Whenever I return from the annual Food & Wine Classic—my equivalent of the food Olympics—I struggle to conceptualize the experience for others. After all, this is the event where the chefs (the likes of Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, Mario Batali, and Ming Tsai) gather each summer. The wonderfully massive and gluttonous party is studded with so much star power you almost can't help but learn something. Alas, the weekend's must-know tidbits and tips, straight from the chefs, mixologists, and master sommeliers' mouths.
Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and two other shows on the Travel Channel, taught a seminar entitled Dim Sum at Home (find his recipes here). Zimmern made hand-stretched noodles look downright easy—simple enough that I intend to try this weekend. But throughout the 45-minute demonstration Zimmern also offered tips for home cooks—even if you're never going to attempt his recipes.
- "If you have flour on your hands, use cold water to wash it off. Cold pulls the gluten off. Hot water makes papier mâché."
- "All great food is about texture. Think of an ice cream cone—creamy, crunchy. Texture is how you build layers of impressions in food."
- "Cooked cabbage is the secret to Chinese dumplings. Cook it, squeeze out the water, pulverize it/mince it into a paste, and mix it into your pork [or whatever type of filling you're making.]"
- "You need a piece of metal because your noodles are going to want to stick. I use a stainless steel door plate (it cost me about $3.50). Duck tape it to the counter. It's great for baking, making noodles, pasta, and gnocchi."
Each Classic, the beloved father and daughter team Jacques and Claudine Pépin teaches wildly popular French cooking demos. This year's 101 Techniques to Create a Great Meal, was no exception, especially since it was refreshingly more skills-based than in previous years. Jacques' tips:
- When cutting bread: "Move your knife down and forward instead of straight down" to avoid slices that are glued together and have to be reinflated."
- "Freeze your vegetable scraps in empty milk cartons. When you make stock [pull it out of the freezer], cut through the cardboard and you have all your seasonings ready to go."
- "To quick-cure salmon. Slice the fish paper-thin, fan out it on a plate, put salt on top, cover with plastic wrap and place another plate on top. Refrigerate for 15 minutes."
"People ask all the time why a dish doesn't taste like it does in a restaurant, "If you don't have enough heat, you lose flavor."
Celebrated bartender Jim Meehan (of PDT in New York City) and Kate Krader, Food & Wine's restaurant editor, teamed up to teach Great Cocktail Party Drinks. The premise: How to batch cocktails so you can still enjoy and participate in your own cocktail party (i.e. not be a slave to the cocktail shaker). Meehan's take:
"Add the least expensive ingredients first because if things get out of balance, it's cheaper to play with less expensive ingredients."
"Serve punch in a teacup—punch is a great occasion to bring out eclectic glassware."
"If a cocktail is balanced, cut a lime wheel and place it in the drink. If it's sweet and you think people might want to season it, cut a lime wedge and place it on the rim."
Parr: "Gamay is a gateway drug, it just has a bad reputation. It's the best value in wine"
Zimmerman: "If you want to get into Chablis, 2010 is a great way to do it."
Bjornholm: "2010 is one of the best Burgundy vintages—it's one of those magical vintages that makes long-aging wines."
Photo: Galdones Photography/FOOD & WINE