After Chocolate, Knife Skills and ServSafe we had a three part seminar with one of our instructor chefs on Fruits, Herbs & Spices. The first part covered fruits, the second spices and the final herbs. Chef is someone who is passionate about food, has a “make it taste good” philosophy and seems to very much enjoy teaching this series. I firmly believe that if your teacher/manager/mentor is excited and engaged your experience is that much better. Each evening started with a lecture and then moved into to the kitchen to taste and work with ingredients we might not have been familiar with, or if we were familiar with them, using them in different ways.
To start the fruit seminar we reviewed what distinguishes a fruit from a vegetable (seeds), the various fruit families (citrus, rose, squash, etc.), discussed “exotic” fruits and tasted fresh figs (meh). We then passed around some of the exotic fruits that our fabulous procurement team was able to find for us in New England in February and tasted them. Still not a fan of fresh papaya or mango. Nope. When we got into the kitchen we made pineapple and apple flowers (sliced on mandoline, dried in low oven and shaped), smoothies and fried avocado.
Having learned quite a bit and had fun during fruits, I was looking forward to spices . It ended up being one of my favorite seminars of the program. After reviewing the difference between spices and herbs (herbs are leafy green plants often used fresh while spices are generally used dried and come from various parts of a plant such as the berries, bark, root, stem, etc.) we discussed/smelled/tasted a selection of spices and then moved fairly quickly into the kitchen to watch Chef make mustard. Mustard is fairly straightforward to make, once you have the ingredients, and it was some of the best mustard I’ve had. Everything is better when it’s fresh and made with a large dose of care and fun. We happily sampled it with a selection of bread and cheese, total culinary school perk! In groups of two or on our own we made spiced sugar cookies, spiced butter cakes, five spice ice cream and pears sautéed with curry and jalapenos, along with baba ganoush and pita chips. An informative and delicious evening.
Unfortunately, I missed the final evening, herbs, but I heard that it was similar to spices, although the class didn’t enjoy the herbs based cooking projects as much as the fruit and spices ones. I would have liked to attend because I am always looking for new herbs to grow in pots that I can actually use! Alas, I’m not sorry I missed the lavender cookies. Anything lavender makes me feel like I’m eating old lady sadness.
This seminar also included a project, something that instills fear in the hearts of many culinary students, but after a liberal arts undergrad and a MBA I am a project producer extraordinaire. The deliverable was to create an original recipe using a lesser known or exotic fruit, spice and herb. The recipe had to include ingredients, method of preparation, plating instructions and source references. We were told to be creative and really think about flavors that would work together. I had a TON of fun with this project. On Chef’s recommendation I spent some time with The Flavor Bible looking at flavor profiles and combinations along with a fair amount of time Googling various fruits, herbs and spices. I also had some ideas from my internship and the general growing popularity of “different” dessert combinations that are starting to appear on restaurant menus, in cookbooks and online. In the end I had over a dozen ideas but knowing I didn’t want to have to do a dozen recipes, I decided to present my project as a dessert menu for a fictitious café, Fruits, Herbs & Spices. I then noted that recipes for the three components of my feature dessert, A Trio of Lunchbox Treats…All Grown Up! would follow. Chef liked the project and I’ve decided that this summer I’d like to “Make the Menu” in the style of the popular food blog “Bake the Book”. Hopefully that will come together! Here’s the menu: