Once on campus at Northwest Michigan College, a winding wooded path led me to the Oleson Center. It was there, tucked away in the snow covered trees, that I attended NMC’s Fifth Annual Festival of Foods. Last week prior to the event, I posted here about my conversations with Julie Doyal who plans the Festival of Foods on behalf of NMC’s Extended Education Program. She was absolutely right, when she spoke of the vibrant personalities she chose to lead the individual sessions. I found myself laughing out loud at the jokes and insightful witty comments the chefs would make, while totally enthralled in their demonstrations and engaging conversation.
Each session I attended was completely different than the one prior, but the common thread was a passionate friendly chef leading the demonstration and the variety of helpful tips & tricks I learned along the way. There is no way I could transpose all the details; the smells, tastes and incredible inviting atmosphere of the Festival of Foods, because experiencing it yourself is the only way you’ll truly understand. However, I kept track of the numerous CHEFS TIPS that were shared throughout the four sessions I attended and now I’d like to share them with you.
Session 1: ‘Breakfast on the Farm’ with Jonathan Dayton & Stephanie Wiitala
These two demonstrators are both from The Inn at Black Star Farms. Jon is the Executive Chef and Stephanie is a Pastry Chef, with her own “bun in the oven” as she put it. Their chemistry in life and in the kitchen is both obvious and entirely endearing. As the Inn is a year-round bed & breakfast, these two were the perfect pair to lead my first morning session.
-Nothing compares to a Farm Fresh Egg! (SO true)
-How can you tell the difference between an old & new egg?
An old egg will float in water, while a newer egg will sink.
-Take all your ingredients out before you start to cook, that way you have everything at your fingertips while you’re preparing the ingredients and you know you’re not missing any important components.
Stephanie’s Easy & “Forgivable” Quiche Dough:
4 c flour, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 lb butter chopped into fine bits, 1 egg, 3/4 cream
Combine & roll out to desired thickness
Session 2: ‘The Secret of Fresh Salsa’ with Fresia Granados
Fresia is a fiery passionate chef from Costa Rica who studied at NMC and fell in love with Northern Michigan. She works as a personal chef and its evident that she excels in all avenues of cooking in addition to holding a deep appreciation for fresh flavorful ingredients.
-the acids in lime juice are better than lemon juice, so let your diced tomatoes “marinate” in a fresh-squeezed lime juice
-adding a sweet component like plantains or pineapple will really add depth to your salsa
-How do you keep cilantro fresh in the refrigerator?
wash the cilantro and divide a “bunch” into three separate sections, wrap each section in paper towel and put into an air tight plastic bag. The cilantro should stay just as fresh as the day you bought it, for a little over a week.
-after combining all your ingredients you’ll have juice pooling at the bottom of the bowl, strain your salsa and pour this strained juice into a container. Then, use it to make the most fresh and delicious Bloody Mary you’ll ever have.
Session 3: ‘Vegetarian Tarts’ with Cheryl Janz
Cheryl is new to Traverse City, but she and I have already connected because of her delicious baked goods she sells at local area Farmers Markets. She teaches quite a few culinary classes through the NMC Extended Education program and actually has one coming up shortly on February 20th about Gluten Free Cooking. This will be a fabulous resource for those who may be interested in making the Gluten-free change in their diet, or simply learning more.
-If you eat something that is too spicy for you, drinking a glass of milk (any dairy) will eliminate the spice
-The same rule applies with making a balanced dish, if you have eggplant with a lot of spice, pair it with a ricotta cheese filling to balance the flavors
-How do you pick the perfect eggplant?
Find one that is both firm and a similar size throughout, rather than skinny up top and wide on the bottom.
Session 4: ‘Cooking without a Recipe’ with Eric Patterson & Jen Blakeslee
Eric and Jen are co-owners of The Cook’s House in Traverse City, a restaurant praised throughout the region with an incredible commitment to fresh & local ingredients. They’ve also co-authored their own cookbook called Cook’s House: The Art & Soul of Sustainable Cuisine. The two chef’s are obviously an incredible pair in the kitchen and our session, the last of the afternoon, was full of laughs and a trio of incredible eats.
-The most important ingredient in the kitchen is salt, the second is an onion
-Learn to cook without a recipe by picking up random produce and forcing yourself to use those ingredients in a dish
-Make every ingredient justify itself, don’t just add it, the ingredient needs to make the dish better
-“Mouthfeel” is crucial in every dish; the contrast between sweet & spicy, hot & cold, crunchy & soft adds depth and balance to the dish
-Should I grill a fish with the skin on or off?
Generally, with a round fish you should keep the skin on and with a flat fish you shouldn’t eat the skin.
Within an hour, the chefs prepared this delicious collection of dishes and endless helpful tips about cooking without a recipe
Parsnip Soup with Fromage Blanc
Whitefish with a Radish Garnish and Seared Romaine
Grand Mariner Parfait with Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Seed Brittle and a Vanilla Bean Foam
I truly enjoyed this past Saturday I spent at the Festival of Foods. The sessions were informative and fun, and the food… incredible.
I’ve already found myself remembering the tips I learned as I’m cooking something new, and I hope they’ll be helpful for you too.
Do you have any quick kitchen tips? Please share!
Thank you chefs, Julie Doyal & Northern Michigan College, you made this event one to remember!