A great dinner doesn’t just feed the body, it educates and inspires. That was especially true of MorMor Bistro’s wine dinner Thursday October 11. The “Culinary All-Stars” dinner presented four courses, each recreating a recipe from an influential teacher.
Chef John Nesby recalled watching cooking shows at his grandmother’s house. Unlike today’s entertainment cooking contests, shows like Great Chefs demonstrated cooking in the real world – you can hear the sound of the hood, knives on the cutting board, the clatter of plates. “Kitchens are alive,” he said, and the best chef teachers bring you into the kitchen.
Course one was inspired by traditionalist Jacques Pepin. Chef Nesby held up a copy of Pepin’s book La Technique and said, “Jacques writes this book as if he is training you.” Since technique is fundamental to making soup, the dinner’s first course was based on Pepin’s “WIld Mushroom Bisque”, made in this case from a variety of local fresh and dried mushrooms and served with a buttered crouton and creme fraiche. It was everything soup should be: rich, hearty, deeply complex.
Dorian Woodson matched each course with a wine tied into the chef’s life experience. For the Pepin-inspired soup course he chose a wine from Bourgogne (France) which was crisp and light, just what the soup needed.
Next chef: Graham Kerr, whose Galloping Gourmet cooking show, Nesby argued, paved the way for today’s cooking shows, with a live audience and lively sense of humor. “He’s ours now,” Nesby commented. Kerr lives in the Pacific Northwest and advises Bastyr University and the University of Washington on healthy cuisine. For the dinner’s second course, the MorMor version of “Beet Salad ‘Hippy Style'” substituted locally available haricot verts (green beans) for the fava beans in the recipe. This salad reminded me that the best salads have more than one note; the sweet beets played off tangy goat cheese and crunchy pine nuts, and the miso in the dressing brought it all together.
The wine paired with this course was a New Zealand riesling, my favorite of the night. When I called it “sweet” to Woodson he responded with a passionate case for the neglected wines, mislabled as sweet and relegated to the bottom shelf when they should be celebrated for their fruity roundness.
No tour of great chefs would be complete without Julia Child. “She had a willingness and a desire to share,” Nesby said. Her books remain the fundamental texts in English on French cooking, as important today as when she wrote them. “Classic Gruyere Fondue with Parisian Cheese Gougeres” presented a pot of cheese fondue with a cheesy puff pastry, solid enough to soak up the rich sauce, and served with arugula sprinkled with lemon to brighten the dish. This course marked the transition to red wines with a California syrah-grenache.
The final chef of the night was…Chef Boyardee! Ettore “Hector” Boiardi immigrated to America and moved from chef to restauranteur to the retail space. Customers wanted his sauce recipe; instead he bottled the sauce, growing the ingredients in the basement of his factory! He contributed to the war effort in both World Wars and was a patriot as well. It’s an interesting point – one of my table mates commented that canned pasta wasn’t marketed as Italian but as American food.
Ettore Boiardi didn’t publish a cookbook, but his niece brought out a collection of family recipes. For the “Pork Scallopini” sous chef Stephen Moreton replicated a “Slow Cooked Red Cleveland Sauce” that bore no resemblance to a canned sauce, it was salty, sweet, tomatoey. The accompanying stuffed zucchini was an inspired lighter alternative to a starchy side. An Italian wine from Piemonte rounded out the evening.
No dessert this time. Frankly, my party was amazed the pork scallopini lured us into cleaning our plates after three previous courses, so we were just as happy to munch a few (crunchy, flavorful) cookies to end the meal.
Chef Nesby recommended looking up a video of Graham Kerr making the hippy beet salad. Here he is waxing poetic on the wonders of the Skagit Valley and organic food: