“The Food Lab” has been a darling of cooks and foodies alike recently. This is a wonderful book and one that will boost your knowledge of the chemistry behind everything you eat. It’s a fascinating read and I recommend it for a good reference. Better yet, open the pages of Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking”. A lesser known gem about the science of cooking, this book has some wonderful charts and illustrations. Check out the photo viewed via a microscope of tempered and untempered chocolate to see how the molecular structure changes. It’s a book I reference so often. In class I ask the chefs to stump the chef. If they ask me a question I don’t know, I head right to this reference book to research it and build to my knowledge base. For a more “hands on” approach to learning the chemistry of cooking, young chefs can sign up for “Science in the Kitchen” camp this summer.
Every blue moon I happen upon a restaurant or a bakery which blows my mind. Mademoiselle Colette’s in Menlo Park at 816 Santa Cruz Avenue, California, is one of those. Their mastery of the fine art of pastry goes way beyond my know how and certainly way beyond my advanced baking camp this summer based on the Great British Baking Show. Their croissants have layer upon layer of light delicate butter and pastry and sell out quickly each day. I lean towards the dessert side of the counter each time I visit. Recently I devoured their lemon meringue tart which was to die for. Each bit of meringue was delicately piped with spiky tips on top a tart yet sweet layer of lemon curd.
Rumor has it that Colette’s will soon open in Palo Alto and I hope the rumor will become reality. It would be a treasure to have Colette’s right down the street from La Toque.
The Palo Alto Weekly does an admirable job supporting small businesses in town. La Toque was fortunate enough to be one of the 2 businesses picked for an article in the Neighborhood section reporting on how we aim to train the next generation of chefs. It was so flattering and I wanted to share the article with my readers. Read on to hear what they had to say.
The afternoon serenity of Sonali Patwardhan’s kitchen was suddenly broken as six middle and elementary school girls piled in through the back door on a recent weekday.
“We’re back! Let’s party!” one of the girls said, reaching for a brightly colored apron.
After hugging Patwardhan, they washed their hands, put up their hair and prepared to fix not only an after-school snack but an entire meal.
The girls — Evie Barclay, Poppy Barclay, Lily DeAndre, Edie Gollub, Ashley Meyer and Ginger Quigley — are among multiple groups of students that two Palo Alto neighborhood chefs have been teaching. Patwardhan, a Duveneck/St. Francis resident, and Cindy Roberts of Professorville each offer the classes in their homes. Both trained in the culinary arts: Patwardhan is a professional chef trained in India who worked at Delhi’s most prestigious hotels; Roberts studied at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and with Bay Area chocolate masters Alice Medrich, John Scharffenberger and Michael Recchiuti.
Both said they hope to instill the love for an art that is dying in the Bay Area. Adults these days might eschew the kitchen for the restaurant, but kids are clamoring to create their own meals, Patwardhan and Roberts said.
“Kids have so much passion in them. They give me a list of the things they want to learn. They go home and make dinner for their family and bring pictures of what they have made,” said Patwardhan, who has taught kids since 2009 through her Adding Spice to Life classes.
A white board on her kitchen island informed the young students of the week’s mouthwatering menu: guacamole, chicken and mushroom tacos, cilantro slaw, avocado crema and flan.
First on the class’s agenda: dessert.
The girls passed around a large bottle of vanilla extract and deeply breathed in its aroma.
“It smells so, so good,” Lily said.
They crowded around the stove to watch Patwardhan caramelize sugar for the flan. The white crystals magically turned to a golden liquid with the help of heat.
“It’s an exothermic reaction,” Evie, a Jordan Middle School sixth-grader, announced definitively, applying principles to the kitchen that she recently learned in science class.
As the flan baked in the oven, the students prepared the ingredients for chicken tacos, marinating the meat in garlic, salt and cumin and other herbs and spices.
Ashley reached to sample a piece of the marinating fowl.
“Can I try it?” she asked.
“No! It’s raw meat!” Patwardhan said, instilling awareness of sanitary practices.
Eighth-grader Edie, who is a vegetarian, prepared sliced portobello mushrooms for her entree. Patwardhan said she is mindful to add vegetarian and gluten-free dishes to the menu to accommodate students’ dietary needs and preferences.
Patwardhan also promotes adventuresome eating. There’s a rule in her kitchen: Never say, “I don’t like” or “hate.” Instead, students say, “I’m not fond of.”
Kitchen knives in hand, the students chopped and diced the vegetables for their individual guacamole bowls with precision and speed.
“Look at how colorful this is,” one of the girls said, rotating her bowl of bright green mashed fruit studded with chunks of tomatoes, mango and chopped green onions and garnished with blue tortilla chips.
“I don’t prefer my guacamole spicy; I like it salty,” said Poppy, a fourth-grader at Duveneck Elementary School.
Someone wanted to know about saffron; one of the seasoned cooks had an answer: “Saffron is in the middle of a flower — like in the ‘Little Buddha’ movie,” Evie said.
The six girls are old timers by now; each has attended between two and four of Patwardhan’s 12-week classes.
Inga Thurston, the Barclay sisters’ mother, said she signed her daughters up for Patwardhan’s classes after seeing a posting on a neighborhood Yahoo group. Evie and Poppy have taken to cooking wholeheartedly.
