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MILAN, Ohio Sara Moulton, host of Food Network s Sara s Secrets, was in vegetable paradise last weekend.
As the guest of honor at a 12-course gala dinner on July 16 and the emcee of the Star Chef cook-off held the next afternoon at the Grand Tasting of the third annual Celebration of Vegetables held at the CulinaryVegetable Institute, she was surrounded by Ohio s heirloom and mini vegetables. The vegetables we ate were extraordinary, said Moulton.
The experience was fitting. I m trying to get the home cook into the kitchen, she said. I want people to stop eating processed food and fast food. Starting with fresh ingredients, it s so easy [to cook healthy], she said.
People are asking me are people eating better and cooking more? she told the 130 guests at the start of the gala dinner. (It benefitted the Veggie U, the Culinary Vegetable Institute s non-profit organization dedicated to making fourth-graders across the country more aware of good nutrition and eating habits.)
Cooks are back to using mushroom soup in a can for a sauce. At the same time, real foodies are using ingredients such as panko bread crumbs and fennel. Both trends are going on at the same time.
Still, she noted the reliance on processed food and fast food and the crisis in obesity. Yet, I ve had some awful organic produce because the farmers didn t grow it properly. Don t rush growing produce and use the right seeds. You can grow organic produce and make a profit, she said pointing to the success of the Chef s Garden in Huron.
Indeed, there could hardly be a better place to tell this story than the 11,000-square-foot retreat and learning center, which is an offshoot of the Chef s Garden in Huron. Although Moulton uses the microgreens at Gourmet magazine, where she is executive chef, this was her first visit to the center.
The specialty farm which grew out of the Jones family farm is run by Bob L. Jones and his sons, Lee and Bob N. Jones. It provides heirloom produce, Chef s Garden microgreens, and interesting, flavorful fruits and vegetables to this country s premier chefs and restaurants.
The five-hour gala dinner featured 12 top chefs using those signature miniature vegetables that Chef s Garden grows, and wines paired with each course. (When the chefs at the gala dinner were hampered by rolling thunderstorms and a loss of electrical power, auxiliary power for electricity and outdoor Evo circular grills were used.)
Starting with Cold Tomato Soup with Cucumber and Watermelon from Chef Jonathan Snyder of Prime at the Bellagio in Las Vegas to the 12th course dessert created by Chef Della Gossett of Charlie Trotter s in Chicago, the menu was a forum for the chefs.
The event also showcased Moulton, who is as at home in the television kitchen and the magazine dining room as she is in the restaurant kitchen and the home kitchen.
This is my last year with the Food Network, she said in an interview. I ve been there nine years. For six years, I did a live show. The last three years have been taped: three times a year, 30 shows at a pop. Her show airs at 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday on the network.
However, she will continue on television and is talking with two stations. In the first quarter of 2006 she said she hopes to begin taping for WGBH Public Television Station in Boston where Julia Child taped her shows when I first worked with her.
Born in New York City, the petite chef (she s 5 feet tall and the Food Network had a kitchen counter designed for her, she says) graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1977. She worked in the restaurant industry for seven years. She met Julia Child in 1978. I worked on her TV show, Julia Child and More Company, she said Julia was a mentor for me. She helped arrange a two-month apprenticeship in France.
In 1984, Moulton went to Gourmet magazine to work in the test kitchen; in 1987 she moved to the executive dining room. [The dining room is] for clients, tony advertisers of the magazine. They come into my dining room and we make the magazine come alive for them, she said. We make a meal from the pages of the magazine.
She also teaches cooking classes with a maximum of seven students. My whole thing is, I want to give you a technique more than a recipe, she said.
Moulton, whose specialty is French cooking, both classical and bistro, had a busy schedule at the Grand Tasting last Sunday.
Dressed in a denim chef jacket with a mandarin collar, three-quarter-length scalloped sleeves, and ivory buttons painted with vegetable symbols, she signed Sara Moulton Cooks at Home (Broadway, $29.95). In October, Sara s Secrets for Weeknight Meals (Broadway, $29.95) will be published.
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Then she headed to the demonstration tent, where in 90-degree, humid weather with a standing-room only crowd, she made savory Tomato Pie using a basic pie pastry dough. The tart filling was seasoned with Kosher salt, Dijon mustard, fresh thyme and parsley, garlic, olive oil, and Gruyere cheese. There s nothing better than tomatoes in the height of the season, she told the crowd. There s no point in buying them out of season.
For the pastry dough, she recommended the ingredients be cold, cold, cold. For bread, ingredients should be warm, warm, warm. Answering questions from the audience, the informal presentation also included a wealth of cooking information such as, roll out pizza dough with olive oil rather than flour so you don t chase it around the counter.
Next she emceed the Star Chef Cook-Off indoors. Competing for the second time were last year s winner Chef Brad Thompson of Mary Elaine s at the Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Kenny Gilbert, executive chef of the San Marco Group of Restaurants in Jacksonville, Fla. New to the competition were Graham Elliot Bowles of the Peninsula Hotel s Avenue Restaurant in Chicago and Chef John Suley of the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach in Miami. Each chef was assisted by a sous chef.
Four random people from the audience of 150 picked seven items from a mystery basket prepared for each chef. Random numbers determined what protein each was to cook with. Bowles drew the pheasant, Suley had a walleye, Thompson had a rabbit, and Gilbert had a duck.
Chefs were allowed to bring a favorite cooking tool with them and three food items indigenous or unique to their part of the country or unique to their style of cooking. Cooking time was one hour, and everyone had to share equipment, cleaning up as they cooked.
Moulton bounced around between the four cooking stations, chatting with each chef and dabbing the perspiration off their foreheads in the hot, steamy kitchen. It seemed like culinary dodgeball with four chefs, four sous chefs, Moulton, cameramen jockeying for position, equipment, comments, and completed dishes. I was among the seven judges watching this dance of the chefs in their frantic pace of searing, simmering, straining, and racing the clock.
Chefs had to make last-minute decisions with elaborate plating of dishes. Chef Thompson s five dishes included rabbit hush puppy and southern-style fried rabbit leg with peaches and tomatoes. Chef Gilbert prepared six dishes with duck, including a Vietnamese spring roll, coconut green curry with lychee fruit tortellini, and duck salad with heirloom tomatoes. Chef Bowles relied on foams produced with a carbon dioxide cannister for a golden bell pepper with curried foam consomme and a pan-roasted pheasant with kohlrabi. Chef Souley had a walleye ceviche and flaked walleye with layers of red and yellow tomato.
When the scores were tallied, Chef Kenny Gilbert was named the winner of 2005 Star Chef Cook-Off.
Meanwhile, throughout the afternoon about 500 attended the tasting tent (which featured 28 tasting stations), food demonstrations, and wine pairings.
There was a high level of excitement about the whole weekend, said Moulton, who was accompanied by her husband, Bill Adler. The couple have two teenage children. She found the event inspiring, with everybody thinking, aren t we happy to be eating this good food!
Contact Kathie Smith at: email@example.com or 419-724-6155.