Thursday, April 30, 2009

Commuting with Cauliflower

I started to tease Shannon about showing up carrying heads of lettuce by the second week of class. We commute together. She works two blocks from me and lives out my way also, a perfect setup since we come from our offices and drag our disheveled, chef-uniformed selves home after each long day of work and class. Between parking downtown, bridge toll, and gas it's saving us (and the environment) a bundle. But the most valuable part of our setup, to me, is commuting with Shannon herself.

I mean, who shows up constantly carrying lettuce? Shannon is probably the only person I know who is more into farmers markets than me. She frequents the little weekday markets downtown. And during weekend spare hours, Shannon volunteers at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers Market. While she was at Stanford, like me, Shannon worked on "The Farm," coaxing vegetables out of the arid campus soil. She's developed a passion for sustainable agriculture, one of the main factors that drove her to Bauman, and makes her a die-hard farmer fan (you'd never find her in the TJs or Safeway produce sections).

But I've come to realize, now that we're really getting to know each other, that Shannon actually commutes with cauliflower mostly. Last week she raved about the price/weight ratio of the one she'd found that afternoon at the market and confessed her addiction. If it were me I'd have half the thing sitting around still after two weeks (I tried to lift it, it was heavier than your average bowling ball), but today she showed up again with a whole new cauliflower.

Commuting with cauliflower is fine if you drive it from one place to the next. But let me tell you, leaving cauliflower in a car for four hours gets stinky (and it was my car we drove today). I do like cauliflower though and I trust Shannon's expertise. So next time I pick some up I will make it the way Shannon suggests... by roasting it in a high heat oven (425 I think) with Indian spices and coconut oil, topped with herbs (cilantro ideally), nuts (especially pine nuts) and onions (either diced red or chopped green work). Maybe Shannon will be kind enough to post the actual recipe since she's the expert!

Coming soon... picture of Shannon with cauliflower (the two pictured separately will have to do for now). And by the way that stuff Shannon is sniffing is white truffle oil, which also happens to go very well with cauliflower.

Nothing like going for it...

This month I started the Natural Chef program at Bauman College in Berkeley, California. This was not an educational path I ever expected to take. Maybe submitting a recipe for "Yogurt Wheat Germ Balls" in the 2nd grade to our class cookbook should have been an early clue, or my weekly farmers market treks for produce oggling. But I've always been the responsible type... a class salutatorian brown-noser (with sky-high 80s midwestern bangs and plaid shirts to boot, sigh). I moved from Wisconsin's dairlyland to become a Stanford grad, then tech professional. College got me to the Bay Area and the tech bubble kept me here, but (dirty confession) it was really the number of restaurants that seduced me to the Bay Area (there are 4,285 restaurants listed under San Francisco on the restaurant review site Yelp), not a marketable diploma.

Fast forward more than 20 years after that fiber-rich but flavor-lacking 80s wheat germ craze to me today, a full grown avid foodie. My family teases me that before I could talk I hummed when I ate good food... and still do.

Over winter break my thoughtful Aunt Karen handed me the book "The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry," an account of Chef Kathleen Flinn's time at famed French cooking school Le Cordon Bleu. According to Entertainment Weekly's assessment, the book "should strike a chord with anyone who has dreamed... of following a passion for food."

Flinn's account of culinary school, while captivating, wasn't an experience I wanted to live. The rabbit butchering was enough to scare me away, and I associate French foods with cream sauces, and cream sauces with my lactose intolerence (cruel given my Wisconsin upbringing). The idea of going to the local California Culinary Academy had minimal appeal given its classical French foundation.

Then, one day, while on the hunt for recreational cooking classes, I read a local chef's bio who was a graduate of Bauman. "Huh, what's that place?" According to their website, a college for "holistic health and culinary arts." Interesting... a culinary program based on nutrition. No cream sauces. Seasonal, local, healthy food... the way I actually like to eat! The application deadline was in a month. I gathered references (thank you again Aunt Karen and Kathleen Miller), got permission to adjust my work schedule (I'm still working full time, the classes are evenings and weekend), and was thankful to grab one of the only 12 spots in class so close to the wire.

And here's the biggest shocker of all... I'm really doing it. I'm in culinary school. I didn't know what to expect or whether I'd like it. But now that I'm a month in I can honestly say this is the busiest and happiest I've been since high school. We're in the kitchen three out of four hours every class (the other hour is lecture), cooking recipes from that day's theme, and then we eat dinner together. My classmates are phenomenal, and each comes from a different background but common desire to eat good food that is also healthy. And not yogurt wheat germ healthy... but mind-blowingly delicious healthy. In fact, this is the best diet I've ever been on. Just good, healthy food. I can't wait to cook these dishes more for family and friends, but in the meantime starting by sharing more experiences via blog posts, photos and recipes here.

Next posting: classes we've had so far and the best recipes...