well, may laughter sound bitter in your ears, and may food always taste like ashes to you... this is our Gypsy curse."
Claycamp acknowledges that Gypsy dinners were occasionally hosted on Culinary Communion's premises. He says the WSLCB officer did not mention Gypsy, but adds skeptically, "We walked away thinking he knows a lot more than he's letting on."
Meanwhile at Culinary Communion, classes such as "Lunch in Paris" and "Entertaining Spanish Style: Tapas" will be conducted dry. Claycamp is consulting a lawyer in hopes of adding a cooking school category to the law or bringing Culinary Communion into compliance as quickly and inexpensively as possible.