When welcoming a crowd at Fresh Starts Chef Events, organizers like to say the guest experience is akin to enjoying a show from the Food Network, but they’re wrong. They’re so much better.
After all, these benefit events for Homeward Bound of Marin let guests ask questions and talk to the chefs. They can touch herbs passed around the tables, experience the aromas of cooking—and then eat these very same dishes (and on May 8, taste the wines delivered directly from the winegrower.)
Culinary Institute of America grads Rajat Parr and Adam Sobel, whose paths crossed before both came to RN74 restaurant in San Francisco, appeared recently in the Fresh Starts kitchen to show they’ve come pretty darn close to perfecting the art of food and wine pairing.
Raj, co-author of the James Beard Award-winning book “Secrets of the Sommeliers,” has a small winery called Sandhi in Santa Barbara County. He poured a chardonnay and a pinot noir, both very much appreciated by guests.
Adam began cooking as a young child alongside his grandmother. He says inspiration comes to him at farmers markets, where he procures many ingredients for his sought-after dishes that emphasize simple preparation and fresh, seasonal ingredients.
His Chilled English Pea Soup with Dungeness Crab and Lemon Verbena –really a soup and salad in one bowl — was a perfect example. Chef Adam added that Fresh Starts Culinary Academy students, who prepared the recipe for guests, had “nailed it”—its beautiful shade of green and fresh taste were the epitome of spring. The Sandhi chardonnay—crisp, unoaked, and inspired by French chablis—was the ideal complement.
The chef’s second dish, Semolina Cavatelli with Sheep’s Early Girl Tomatoes, Pecorino, Mint and Bacon, was adapted from the recipe that he and his grandmother made together. With his demonstration coming a bit too early even for Early Girl tomatoes, Chef Adam used Romas and said canned San Marzano plum tomatoes would be a fine substitute out of season. Though he insisted the handmade pasta is simple, many of us watching weren’t so sure. He assured us, though, that “you can cook the hell out of these and they’re not going to get mushy or soft.”
The evening ended with a refreshing dessert of lemon mousse and avocado mousse made by Fresh Starts students from an in-house recipe. In total, the menu offered a classic salute to spring. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos by Neely Wang.
Chilled English Pea Soup with Dungeness Crab & Lemon Verbena — Serves 6 – 8
For the broth
2 quarts water
½ pound pea tendrils (reserve some fresh for garnish)
2 pounds snap peas
2 pounds snow peas
½ pound English peas, shelled and blanched, for garnish
Salt to taste
Bring water to boil in large pot, add salt. Blanch greens separately in the pot, one after the other, about 2 minutes for each batch. Remove greens with slotted spoon directly to a bowl of ice water, then drain.
Divide the blanched greens into four batches for the blender.
Blend each batch at high speed, about 20 to 30 seconds.
Strain through a chinois two times. Be careful not to push through with a ladle; tap on the chinois with your hand to encourage the liquid to pass through.
Combine all the batches, stir and correct seasoning. Chill in the fridge until needed.
For the crab
¼ teaspoon lime zest
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon verbena, chopped
1 bunch chives, trimmed and sliced
1 pound Dungeness crab meat
Salt to taste
In a mixing bowl, mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Add salt as desired.
Add just enough lemon aioli to bind crab; reserve the rest. Keep cold until dish is assembled.
For the aioli
6 egg yolks
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
¼ cup Dijon mustard
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup canola oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Using a food processor, mix egg yolks with garlic and mustard.
Add the oils and mix. Add lemon juice and mix.
Add salt and pepper to taste, mix briefly.
To assemble: Divide crab into bowls. Pour cooled pea broth around the crab. Garnish each bowl with pea tendrils and a few English peas.