Thursday, August 4, 2011

Millennium Farmers' Market Cooking Class

Who: Associate Editor Jennifer Chen
What: Millennium Restaurant's Farmers' Market Cooking Class
Where: San Francisco, Calif.

: July 30 & 31, 2011
Why: To take a cooking class at one of my favorite restaurants

The Scoop: It may come as no surprise that I love food and cooking. Millennium is one of my favorite restaurants, so when I read that Executive Chef Eric Tucker would be teaching a cooking class using produce picked at the local farmers' market, I jumped at the opportunity. 

Day One: Shopping Day!
We met at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market in San Francisco to shop for ingredients for Sunday's class. Instead of a set list of items, Eric asked us to find produce we were interested in and we'd base the menu off of what we bought. One of my classmates pointed out fresh squash blossoms so we grabbed a bagful. Next, we stopped by Hodo Soy to pick up fresh soymilk and yuba (tofu) skins. Eric said we would be making a silken tofu custard using the soymilk, and I was thrilled. I grew up eating tofu custard, but never attempted to make my own. Then we went to Blossom Bluff Farm to pick up ripe peaches. Farm Co-owner Fran Loewen gave us each a rare breed of plum to try. Along the way, we snagged snap peas, rose geranium, and abalone mushrooms.

Day Two: Let's Cook!
At 10am, I felt like I was ready for the vegan version of Top Chef, armed with my favorite knives and measuring cups. Eric and his team had coffee and freshly made cinnamon beignets, along with aprons, chefs jackets, and kitchen towels ready for us before we broke up into two teams to make variations on the same menu. My team and I started making the olive oil rose geranium sorbet. I never thought of adding olive oil to ice cream but it gave the subtly sweet ice cream a rich flavor. Next, we moved on to making the tofu custard, combining agar agar and kuzu to our fresh soymilk. Thomas, the line cook assisting Eric, taught me a simple trick to prepare kuzu. Slowly add your liquid then crush up the kuzu, then add more liquid. This way the kuzu turns into a smooth paste rather than a clumpy mess. While the other members of our team prepared the other menu items, we used the restaurant's industrial Vitamix to blend the almond garlic sauce for the panisse. 

Chef Eric Tucker overseeing the panisse and squash blossoms.

We took a break for lunch to taste the fruits of our labor. Ann Wheat, the co-owner of Millennium, joined us for our meals, relishing in our tasty dishes. It was back to the kitchen to make the sunchoke-corn risotto while the other team made a potato-corn risotto. Sunchokes look like knobby ginger root but taste like artichokes. Then we carefully opened up squash blossoms and stuffed them with a savory tofu cheese. Eric showed us how to properly batter them by dipping them in the dry cornmeal mixture, then the soymilk, and back into the cornmeal for a perfect coating. My teammates and I were chanting, "Dry, wet, dry," as we dropped the squash blossoms into the fryer.

What I really loved about the class was learning easy kitchen tips, how to make fresh produce into a stunning dish, and being able to say that I cooked at Millennium. Eric ran the class the way he runs his kitchen, having us taste along the way, creating recipes on the fly, and asking us to work together. When I walked out at 4:30pm, I was exhausted, happy, and full of delicious food. 

Silken tofu custard in a ponzu sauce with 
seared snap peas and yuba skins.

The complete menu is below. Check out our Facebook album for the complete visual tour of our class—from farmers' market to table.

Squash Blossoms, two ways, stuffed with tofu cheese, 
deep fried in cornmeal batter with a cilantro pesto dipping sauce, 
grilled served with a mushroom corn relish

Panisse (chickpea cakes) topped with 
a sweet-and-sour eggplant and tomato, 
served with an almond garlic sauce

Seared snap peas with yuba skins and silken tofu custard

Grilled romano beans with olives

Vanilla-glazed grilled abalone mushroom, 
served with a potato-corn risotto and a sunchoke-corn risotto

Spelt zucchini rum cake, topped with grilled peaches, 
served with lemon verbena sorbet and olive oil rose geranium sorbet

1 comment:

mmstp said...

What an outstanding opportunity! Now I'm hungry AND jealous!