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Friday, May 1, 2009

Do The Local Motion With Seasonal Veggies!

At the midway point in our Natural Foods Chef Training it was all about seasonal and local vegetables. If you care about the sources of your food here are four great links to bookmark.

1. The Community Alliance with Family Farmers. Here you will find great information on buying fresh from local farms. www.caff.org

2. Food Routes is the place to learn about buying local, sustainable agriculture, grass fed and organic products and food safety. www.foodroutes.org

3. Locavores is a group of Northern Californians who are challenging themselves to eat only foods grown or harvested within a 100 mile radius of San Francisco for an entire month. www.locavores.com

4. Sustainable Table celebrates local sustainable food, educates consumers on food-related issues and works to build a community through food. www.sustainabletable.org

What better way to kick off our session on local produce than with a visit from Mark Mulcahy. Mark is the founder of Organic Options, a leading organic education and consulting company. Mark is a prominent speaker and moderator at natural food events as well as a regular industry columnist and producer of his own monthly newsletter, Fresh Perspectives. Mark also just happens to be the produce coordinator for the New Leaf Market so he gave us many insights on the Santa Cruz food scene.

Both our cart and counter definitely overflowed with super fresh, organic, locally grown veggies tonight. The aromas hit our noses and the essences sparked our senses the instant we walked into class.

However, Chef Jennifer Brewer made us earn our choice of dishes to prepare with a bit of a palette challenge. We broke into groups and were asked to identify eight mystery ingredients in a dip she made. This type of taste testing is a key element in cooking. It was also lots of fun to pick out flavors, some of which were obvious and many quite subtle in the mix. The benign celery sticks served as a logical scooping device.

And then the magic began when we performed a variety of cooking techniques on all these beautiful works of nature. My group came in second place in the taste test and we chose to make the Spring Vegetable Ragout over Grilled Polenta Wedges. We actually shelled the English peas and dismembered artichokes just to get to the hearts. The whole dish came together beautifully simmering in dry white wine, vegetable stock and fresh thyme.

There was also no shortage of Asian aromas filling the cook top as another group was tossing together a Shrimp Stir Fry while simultaneously making a Vegetable Coconut Curry. If those flavors weren't bold enough, they also made Thai Curry Paste.

And just when I thought we had hit all the flavor bases along came an amazing Composed Salad with White Beans in a Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette. A composed salad is such a refreshing way to serve and present. Rather than tossing the ingredients together in a traditional fashion they are arranged in separate mounds. It is both upscale and playful at the same time.

And speaking of playful, my parting shot catches Jenny (on the right) and her trusty assistant, Lydia Simmons partaking in the evening's fare. It always makes the students feel good when the pros dig in and enjoy our efforts.

Until next week from the Land of Nutritious & Tasty,
That Carl Guy

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