Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cooking With Chiles

The reason I was in downtown Los Angeles Saturday was to attend a cooking demonstration put on by my two most favorite chefs in the world--Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill and Ciudad. The topic of the demo was "Cooking with Chiles".
I'm really happy with my skill level when it comes to most aspects of cooking--except for chiles. I use chiles of all types often, but somehow I'm never quite secure in the knowledge if something will be too hot or not hot enough. I was hoping to discover the key to chile understanding. Something along the line of when Homer Simpson eats The Merciless Peppers of Quetzlzacatenango.
Participants were offered Mojitos as we waited for the class to begin. Just the thing on a hot day. The seating was assigned, and I totally scored a front row seat. The Mojitos kept on coming.
The chefs began the class talking about their backgrounds and then started with the first recipe: Jamaican Jerk Rum Punch. Rum is infused with a jerk mixture of cinnamon, allspice, peppercorns and habanero peppers, then added to a citrus juice blend. Pretty tasty with a definite kick from the habanero.
As the chefs demonstrated the recipes, they talked about the chiles being used and showed how to prepare them. They also showed us some other interesting ingredients, such as Oaxacan String Cheese. I'm definitely going to get some of that. Another item new to me was bacalao. I'd heard of it but never used it. I pretty much knew all the chile stuff, but there were two types that were new to me: marash chili--a dried, ground chile with a sweet flavor and some Korean chile threads.
We were served each dish as it was being demonstrated. The food we were eating was prepared in the main kitchen, but was the same as what was being demonstrated.

The menu items:
Tortilla Soup
Seared Shishito Peppers with Oaxacan String Cheese
Chile-Rubbed Black Cod with a Spicy Cilantro Sauce and Preserved Lemons
Poblano stuffed with Bacalao Saffron Mashed Potatoes
Mayan Spiced Hot Chocolate
Aji Amarillo Ginger Pot de Creme
Chocolate Cinnamon Churros

The cod was rubbed with the marash chili, then seared and then served over the stuffed poblano. Fish and mashed potatoes....can't get better than that! It was insanely good. The tortilla soup was so smooth and creamy, but didn't have a drop of dairy in it.

Throughout the demonstration, the chefs kept up a lively banter--they were hilarious and kept pitching their various products, like glassware, books and pepper grinders. They obviously love what they do and it shows.
After the class was over Chef Susan happened to stop by my table and said hi to me and my three table-mates. I was pretty excited to finally meet one of my idols and have a chance to tell her how she and MarySue inspired me to move to Maui and try my hand at cooking professionally. I didn't cry or anything, but I don't think I made a really great impression either. When she asked if I was still cooking, I said's not a good job for when you get old. Since we're about the same age, I guess it could be inferred that I was implying that she might be too old for it, too. Which is totally not the case. I started my cooking career at 34, had no formal training, started at the bottom and would probably be still doing prep work when I was 60. She, on the other hand is a super-star chef with many brilliant years ahead. I should just learn to keep my mouth shut. 
The class was great and I will definitely attend another.


Maggie said...

Just a commenent on "bubblers" - if you've ever been to Portland Oregon, you will see - downtown area - what are affectionately known as "Benson Bubblers"....Just Google Image "benson bubbler"....!

MaryRuth said...

Maggie--Last year when I visited Portland I freaked out when I saw those bubblers! I had a wonderful time. There were so many similarities between Milwaukee and Portland, I made a post about it.

Miss Healthypants said...

OK, now I'm hungry!! :)

Hey, I didn't know you were a career-cook! Where have you worked? I would love to hear about the jobs that you've had! :)

MaryRuth said...

MHP--I had a mid-life crisis and did the cooking thing for 5 years on Maui. One of these days I really should make a post about that. I had some really great experiences. I was sort of saving it for the "Movie of the Week" though. =)

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