Hail and Farewell, Jon Rowley

My first meeting with Jon Rowley was some time back after he contacted me about an article I wrote about oysters for the Tucson Weekly. I was a neophyte food writer, but he had seen the piece and emailed me about our mutual admiration for the lovely bivalve.

We communicated back and forth for a bit and then he asked me if I wanted to be a judge for his Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition. The competition was relatively new, maybe one or two years old at the time, and the purpose was to find the perfect wine to pair with oysters. Preliminary rounds took place at restaurants in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Jon would fly me to LA, take me to the event and then I would fly home that same day. I was flattered and at first a little hesitant, but then I figured, why not? Research on Jon proved him to be a well-known figure in the culinary world especially when it came to the foods of the Northwest (Copperhead salmon was his baby) where he lived. We met at the airport, took a taxi to the Water Grill, where the wine and oysters awaited. We had lunch before the event started.

The oysters would be furnished by Taylor Shellfish, which was also a partner. Wines would come from a previously pared down list of American wineries that had submitted their product earlier.

We were to taste 12 wines and eat as many oysters that we saw fit.

Other judges included Russ Parsons, Mary Sue Millikan and Jonathan Gold, although I’ll admit I didn’t know who he was at the time.

Jon was charming and quite the host, balancing all the various duties of running the competition with keeping all the judges happy.

Afterwards I got to dine with the other judges and again with Jon and Russ Parsons. They then drove a pretty buzzed, totally sated me to the airport.

Over the years we kept in touch. I always made a point of writing about the Oyster Wine Competition and then years later when I knew I was going to Seattle for a wedding, I asked Jon for a restaurant recommendation. He suggested the Steelhead Diner. We weren’t able to meet up with each other, but I had a fantastic meal and thought about Jon and his avid love for food and wine,

I never got to eat one of his famous peach pies but I learned so many things from him, even though we hardly knew each other.

It’s odd, because I was thinking about Jon just the other day and wondering how he was doing. When I heard he had died, I had to stop for a minute and tell him thanks for taking a chance on a new food writer from Tucson and giving me one of the best experiences in my career.

Thank you, Jon Rowley. Here’s a toast – white wine and an oyster or two – to a truly great man who loved food and found a way to share the passion with people from all over the world.