September 18, 2008

My Epicurean Adventure Part 1, Farmer's Market Inspired Cooking

In the next couple of days I'm going to try and pour out some of the information in my over-saturated brain. (Where do you find a pensieve when you need one?) I'm full of new ideas because last Friday and Saturday I went to Traverse City's Epicurean Classic. This was an event that I was covering as a Foodbuzz correspondent. The amount and variety of food related content on Foodbuzz is outstanding. I'm happy to be a part of their community (and thrilled that they got me into this!) The Epicurean Classic did not disappoint. The classes were informative and diverse. The most difficult part was deciding which classes to attend. I've decided to write in three parts to share what I found most interesting.

My very first presentation also was one of my favorites. The theme was Farmer's Market Inspired Cooking. The chefs were Eric Patterson and Jennifer Blakeslee who are co-owners of The Cook's House restaurant in Traverse City. Opened the past April, The Cook's House is a 20 seat restaurant with the mission "to use, promote and celebrate local sustainable foods." They couldn't have picked a better place to do this! I love the availability and quality of food that Traverse City provides. It was a small but not insignificant factor in our move. Together the chefs prepared three dishes and went through some of the thought process that lead them from market to table.

Their first plate was tempura vegetables on a mixed green salad. Fairytale eggplant, nasturtiums, celery leaves and zucchini flowers were tossed in flour, then coated with a light batter and fried. Patterson suggests rice flour or Wondra for the tempura batter. The greens were dressed with Black Star Farms vert jus and olive oil. Zingerman's Detroit Street Brick (I've previously mentioned my adoration of this cheese) and sliced honey crisp apples completed the salad.

The second plate was pan fried lake trout with creamed corn and braised greens. The corn was fresh sweet corn from a place called Halls, blended together with onions (previously softened) and whole milk. The greens were kale and tatsoi braised with chicken stock and more onion and finished with butter. The trout was placed on top of the corn and greens and garnished with fleur de sel.

The final dish was a dessert soup made from Charantais melon (French breakfast melon). Fresh melon and melted Moomer's vanilla ice cream were blended together. The seasoning was adjusted with salt and balanced with ver jus. A scoop of matching melon sorbet was added for contrast in temperature and richness. Nasturtium flowers added as garnish after a suggestion by an audience member. The chef wished he had some lemoncello as well.

Throughout the presentation tips were given on how to develop a dish and a meal from a market shopping trip. The ones I felt were most valuable were:

-Don't be set in a menu when you shop. Look for what looks the best. Be choosy about your ingredients.

-Build onto the first ingredient to create your dish. Think about what else is available that would combine well.

-Keep things simple, do less to your ingredients.

The food was delicious and very much the style of food I aim to cook and eat at home, with the exception of all the dairy. The flavors were simple and vibrant. My favorite was the melon soup. The fragrant melon was highlighted beautifully. It probably wouldn't be even half as good with Tofutti though :( I'd love to have a meal at the restaurant, especially during the winter. They're confident about surviving the Michigan winter and hope to stay 90% local throughout. They've made plans with local greenhouses, including the one at Black Star Farms.

The Cook's House Restaurant
Zingerman's Detroit Street Brick (Buy some, you won't be sorry! I'm pouting over coming home without some myself. The Ann Arbor ladies have it good and can pop into Zingerman's anytime.)