A Passion for Good Food
I’ve never been to culinary school. I’ve attended a number of cooking classes, both here and in Europe, but nothing that awarded anything more than a certificate or an apron at the end of the day. For most of us, our cooking skills came from on the job training. We earned our kitchen creds by standing behind the stove three, or more, time a day, taking short orders from picky family members.
I’ve always thought of professional cooking schools as condensing all that time of trial and error into a few years and rewarding the survivors with a chef’s hat. But while in Memphis this week, I learned the truth, as I spoke with students and staff at L’Ecole Culinaire. I discovered what it means to be part of a first-class cooking school. From the glint in their eyes and excitement in their voice, it was obvious that these cooks had a passion for good food, made from fine produce, and presented well.
When I asked the student at my table for some advice I could pass on to my readers, one quickly declared, “Less is more.” Having recently archived several of my recipes that suffer from too many ingredients, I would agree. Another chef-in-training said that the trick to good mashed potatoes—besides using a ricer—was to dry the cooked, wet potatoes in the oven for a few minutes before mashing. I’ve not tried that yet.
You could tell that the L’Ecole team loved what they were doing, but these pictures are worth a thousand words. . . .
L’Ecole Culinaire Students Strut Their Stuff
We sat down to an elegant table, as fine as any you’d see in an upscale restaurant. In the center was an elevated glass stand that looked like a highway overpass for a dining table. The chef said we could spoon our way through the arrangement of edible flowers, cheeses, and nuts atop the bed of hummus while awaiting the first course. A true amuse bouche—an amusement for the mouth.
Photos of the various courses are shown below, except for the tenderloin, potatoes, parsnips and carrots. It was a charcoal entree flamed table side. While tasty, it was not at all photogenic—as meat and chocolate often are not.
I had to learn more about the Raindrop Cake, that looked like a jiggly drop of water at the far side of my dessert plate. The tasteless, translucent, calorie-free blob may be new to us, but the Japanese have been eating it for years. Huffington Post asked: “Is this the next cronut?” So what’s it made of? Mineral water and agar, a gelatin that comes from seaweed.
NYC-chef Darren Wong, who came up with the idea of using the “cake” in the US, calls it “light, delicate, a refreshing raindrop made for your mouth.” According to Wong, the dessert is tricky to prepare, because the cake must maintain its shape, but still have the texture of water. This is a playful dessert that adds a bit of whimsy to the last course. If you want to try this at home, here’s a video.
Well done, staff and students of L’Ecole Culinaire!
Waking Up to a Gourmet Breakfast
When I complimented the cheese grits, a student at my table, Shannon Seals, said she had cooked them from her family recipe. “My daddy, Henry, always made these grits,” she said proudly. I asked if she would be willing to share the recipe with my blog readers and she did. It begins with “pour a quart of heavy cream into a sauce pan.” When a recipe starts that way, it means you’re in for some down home goodness. Read on. . . .
Daddy Henry’s Cheese Grits
- 1 qt. heavy whipping cream (I use half milk; sorry Henry)
- 1 cup stone ground yellow grits, not instant
- Salt and white pepper
- 1 pt. mascarpone cheese
Pour cream into sauce pan and add grits. Bring to boil and cook according to package directions, stirring often. This should take 20 to 30 minutes. When cooked, stir in mascarpone cheese and seasonings. Add a jolt of hot sauce, if desired.