Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce / courtesy photo
                                Snoqualmie Casino executive chef Justin Lee (right) and pastry chef Chuck Dugo (left) hold the awards they won for creating the native berry-based dessert for the Issaquah Epicurean Experience contest.

Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce / courtesy photo Snoqualmie Casino executive chef Justin Lee (right) and pastry chef Chuck Dugo (left) hold the awards they won for creating the native berry-based dessert for the Issaquah Epicurean Experience contest.

Issaquah has crowned the best local appetizer and dessert

The chamber of commerce hosted a month-long contest to find the best dishes among local restaurants.

The Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce recently concluded the inaugural Issaquah Epicurean Experience contest that crowned a best appetizer and dessert among seven local restaurants.

Vista Prime Steaks and Seafood at the Snoqualmie Casino won the people’s choice and best dessert award, and Levitate Gastropub won the award for best appetizer. Both received golden spatulas and plaques. The chamber required that chefs use two local ingredients — salmon and native berries — for the appetizer and dessert respectively. The competing chefs had complete freedom beyond using the required ingredients.

“I was so excited, and it was pretty humbling with all these other chefs out here,” Levitate Gastropub executive chef Pa Jallow said. “I think this might be the beginning of a cool thing… Hopefully people in Issaquah will start dining in Issaquah more often. I think the Issaquah chefs are doing a great job of taking the food to the next level.”

Levitate Gastropub executive chef Pa Jallow holds the golden spatula he won for creating the best Salmon-based appetizer for the Issaquah Epicurean Experience contest. Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce / courtesy photo

Levitate Gastropub executive chef Pa Jallow holds the golden spatula he won for creating the best Salmon-based appetizer for the Issaquah Epicurean Experience contest. Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce / courtesy photo

The chamber created the event to give a boost to local restaurants during a slow time of the year and, with its success, the event will continue in the years to come, according to chamber community engagement and events manager Brenda DeVore.

“The chamber had reached out to local restaurants in previous years to find out their busy times of the year and slower times of the year and what we can do to support that,” DeVore said. “The consensus was let’s do an event in Spring when it’s a little bit slower and dark outside to bring people in and create a bit of excitement in the downtime.”

Locals and selected judges visited participating restaurants throughout March to vote on which had the best appetizer or dessert crafted for the contest.

The chamber selected four judges to visit each restaurant at different times during the day to try out the contest entries. DeVore added the judges were encouraged to invite friends and family along to make the judging event a party-like atmosphere.

“It was enjoyable to see our staff get behind it, the community participation as well as full banter between our restaurants,” Levitate Gastropub owner Eric Paschal said. “But most importantly, being able to showcase chef Pa’s talents.”

Levitate Gastropub, Nicolino Ristorante and Trailhead Kitchen + Bar competed in the dessert contest, ultimately losing to Vista Prime Steaks and Seafood.

Snoqualmie Casino executive chef Justin Lee and pastry chef Chuck Dugo said they came at the contest with an “outside-the-box” mentality which culminated in the winning dessert, a blackberry cheesecake Push-Pop.

“Winning Best Dessert and the People’s Choice awards was the icing on our cheesecake,” Lee said. “[We] were experimenting with the idea of a non-traditional take on the childhood favorite push-pop. Once learning that native berries were the required ingredient, we explored the idea of creating a delicious blackberry cheesecake served within a push-pop. We were counting on guests enjoying the experience as well as the taste.”

Snoqualmie Casino executive chef Justin Lee and pastry chef Chuck Dugo created a blackberry cheesecake push-pop that one the people’s choice and best dessert award in the Issaquah Epicurean Experience contest. Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce / courtesy photo

Snoqualmie Casino executive chef Justin Lee and pastry chef Chuck Dugo created a blackberry cheesecake push-pop that one the people’s choice and best dessert award in the Issaquah Epicurean Experience contest. Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce / courtesy photo

Chinoise Sushi Bar & Asian Grill, Montalcino Ristorante Italiano, Trailhead Kitchen + Bar, Vista Prime Steaks and Seafood and WildFin American Grill competed in the appetizer contest, ultimately losing to Levitate Gastropub.

Jallow created a Salmon flatbread appetizer for the contest and said he’s excited to make another dish for next year’s contest.

“This was the first time I’ve made it, and everybody was really excited about it and thought it was a good combination of flavors,” Jallow said. “It was a good feeling because when you put these things together, you never know how people are going to react to it. So when people are happy and excited about it, it makes it worth all the while you know?”

Levitate Gastropub executive chef Pa Jallow created a salmon flatbread dish that won the best appetizer award in the Issaquah Epicurean Experience contest. Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce / courtesy photo

Levitate Gastropub executive chef Pa Jallow created a salmon flatbread dish that won the best appetizer award in the Issaquah Epicurean Experience contest. Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce / courtesy photo

The chamber plans to continue the contest in March next year with different ingredients and a different challenge for local chefs. While the feedback from local participants was positive, DeVore said the chamber plans to make tweaks and improve the overall experience, hoping to get even more people involved in future events.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@issaquahreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.issaquahreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Business

File Photo
LA Fitness to reopen all locations Aug. 10

Gyms will follow state guidelines

BMW X3 xDrive 30e. Courtesy photo
BMW X3 xDrive 30e | Car review

With forces like BMW pushing, it’s only a matter of time before… Continue reading

2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat SRT. Courtesy photo
2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat SRT | Car review

OK folks, buckle your seatbelts. This week’s tester is the 2020 Dodge… Continue reading

A young chef carefully spreads sauce onto pizza dough during a cooking class at Young Chefs Academy of Covington. Courtesy photo/YCA Covington
Kids culinary school opens in Covington

The school takes the unknown out of cooking for kids, owner Deb O’Brien said.

A new measure from the King County Council could increase flexibility for businesses in rural areas of King County. File photo
County measure would increase flexibility for businesses in rural areas

Staff report Legislation the King County Council passed June 23 could lead… Continue reading

Snoqualmie Casino is located at 37500 SE North Bend Way, Snoqualmie. Courtesy photo
Snoqualmie Casino reopens June 11 with social distancing, other safety measures

Staff report Snoqualmie Casino will reopen to the general public at 6… Continue reading

Like similar businesses across King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, Bothell restaurant Hana Sushi closed due to public-health concerns. Sound Publishing file photo
Inslee changes course, says diners won’t have to sign in

Restaurants may still ask customers for information that contact tracers could use to stop an outbreak.

Businesses, nonprofits asked to participate in COVID-19 impact survey

Regional effort in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties

Construction worker installs siding to a building in Snoqualmie. File photo
Inslee gives construction a green light

It was unclear when sites would re-open, but employees will have to have PPE and stay six feet apart.

Report shows severity of COVID-19 impacts on hotels nationwide

70% of employees laid off or furloughed, eight in 10 hotel rooms empty