Ok, that was not my response to the little elementary school girl attending this past Friday’s food demo for the Summer Conservation Academy (SCA) with her older sister. At least not out loud. But inside, that’s what I was saying (and that’s the PG-version)! Because this little girl didn’t even want to try the vegetable salad I made for all the students. No matter – she showed her courage, tried the zucchini, and loved it so much she got seconds. Then, she proclaimed it her favorite part of the meal. I’ve since adopted her as my daughter. Here she is (she’s the one on the left).
On Friday, June 8th, another successful food demo with the middle school SCA students went down. It was a bit of a frenetic mess to get everything prepped and prepared on time. Meetings went late, the original chosen fish (Barred Sand Bass) made me nervous, and the damn mandolin I purchased was just not acquiescing to my demands. However, like always, it was worth the trouble. The SCA kids were enthusiastic, supportive, and hungry. They polished off all the food, and they had room for seconds (and probably thirds, fourths, fifths . . . but I just didn’t have the resources, plus part of my responsibility is to limit portions so I don’t go all Cheesecake Factory on them).
Since this was the last demo of the school year, I wanted to do more than simply provide one item. Fortunately, I’m still in culinary school and the day before the demonstration with the kids, my culinary class and I cooked up some eats I knew wasn’t going to all be eaten. A lot of time, the food we prepare goes out to office staff and our teachers. But since this was the end of the day, people were full, and a lot of the food was going unclaimed, I figured “waste not, want not.” So I grabbed a quart of gaucho rice as well as some caramel cookies. Now I had my starch and my dessert for the kids. What should I make for protein and vegetable?
I needed to do something quick since I was in a rush. After choosing not to use the barred sand bass, I decided I’d go with an affordable, sustainable fish I had available because I’d recently used it to make some gravlax: steelhead trout.
This was a great alternative since steelhead trout is listed on the Monterrey Bay aquarium site as the best choice for rainbow trout (Best Choice = “Seafood in this category is abundant, well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.). I then made a Cajun Spice Rub I found in the indispensible book, The Cook’s Book. Peter Gordon wrote a chapter on Flavorings, and he provided the rub for salmon. Since steelhead is very similar to salmon and less of a concern in terms of fishing issues, I thought it would work as a nice substitute with the rub and it did! Super easy to prep and prepare. Since I didn’t have everything listed, I adapted and it worked out beautifully:
- 1 t ground cumin, 1 t ground garlic, 1 t Spanish paprika, 1/4 t ground thyme, 1 t ground oregano, 1 t Japanese 7 spice, T/T salt and black pepper (Note: t = teaspoon, T/T = To Taste)
I mixed all the dry spices together and rubbed them all over the trout, which I let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes, I simply pan seared the fish for a couple of minutes on each side to blacken.
While it rested, I made the zucchini salad. I had a lot of lemons and zucchini since it was summertime. The fruits were provided to me by Garret Ford, a 7th-grade Science teacher at King-Chavez Preparatory who grows a significant amount of his own food (thank you, Mr. Ford!). I wanted to demonstrate to the kids the versatility of different foods. Since I’d made the pajeon a couple of weeks before with zucchini, I wanted to show-case it again in a totally different, but delicious (and simple) way that highlighted the flavors. In Michael Ruhlman’s book, 20, he has a beautiful photo of a raw zucchini salad, so I decided to make that since it was a great seasonal dish with the fish. I didn’t totally follow his recipe, just the broad outline and most ingredients. I macerated some shallots and garlic in 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, while I tried to Julienne the zucchini with the mandolin. This did not go so well. The damn mandolin would just not follow my directions. As I stubbornly tried to set up the correct blades and dimensions, I realized I was wasting my time, so I just grabbed my knife and started slicing. I added the macerated shallots and lemon with the zucchini, some extra virgin olive oil, salt, pine nuts, parsley, orange zest, and BOOM! Salad! (Note: I had a little left-over paprika oil, so I used some of that as a garnish/flavoring on top of the salad to provide a nice color contrast.)
The cardboard serving dish really sells this!
At school, I had 10-12 hungry kids. I wasn’t able to demonstrate how the food was made, but we did discuss the fish and the cooking method. And who am I kidding? Right now, these kids just want to eat. They don’t want to hear all about production. Still, I talk a little about rubs, about the fish, about the beauty of vegetables because I think it’s important for them to have some understanding of what I’m cooking and they are eating. Little by little, my goal is to get them educated and excited about food and all the beauty involved with cooking/eating. And it helps me better understand cooking and kids when it becomes an active, rather than passive, education.
Anyways, the kids gobbled the food up, talked and laughed with each other, demonstrated real gratitude toward me (the best of which was the simple fact they ate all their food). Again, I was reinvigorated by youth. That’s the best part – they think I’m giving them something, and they don’t even know they’re giving me so much more.