James Beard Foundation’s Taste America!
Along with the catering and production cook work I’ve been doing to pursue my fledgling culinary career, I also fit in some time this weekend to help out with a couple of chefs’ demos that were part of the New York City leg of the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America! celebration of regional food across the country. On Saturday, at the Hell’s Kitchen location of Sur La Table, two chefs presented their recipes and gave attendees a peek into their culinary philosophies. From California, Daniel Patterson the executive chef of Coi restaurant in San Francisco, demonstrated how to make one of his signature soups. From this coast, cookbook author and chef Maricel Presilla came in from Hoboken, New Jersey to talk about mole’ and Latin American flavor influences.
Before the demo started, Chef Patterson spent a few minutes introducing himself to the group of assistants who would be helping out during the mini-lesson, setting the stage for his casual, yet informative communications style that combines his passion for and knowledge of working with season and hyper-local ingredients. His new cookbook, which he was also promoting on this tour, Coi is part recipes, part stories, and part inspirational, as he put it. As he whipped up a batch of Sunchoke Soup, he talked about how this dish is representative on many levels of the way that he and his colleagues cook at their restaurant.
They take a local and seasonal item, like the sunchoke, and then build up a recipe using each aspect of the product. Sunflower seeds are ground in a mortar and pestle and mixed with oil, the young greens are used as garnish and thinly-sliced, raw sunchokes are placed on the final dish. The sunchokes themselves are also puréed and mixed with an emulsion of chanterelle mushrooms, giving the soup added depth of flavor and an extra dimension of earthy, meatiness. Attendees raved about the samples that we presented to them, and there were just a few bowls left for the staff to enjoy, too. This soup seemed to capture the essence of autumn in each bite with a feel of afternoons walking through a damp field or shuffling feet moving through piles of fallen leaves.
The next demo took us south to warmer climes. Maricel Presilla, the award-winning author of the Latin American cooking tome, Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America. She explained to us that mole’ was traditionally a dish served at celebrations and that it has a long history across many Latin American civilizations. When chocolate was used in the recipe, it was as a sign of prestige, as it was very expensive. She also talked to us about the kinds of peppers that are used in the dish and how to prepare them for putting into mole’.
Then, the tasting portion of the program was ready. Attendees were treated to Chef Presilla’s hand-rolled enchiladas, steamed for us on-site served with a generous helping of the mole’ that she had made for us. The deep, rich flavor and silken texture with slightly-spiced, mildly-peppery cocoa notes hit every area of my palate and made me want to lick the prep bowl to get every drop out of it. This was a fantastic display of the range of cuisines and cultures that make up our culinary landscape in this country, which just encourages me to want to explore more of it.