By Ned Hayes
South Puget Sound Community College might seem an unusual place to find a five-course, wine-paired dinner. Yet the SPSCC culinary arts team is determined to turn its Percival Restaurant location into a desired destination for discriminating diners.
In 2017, Scott McLean came on board as new executive chef for the culinary arts program. McLean started at the Culinary Institute of America, opened the Tacoma Dome Hotel and worked as executive chef at Cliffhouse, Coeur d’Alene Resort and most recently Marcus Whitman in Walla Walla, Washington.
With the encouragement of Valerie Sundby-Thorp, dean of social science and business, McLean and his team launched a thrice-annual, five-course, culinary experience not to be missed. Past menus have featured a triple-cream brie; fresh, wild king salmon; pomegranate- key-lime granita; Snake River Farms wagyu striploin and exquisite, hand-made desserts. Each course is paired with such precisely chosen, regional wines as Shea Vineyard’s pinot noir, Truthteller’s viognier and Woodward Canyon’s cabernet sauvignon.
The combination of modern gastronomy techniques, which use refined chemical processes, and classic, mother’s-kitchen-table-inspired sauces gives a spectrum of pleasure for the palate. “The team has put together a fabulous, paired dinner,” says Sundby-Thorp, “that rivaled the major food scenes in Seattle and Portland.”
Despite his expertise, McLean in person is not pretentious – In fact, he has a down-home charm, which adds a certain peasant-food grounding to the expensive wine pairings and gastronomically precise dinners. “I really enjoy doing this as a showcase for our culinary arts program,” says McLean. “I get great satisfaction from seeing students working at this challenging level and achieving more than they think they are capable of doing.”
McLean works in partnership with Emily Hutson and Melanie Shelton. Hutson used to run the Clipper Café and is now a chef instructor on site. Shelton founded and ran the Bearded Lady in Olympia and is in her fifth year as a pastry chef instructor at SPSCC.
The culinary arts program at SPSCC has graduated many students who went on to successful culinary careers. Carol Rivard, a 1995 graduate, may be the most well-traveled. She worked at McMurdo scientific station in Antarctica as executive sous chef, then moved to New Zealand as a chef and is now food service manager for the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.
Brad Thompson graduated in 2013 and cut his culinary teeth at the South Sound’s best eateries, including The Restaurant at Alderbrook and Lady on the Lake. He teamed with another graduate of the SPSCC culinary arts program, Marilyn Hartley, to open the well-regarded, farm-to-table restaurant Our Table in Olympia last year.
The Percival Restaurant is open Monday through Thursday for lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. beginning September 26, closed during community-college breaks. Special five-course dinners take place only once each in the fall, winter and spring.
Five-Course Fall Dinner
6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25
Percival Restaurant, SPSCC,
2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia
$100 (reservation required)