Each month, I have the privilege of photographing the cooking classes 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. In an attempt to streamline my posts about the events, I decided to share with you some highlights from the chef events from the past three months.
The new year began with the January event, “Revel in the Magic of Mushrooms” presented by Chef John Ash and Chef Mei Ibach. Chef John Ash, renowned chef, author, and food and wine educator, is best known as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine” and is the owner of John Ash & Company, in Santa Rosa, California. Chef Mei Ibach is one of the wonderful teaching chefs for Fresh Starts Culinary Academy. The entire menu of the evening revolved around mushrooms, including the dessert! I’m a big mushroom fan, so I was excited to see what these world-class chefs would come up with. The four-course menu was accompanied by wines from famed Merry Edwards Winery.
The menu began with Zen Lemongrass Coconut Soup with Clamshell Mushrooms. So flavorful and tasty! Chef Ibach does a wonderful job mixing sweet, salty, spicy and sour in her dishes.
The soup was followed by Grilled Trumpet Royale Mushroom Salad with Peppered Maple Walnuts and Redwood Hill Farms Bucheret.
I love how that honey is slowly oozing out and everyone is patiently waiting for that sweet goodness!
The main course was a Pan-Roasted Verlasso Salmon with Beggar’s Purse of Maitake Mushrooms.
These little purses made for a beautiful presentation — and who doesn’t love to receive a present with their meal!
And the finale, Candied Nameko Mushrooms with Thai Basil-Infused Panna Cotta.
The dessert was garnished with dried lotus root — a wonderful crispy complement to the creamy panna cotta and chewy candied mushrooms.
The February Event featured Chef Joanne Weir, who presented dishes from her new book, “Kitchen Gyspy.” Chef Weir is a wonderful storyteller, and just like her book, her teaching is infused with charming stories of how her recipes came about. She is the owner of the restaurant, “Copita Tequileria & Comida” in Sausalito, CA and is the host of the show, “Joanne Weir Gets Fresh.”
Her menu began with a creamy Carrot Soup with Anise.
I have never had carrot soup before, so it was fun to try this silky, sweet and savory soup.
The main course was Sea Bass with Ribbon Squash Skewers and Pistachio-Mint Salsa Verde, accompanied by Pearl Couscous with Lemon and Parsley.
Pearl or Israeli couscous is one of my favorite accompaniments to meat dishes. I used to have to go to mediterranean grocery stores to find it, but I love how you can now get it at your local Trader Joe’s.
The salsa verde can be used not only with fish, but also chicken, beef or shrimp.
The dessert was a delicious Chocolate Pave with Mint Creme Anglaise.
Once again, Chef Weir auctioned off the tray of dessert she made with all the proceeds going to Homeward Bound.
March’s Chef Event featured Chef Janet Fletcher, a multiple James Beard award-winning cookbook author and former Chez Panisse chef.
She shared her love of yogurt, which is showcased in her new cookbook, “Yogurt: Sweet & Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner.”
Chef Fletcher’s menu began with Warm Flatbread with Whipped Feta, Radishes and Spring Herbs. So pretty with all the edible flowers and herbs!
The salad was Escarole with Avocado and Blood Oranges.
The secrets ingredient in the salad was fish sauce, which is akin to liquid anchovy, which gives the dressing a wonderful umami flavor. I throw fish sauce in everything — scrambled eggs, soups, even my chili!
The main course was a delicious Harissa-Roasted Chicken with Chick Peas, Red Onions and Carrots. Harissa, which is a hot red pepper paste, added a wonderful spicy kick to the chicken, and the yogurt makes a great marinade as the lactic acid tenderizes the chicken and the sugar encourages browning.
And finally, a simple Yogurt Mousse with Orange Marmalade and Toasted Almonds.
This was one of my favorite desserts from all the chef events — creamy and light with the tartness of the orange marmalade. As I’m getting older, I find it harder to eat rich, heavy desserts, especially late in the evening (yes, 8:30PM is late for me nowadays!), so this was a perfect ending to a delicious meal!
Whew – that’s a lot of eating! I love all the wonderful stories and recipes these chefs shared with us — these truly are great events for a wonderful cause! Check back next month for Michelle Tam, author of the popular, Nom Nom Paleo! What are you eating nowadays that you simply can’t get enough of? Please share — I’d love to hear!