In February, Kaleena Bliss was crowned champion of Food Network’s “Chopped: Casino Royale,” a feat that required her to remain unfazed, even when a mystery ingredient turned out to be rattlesnake in a can. As the executive chef of Thompson Seattle, Bliss helms Conversation Kitchen & Bar, the hotel’s signature restaurant, and oversees The Nest rooftop bar, as well as catering and banquets.

M+E: How were you able to deal with the pressure of “Chopped” without losing your cool? 

KB: To be honest, the experience wasn’t that much different from being a chef. Sure, there may not be cameras, but anyone who has worked in a professional kitchen knows that things get thrown at you daily that require you to be a good critical thinker and a problem solver. The ingredients you were counting on don’t show up or, especially these last two years, you don’t have the staff you need for dinner service or an event. 

M+E: You grew up in Vancouver, Washington, and you’ve worked at restaurants in Portland, Oregon; Bainbridge Island, Washington; and Seattle. How has the Pacific Northwest shaped you as a chef? 

KB: Whenever I’m asked what style of cooking I do, I always say ‘it’s very Pacific Northwest.’ To me, that’s a thing. You use seasonal local ingredients, and every three months, the ingredients available to you change. I find that really exciting. In winter, for example, there are a lot of local squashes and all different kinds of kale. When we move into spring, we go from those yellows and dark greens to super bright greens as farms produce local asparagus, morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, stinging nettles, and young tender greens. It’s a huge transformation. 

Plus, we have endless resources when it comes to seafood, including some of the best salmon in the entire world and Dungeness crab. 

M+E: As groups begin to gather again, what should planners keep in mind when it comes to banquets and receptions? 

KB: We’re doing everything we can to make these events [memorable]. Right now, our focus [is on] what we can do to give our clientele and our guests the best possible experience. Our industry is still dealing with chronic staffing shortages, so we’ve been leaning toward buffets and family-style experiences. I don’t want somebody to commit to a 150-person plated dinner and then [have us] not be able to put out our best that day. 

The average event-goer spends long days sitting in meetings or professional development sessions, followed by an hour or two of standing and sipping cocktails. But holding your next big event at a spa resort opens a realm of possibilities for wellness breaks. Moving the action from the boardroom to the steam room can improve morale by combining business with pleasure—while also boosting attendees’ health. 

 

 Seattle is young and ever evolving, a dynamic city where newness is an integral part of the culture. And it has a long, proud history of hospitality.

In the early 1850s, Chief Seattle welcomed strangers to the banks of Puget Sound. Because of his kindness, they named their new settlement on Elliott Bay after him. “Seattle is a new city with an ancient culture,” notes Ken Workman, Chief Seattle’s great, great, great, great grandson. “It’s less than two grandmas old, as we like to say.” 

 

Many see Portland as a progressive city. No event venues are likely more in line with that world view than the two run by Ecotrust Events. Ecotrust, the events branch’s overarching nonprofit, leads a staggering number of social equity, economic opportunity, and environmental programs, from supporting Native American land rights to building intergenerational wealth for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) individuals. What does this have to do with hosting a corporate meeting? Everything.