Each spring, Share our Strength recruits leading chefs to participate in over 50 Taste of the Nation events across the U.S. and Canada in an effort to eradicate childhood hunger. Since 1988, Taste of the Nation has raised over $70 million to ensure that no American child grows up hungry. This year’s main L.A. event takes place on June 6 in Culver City’s Media Park, and the organization’s also been hosting a series of preliminary fundraisers, including last night’s cooking demo at the Snyder Diamond kitchen showroom featuring Walter Manzke, Quinn Hatfield (Hatfield’s) and Laurent Quenioux (Bistro LQ).
Guests were allowed to roam free during the first hour. Barrie Lynn, The Cheese Impresario, presented trays of Wisconsin cheese, including Hook’s 10-Year Cheddar, Carr Valley Cheese Airco and Marieke’s Raw Milk Gouda from Holland’s Family Cheese.
Intelligentsia Coffee featured a pourover bar staffed by three of the company’s top baristas: 2008 World Barista Champion Stephen Morrissey (pictured at right), 2010 United States Barista Championship finalist Devin Pedde and Venice-based coffee smith Chris Owens (pictured at left).
Judy Walker, Share Our Strength’s California Director, made an impassioned plea on behalf of her charity and encouraged people to BUY TICKETS to the June 6 event at Culver City’s Media Park, then handed the microphone to the first chef, Laurent Quenioux.
Quenioux instructed guests how to make his savory tapioca pudding. He told people to begin by soaking tapioca pearls for 24 hours in water, allowing them to bloom and become less starchy. The maverick French chef sautéed diced porcini, nameko and black chanterelle mushrooms with olive oil, salt and pepper and shallots. He added vegetable stock and tapioca and advised stirring frequently for 15-20 minutes. Let it rest before adding soy milk or cream, depending on vegan leanings. Add tarragon, chervil and thyme. Cool and pipe into glasses.
On top, Quenioux added blended Mirabelle plums, which come from eastern France. They’re frequently used in tarts or packed in Brandy. Here, he poached them in a light syrup so they weren’t too sweet. Bitter acidity is designed to balance the richness of the tapioca pudding. He then microplaned rogue tonka beans, which act as a blood thinner in large doses, for woodsy vanilla flavor. A variation on the tapioca pudding is served at Bistro LQ with squab salad.
Walter Manzke made his popular Alsatian tart. He added a quart of flour to a cup of water, a pinch of salt and four ounces of oil to create the dough. He said to mix until combined, but don’t overwork it because the dough becomes tough. Let it rest for an hour for the same reason.
Parbake until golden brown and crisp at the edges. Brush with butter so it browns nicely. After all, flambe means “to burn” in French. Add caramelized onions; Manzke prefers Maui. To get it right, the process requires high volume of onions – at least five – and several hours. Sweat the onions with oil and salt, which draws water. Eventually, the starch turns into sugar, and the onions become sweet. Just don’t let the onions blacken because the flavor’s bitter. Add crème fraiche seasoned with salt, pepper and thyme. Go with good bacon that’s three-quarters of the way browned. Finish with a little Gruyere, but it’s not about the cheese. If for some reason you have to do without bacon, Manzke suggested substituting fresh figs or Brie.
Quinn Hatfield prepared his signature croque madame. He was a young cook in New York working for Rocco Dispirito, “someone you might know from dancing shows.” At Union Pacific, they were playing on raw fish with ham. Hatfield traveled to Paris and at a lot of bistro lunches, including croque monsieurs and croque madams. “The first one I ever made I actually made for Rocco.” Dispirito liked the dish so much that he asked Hatfield to make four as part of a tasting menu. Hatfield wasn’t prepared and the dish “bombed,” which was a blessing in disguise, since he got to keep the dish for himself. He kept the dish in his back pocket for a few years and added it to the menu at Cortez in San Francisco.
“The key is finding great hamachi or yellowtail,” said Hatfield. Cut the fillet across the grain, nice thin slices. Prosciutto di Parma is sliced thin and layered between the fish. As he said, “Ham plays like soy sauce in a sushi dish, but the fish plays like cheese on a ham sandwich.” He finishes with a fried quail egg and Beurre blanc made with white wine, shallots, garlic puree and butter. At Hatfield’s, he uses discs of pain de mie pan-fried in butter, but at Snyder Diamond, he buttered the bread and baked it. This way, the final result wasn’t as labor intensive (or rich).