Last year, I was invited to the Gala Dinner for Chefs’ Holidays, and thought it pretty amazing. But Chefs’ Holidays is so much more than just the Dinner at the end. This morning a few of us went to see John Stewart and Duskie Estes give a cooking demonstration in the Great Hall at The Ahwahnee. As the kind of person who tends to ‘heat things’ rather than actually ‘cook’, I wasn’t sure what, if anything I’d get out of this, and was pleased to be going with someone who actually follows cooking. During the presentation, it was so exceptional that she actually described herself as ‘giddy’.
We learned to make fresh pasta, Cappellacci di Zucca + Sage Browned Butter, and a delicious Lemon and Huckleberry Napoleon desert, which we were then able to sample afterward. The demonstration was a bunch of cooking, a bit of storytelling, and plenty of time for the audience to ask questions. Recipes are provided, and I wish I’d had the forethought to bring a pen to take notes. I noticed that many of the other guests were. We got tips on everything from texture, how to tell if something is done, to how long various items could be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
A few random highlights? Spices like nutmeg were introduced into Italian cooking at a time when possessing such spices was considered a mark of wealth. It doesn’t take that long to make your own fresh pasta, but it helps to know what you’re doing – fold often for good tooth. Use good wine in your cooking. Flavor is flavor. Turns out, according to one of America’s best and brightest chefs, the technical term to describe over-cooked pasta is “Just Gross”. Lemon cream can be used on everything – the Napoleons that we had, icing for doughnuts, dip for fruit, topping for waffles… Once made, it will keep for a few weeks, so make some and then just have it around. [Of course, it is made of eggs, butter, sugar, lemons and more eggs, so maybe it shouldn’t be the centerpiece of your diet.] Plan ahead and thaw Filo dough the day before in the refrigerator, it will handle better that way than preserved under a wet cloth. Duskie thinks chefs create a lot of trouble for themselves when they try to cram things in quickly.
Duskie and John follow impressive sustainable cooking practices – raising their own chickens, and growing approximately 30% of the vegetables that they use at their restaurants. Harvesting is just part of prep, in their kitchens. They incorporate heirloom varieties whenever possible for their exceptionally rich flavor, further supporting local agriculture, because these varieties often do not package and ship well. Plus, they are passionate about a ‘snout to tail’ philosophy, which uses all parts of an animal, and about using antibiotic and hormone free meats. You can find out more about them, and their restaurants, Bovolo and Zazu.