April 29, 2012

Help your seasonings stick

Recently I had the privilege and the pleasure of serving as a guest cooking student under the tutelage of Chef Meir Brown of CafeMed (www.cafemedrestaurant.com) in Bakersfield. Kaiser Permanenete there sponsored the event as a fund raiser for CASA (www.kerncasa.org). CASA sounds like a wonderful organization that trains volunteers to be advocates for children as they move through the foster child system including court hearings, etc. Many touching stories were told about the people of Bakersfield who give so much back to their community.

I absolutely loved being to hang out with a real chef for a couple hours with the overhead mirror, a six burner Viking plus grill, and a choice of sharp knives. He has run this very successful restaurant for 21 years. On a Friday night, it was packed indoors and outdoors in addition to our event in a separate demo kitchen space.

And, no wonder. The Chef has a very basic philosophy. All ingredients he uses for hundreds of meals a day is fresh except for tomato paste and canned whole tomatoes sometimes. Eating great tasting food freshly prepared all the time can change your future. You can do it at home, and, when you do go out, try to find restaurants like this.

I learned a lot cooking with him. After he would hone one of his knives on the steel (he does 90% of the knife work with a Santoku shape with a big enough blade so his knuckles don't hit the cutting board), he rested the blade on his thumbnail at an angle and applied very slight pressure. If the knife is dull, it slides along the nail. If it "catches", your knife is sharp. Try this with your knives at home. The chef sharpens his knives on a whetstone like most chefs but only every once in awhile. He is totally fine with using an inexpensive sharpener like the V-shaped ceramic stick sharpeners. The important thing is to sharpen your knives then fine tune them with the steel when they slide off your thumbnail.

Sometimes you season fish, chicken, or meat with spices and other seasonings. It helps to mix them all together first rather than adding them in succession to the food eg don't add salt, then pepper, and then add the spice mix. Seasonings stick best to food that is moist. Adding seasoning already mixed insures you get all the flavors. Salting first dries the surface and anything else won't adhere as well.

Chef Meir knows how to cook healthy and incredibly tasty food. I give his restaurant 4 stars (even though I have never been an official food critic). More from him in a later post ---- mashed celery root and potatoes.