This is me back in 2011 plating then enjoying (after all the guests had finished) my group’s Friday Night Dinner at the Natural Gourmet Institute. This dinner is the culinary school equivalent to a final exam. Ours was in May so we themed our menu “Springtime in Russia” complete with cabbage rolls (which turned out way more exciting than they sound) and a strawberry rhubarb parfait for dessert. The 3-course dinner plus amuse-bouche was required to be vegan and free of highly refined foods, especially refined grains and sweeteners. It had to be balanced, not relying heavily on any one particular food group; for instance, nuts in the starter, a nut filling in the main, and a nut-based cream in the dessert would be too many nuts (despite how much I would love all those expressions of nuts in one meal). And, above all, it had to be worthy of the $40 price each guest paid for the meal. Needless to say, we started planning and practicing weeks and weeks in advance.
I’m grateful that this experience is part of my personal culinary heritage. When you find yourself intellectually engaged and challenged while immersed in a philosophy that fits, it really does feel like coming home. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as comfortable in chef’s whites since those days. I wish this for everyone. Not culinary school, but to find a space for cooking – and with cooking – that just feels right. Routine maybe, but not boring. And simple? Just fine, as long as it’s nourishing.
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