Friday, March 4, 2011

The Junipero Cooking Club

On Tuesday, March 1, a group of 14 met in a Sonoma home with a good-sized (but not a professional) kitchen to celebrate an early Marti Gras by learning to cook foods from New Orleans: Shrimp Remoulade, Seafood Gumbo, and Bananas Foster. Our chef, and cooking instructor, was Stephen Viguerie, Kristin’s husband, a native of Louisiana who has the food of New Orleans in his blood. We paid a nominal fee to cover expenses and his time and effort. We got copies of the recipes and were invited to participate in the cooking to whatever extent we desired.

Southern food has held a special place in my heart from having lived in Durham, North Carolina for 20 years. I have eaten vast quantities of pork barbeque and deep fried hush puppies and cooked lots of southern dishes myself but have had very little experience with food from Louisiana which has an aesthetic and culture all its own. So this was my chance to learn.

I began with a Bloody Mary, garnished with pickled okra and a celery stick, which Stephen made for anyone who asked. I must say, a perfect way to start the evening. Many folks brought bottles of wine to share. There were also spiced pecans and crackers to stave off hunger.

The Gumbo process began with making a roux, a mix of flour and oil which cooks for at least 40 minutes until the mixture turns a rich brown without even coming close to burning. If it burns, you start over. That’s it.

While the roux was simmering, Stephen made his remoulade from scratch, whirling up his own mayonnaise in a blender and then adding the parsley and lemon juice once the mayo was done. He finished the dish by folding chilled cooked shrimp into the sauce and placing it on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce.

When the roux was done, he added the trinity (onions, celery, and green pepper), various seasonings, stock made from shrimp and crab shells among other things, frozen okra and finally shrimp and crab meat and legs.

The Bananas Foster involved melting brown sugar in butter, adding bananas and rum, and setting the whole thing on fire. Pretty spectacular. Served over ice cream, it was so good.

A memorable dinner.

Watching Stephen work and having the chance to stir the roux and watch it change color was invaluable hands-on experience. He also offered excellent tips, such as adding Kitchen Bouquet to a recalcitrant roux and using frozen okra instead of slimy fresh.

I’m not saying that everyone can duplicate an evening like this. Kristin and Stephen put a huge amount of work into making it happen. But it’s worth considering. Can you hire someone to teach you and your friends something that all of you would like to learn? Can you gather in a regular home kitchen to make the food, drink some wine and eat together? Sounds like a great evening. I’d come.

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