“They’ve graduated from assistant to the head chef at home,” she said.
Like Patwardhan, Roberts’ La Toque de Cindy California Culinary Experiences are geared to instill a love for cooking and eating.
In her white chef’s jacket and toque — a professional’s tall hat with vertical folds for every dish she has mastered — Roberts holds contests and trivia quizzes, cooking games and raffle tickets to spice up her cooking sessions. She has offered themed classes such as the “Best of NY Times,” “Easy Peasy Meals for Younger Kids” and “Pizza and Pasta Pros.” She has guest instructors, Christmas cookie baking and a class for older teens, “Chocolate Challengers.”
Roberts’ own love for cooking began at age 3. By kindergarten she had marked on an exam that cooking was “fun” and not “work,” she said. Later in life, she turned a hobby into a profession. She worked in tech at Apple and Netscape, and then she began teaching at the Palo Alto Adult School. Parents there asked her to teach their kids, so she began with summer camps in 2008. This year she is offering her first after-school programs.
“Middle school age is the sweet spot,” she said. “The kids are so enthusiastic,” Roberts said.
Both chefs’ classes also attract male students; Patwardhan has a class that is all boys, she said.
When classes end, the students continue to learn and have fun. A team of Roberts’ students have had a booth in the past at the Palo Alto Chili Cook Off, she said.
“One way to get amazing practice with your cooking and to build community among fellow home cooks is volunteering to cook for your local school or your favorite nonprofit organization,” she notes on her website, where she posts recipes and stories. “Think of it as a cooking ‘quilting bee’ of sorts, with a cause.”
More information about Patwardhan’s and Roberts’ classes can be found at addingspicetolife.com and cindytoquecooking.com.
California has been both blessed and hard hit by a deluge of rain, snowfall, drizzle and showers this winter. As I look at the next 10 day forecast hinting at many days of sunshine my spirits lift and I muse about the upcoming summer. For five years now La Toque has offered a summer camp program to young chefs. Many come from the neighborhood but some as far afield as France and China. From those living in walking distance or just in Palo Alto for a short visit, come join us to share your enthusiasm for cooking or to get some beginner know how in the kitchen. The camps are one third full so register soon. Don’t wait too long as space is limited to 12 students per session. Register for cooking in Palo Alto this summer here!
At the request of several enthusiastic La Toque de Cindy students, the school is just about to start its first ever after school cooking series. Open to budding chefs ages 9-14 and located in downtown Palo Alto.
Tasty Tuesdays, 3:30-5:30pm, January 31-March 28
Whirlwind Wednesdays, 1:30-3:30pm, February 1-March 29
For decades I have been annotating my cookbooks, recipe by recipe. For each recipe I attempt, I then write a recipe review. In each cookbook recipe the recipe is rated from one to 5 stars with some accompanying descriptive text. For recipes I save from the internet (and these are few and far between since I’m a bit old fashioned) the title of the recipe saved on my computer has an asterisk rating from “*” to “*****”. Ditto for all of those beloved recipes my friends and families send me. I hardly every look back on one to three star recipes. Those 4 and 5 star recipes are really the keepers. From time to time I’ll post a few 4 star cookie recipes.
I packed myself off to college with some of my favorite recipes handwritten in a binder which I’ll just call “Roberts Heritage Recipes”. This easy and delicious recipe was one of the first I hand wrote for that binder. It was a great lure to get my friends to come on over to study for calculus finals. Recently it has entered the curriculum of my Cookie Camp and sometimes in Easy Peasy Meals for Younger Kids. It’s still a great lure and a treat I promise to my younger campers for good behavior.
- 2 cups flour (8.8 oz, 250g)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1 ¼ tsp. ginger
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2/3 cup lard or shortening (4.8 oz, 130g)
- 1 cup sugar (8.1 oz, 230g)
- 1 egg (2 oz, 57g)
- ¼ cup molasses (3 oz, 85 g)
- ½ cup finely chopped walnuts (2.1 oz, 60g)
- 1/3 cup sugar (2,7 oz, 77g)
Preheat to 350. Sift together flour, soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt. Cream lard and 1 cup sugar. Add eggs and molasses. Add sifted dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Add nuts. Mix well. Shape dough into balls the size of a small walnut and roll in the remaining sugar. Place 2 in. apart. Cook for 10 min.
To celebrate California’s great cheese makers I recently headed to a driving tour of the farms and creameries. It was so fun and you can do it too. What a delicious way to support ourlocal farmers. In Marin County, California, Audrey heads up the first U.S. buffalo mozzarella farm and creamery in the United States. It was such a treat to spend time with her and her buffalos on a Saturday tour of the farm and creamery. As Audrey sells only to restaurants and her visitors, this is one way to obtain fresh mozzarella which lasts only 3-7 days. It’s great to know where our food comes from when we’re cooking a meal. Enjoy it on a caprese salad as I did as a way to maximize the ultimate pleasure of this fresh cheese with a super simple recipe.
- 8 ounces super fresh buffalo mozzarella
- 1-2 large tomatoes, preferably heirloom, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
- 1/8 cup basil leaves, sliced into strips
- 1/8 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Lay tomato slices flat on a plate. Slice a think slab of mozzarella. Lie it on top of the tomatoes. Top with basil. Drizzle olive oil on top. Sprinkle with salt an freshly ground pepper.