Last week, I had the pleasure of photographing the December event hosted by Fresh Starts Chef Events, a project to support Homeward Bound of Marin, a homeless shelter in Marin County, California, providing food, shelter and job training for those in need. This month’s event was a delicious East Meets West Cooking Event, featuring two chefs, Chef John Ash of acclaimed Santa Rosa restaurant, John Ash & Co., and Chef Mei Ibach, instructor at Fresh Starts Culinary Academy.
Chef John Ash is considered by many to be the founder of the farm to table culinary movement in the United States and the “Father of the Wine Country Movement”. He was named the culinary instructor of the year in 2008 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals and is also a 2014 James Beard Foundation winner for his 2013 cookbook, “Culinary Birds: The Ultimate Poultry Cookbook” for best cookbook in a single subject. Chef Ash’s restaurant was the first restaurant in Northern California wine country to “focus on local, seasonal ingredients used to create dishes that complemented the wines being made in the region.” Chef Ash has co-hosted a radio show for more than 27 years on KSRO (1350 AM) and has also hosted two TV shows on the Food Network. He is an adjunct instructor at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in the Napa Valley and currently travels worldwide teaching a variety of cooking classes.
Chef Mei Ibach was born and raised in a Malaysian fishing village near Singapore and currently teaches at a variety of culinary schools throughout Sonoma County and the North Bay. She is of Chinese descent and her recipes include the exotic spices and flavors of China, East India and Malay-Indonesia and the cooking of the sub-culture known as “Nnoya – Food of Love,” which developed out of the marriage of Chinese men to Malay women.
Guests were greeted at their tables with a delicious Flatbread/Roti (similar to a Chinese green onion pancake without the green onions) served with a creamy Curry Dipping Sauce made of lentil, okra, tomato, curry powder, and coconut milk.
Chef Ibach shared her recipe for Malaysian Prawn Satay with Peanut Sauce paired with Asian Cole Slaw with Apple, Jicama and Cabbage. She began by brining her shrimp with a mixture of lemongrass, salt and brown sugar, so that the shrimp would stay succulent during the cooking process. Chef Ibach added that lemongrass is highly favored in Malaysia for its medicinal properties, and the oil is often used on insect bites.
Here she is spreading the brine mixture on the shrimp skewers.
The dressing for the slaw was made with plum sauce, lime juice, palm sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, jalapeno peppers and sesame seeds.
Chef Ibach revealed that the special ingredient found in many peanut sauces is condensed milk. I love a good peanut sauce — this one was made from thai red chili paste, paprika, fresh ground peanuts, chicken broth, palm sugar and lime juice. You can read about the time I practically licked a bowl of peanut sauce clean at a restaurant to the dismay of my husband.
Chef Ash made a tasty Vietnamese Chicken and Shrimp Meatball Soup.
Chef Ash noted that for the best flavor, lime juice is added both to the cooking soup pot as well as after it is plated. This reminded me of a Vietnamese bowl of pho without the “mystery meat meatballs” often found at a lot of Vietnamese restaurants. I loved how these meatballs were fresh and flavorful and actually tasted like chicken and shrimp!
I was already getting full by this time, but I had to save room for the main course, Braised Short Ribs with Soft Polenta. This dish was soooo good! Short Ribs have always been a favorite of mine (I will almost always order them when I see them on a restaurant menu, along with duck breast or scallops), and these were melt-in-your-mouth! What better side dish to go with short ribs than polenta mixed with blue cheese? And not just any blue cheese — Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese (of which I’ve bought a huge chunk of from Costco in the past for no reason but just to have it). My husband got me on blue cheese, and now I love it with everything!
Chef Ash instructed that it’s important to brown the short ribs first and then pour the hot liquid over the ribs.
Chef Ash and Chef Ibach made a great teaching partnership and have been friends for many years. They both emphasized the “Four Flavor Gods” – salt (from fish sauce), sour (lime juice, tamarind or rice vinegar), sweet (sugar) and heat (chili peppers or chili garlic sauce).
Each table shared a plate of Chinese Broccoli (Kai Lan) with Oyster Sauce in the traditional Asian family-style way of eating.
This huge pot is filled with chopped garlic and oil — the smell in the kitchen was heavenly!
Chef Ibach shared that the chinese broccoli is blanched first with salt to keep the color of the greens. Then corn syrup is added to make the greens shiny.
The dessert of the evening was a Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Blueberries which Chef Ash joked was basically white jello. The goat cheese imparted such an interesting flavor making the dish so creamy and decadent!
Look at all these blueberries! They remind me of a scene from an old I Love Lucy show where she is stomping on grapes (although these are blueberries, but same difference ;).
Come back next month for Farm to Table with Chef Tony Najiola of Central Market in Petaluma, California. He’s making winter citrus salad, chicken bomba, basil mashed potatoes and baked apple-cranberry crisp — yum!
I loved all the dishes so much at this event, it was hard for me to pick just one recipe to share! But as it’s been chilly lately, and as I recently purchased an Instant Pot (“What is that?” you may be asking), I would love to try cooking the short ribs in it with some modifications. Enjoy the recipe!
Braised Short Ribs with Soft Polenta
Makes 4 to 6 servings
For the short ribs:
3 pounds boneless short ribs, trimmed of fat
Salt and pepper
4 Tb. olive oil
6 large cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups diced white onions
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
2 cups chopped mushrooms
2 cups canned diced tomatoes
1 bottle dry red wine
3 cups rich beef, chicken or vegetable stock
1 Tb. each chopped fresh rosemary and thyme (2 teaspoons dried)
2 tsp. fennel seed
1 Tb. cornstarch softened in 1/3 cup wine or water
For the polenta:
4 cups chicken stock or water
1 cup yellow polenta
2 Tb. butter
1/2 cup Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese
Salt and pepper
For the short ribs:
1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Season short ribs generously with salt and pepper.
2. Heat 3 Tb. oil in deep, heavy bottomed pot to hold short ribs in one layer. Brown ribs on all sides over medium-high heat.
3. Remove short ribs from pot and set aside. Discard all but 2 Tb. fat from pot.
4. Add garlic, onions, carrot, celery and mushrooms to pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned.
5. Add tomatoes, wine and stock. Bring to boil. Add short ribs, herbs and fennel seed. Cover with lid or foil and braise in oven for 2 1/2 hours or until very tender.
6. Transfer ribs to platter. Strain cooking juices through fine strainer, discarding solids. Remove and discard as much fat as possible.
7. Return strained juices to pot. Over high heat, reduce until lightly thickened and concentrated, about 10-15 minutes. Thicken, as desired, by whisking in cornstarch mixture. Add short ribs back and reheat.
For the polenta:
1. Bring stock to a boil in deep saucepan. Gradually whisk in polenta and reduce heat to medium.
2. Cook while stirring regularly until polenta is thick and pulling away form sides of pan, about 15 minutes.
3. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve. If it gets too thick, stir in a bit more stock or water.
4. Just before serving, stir in butter and cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.