Monday, April 26, 2010

Vegan Chef Tal Ronnen at Le Cordon Bleu St. Louis (And I was there. . . OMG!)

Is this a big deal to have one of the world's most famous vegan chefs come to St. Louis and be a guest instructor at Le Cordon Bleu? Yes!
Was Vegan Thyme on hand to enjoy this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Yes!
Was she nervous, star struck, sick in the morning with butterflies? Yes! Yes! And Yes!
First up, from Chef Tal's cookbook, The Conscious Cook, Gardein "Chicken" Scaloppini with Shitake Sake Sauce, Braised Pea Shoots, And Crispy Udon Noodle Cakes. Uh, this is the dish he made on Oprah! On Oprah!
Next up: Chef Tal with help from fellow Le Cordon Bleu cooking school students and other chefs, cooked up an amazing sample of his "Celery Root Soup with Granny Smith Apples". Heaven.
Chef Tal adding very teeny cuts of Granny Smith Apples as other chefs attend to pouring the soup samples for us to try into cups.
This was the sample of the Celery Root Soup with Granny Smith Apples (made with the chef's preferred "vegan cream" concocted from soaked, then pureed cashews). That gorgeous green oil would be this incredible "chive oil" he whipped up in a Vita Mixer for drizzling. (Okay for the one hundreth time, I really need to get one of those!) The creamy consistency of the celery root combined with the cashew cream, nearly knocked my socks off (and it was cold, so I had socks on!).
The kind chef signing copies of his cookbook.
I had to get another picture of the chef with one of the nicest students (they were all nice)--but she sat next to me and went up to get me a few "taste samples" because in all honesty, I was not comfortable being the "guest" of the school and taking food samples. She was very kind to do this for me! I had a conversation with her about "nooch" aka "nutritional yeast" as Chef Tal brought some out--stunned and surprised many. I explained that this is a vegan cook's best friend--even imparts a bit of umami flavor, used in vegan cheese-flavored dishes a lot . Did I just say "umami" to a future chef at Le Cordon Bleu? OMG!
Adorable little tortellinis Chef Tal made with several of the students. He stuffed these with an artichoke ricotta made from, what else, cashew cream. (There was not enough to go around, plus not enough time to cook, but note the yellow hue of the vegan pasta dough--accomplished egg free, but rather incorporated Palm Oil in the mixture to give it the egg yolk appeal. Brilliant!)

Oh please can you take a photo of Chef Tal and me or I won't believe I was even here for this! Thank you Chef Tal Ronnen for indulging this Midwest, almost fifty, vegan girl her moment!

I won't begin this blog post by saying this opportunity didn't come out of the clear blue sky, but it did. And I won't say that I was totally comfortable going. I wasn't. But go I did. And boy, I am sure happy, glad,
ecstatic, elated, tickled and honored to have been allowed to share in this experience with all eighty or so other current and future chefs of the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in St. Louis. (Thank you Chef Vicki and Chef Nate for your hospitality.) Talk about jitters. I am the only one in a sea of "chef whites"--the only one! (Thank you, Alanna for the email, thank you Kristin for so graciously arranging for my participation in this class!)

Before stepping up to the "kitchen school stadium" for us, Chef Tal made a TV appearance on the local Fox affiliate morning news program. I didn't catch this on air this morning, but watched it just now. This is almost like watching Idol--you want to hear "Great job!" and a "Dawg, that was awesome!" come out of the mouth of the morning personality. Kindly, she made a play for vegan eating as something to "try" and to "give a chance"--uttering "Yum" or something like that as she tasted his creation. I give our St. Louis non-vegan a thumbs up for being so positive about the vegan dish she tested out. I give Chef Tal two thumbs up for being so ultra cool and calm in front of the cameras (because he shared with us at the class that this was not something he liked doing, being on TV). But he did a fine job! (Like my opinion counts.)

I learned a lot. I learned the secret to great cashew cream that I have found so confounding. (It's the lack of the Vita Mixer in my life!) I learned that a bit of red palm oil makes a vegan pasta look like you cracked a few yokes in there. I learned the trick to hand-shaping tortellini. I learned how adding a pinch of salt to a non-stick pan and then adding the oil creates the ultimate in non-stick performance. I learned that blending oils sometimes creates more flavor--a high heat one, like peanut, then add the olive oil second.

At first, I felt like the biggest non-professional cook in the world. I couldn't help it--I was in a sea of French-trained chefs! I felt like I might as well have tied my apple pie apron on (seriously, I have one), stuck a corn cob pipe in my mouth and swung my feet up on the table. I was, in a few words, like a fish out of water--(not to be too illustrative with live things) but seriously, I was a bit uncomfortable. But soon, the tension eased as Chef Tal began his magic with a presentation to us all on the world's shifting trend toward eating more healthy--not just vegan, but also vegetarian. And that, as future chefs of restaurants and hotels or what have you, they should keep in mind that the days of a last minute penne pasta dish thrown on a plate for "those vegans or vegetarians" should be over NOW. Especially since the likes of Charlie Trotter and Thomas Keller have paid homage to the mighty plate of veggies.

Chef Tal stressed the benefits of going vegan and how doing so has made a difference in his own life and overall well being. He discussed his Oprah partnership--where he helped Oprah "cleanse" with a vegan diet. He discussed his cookbook, The Conscious Cook and how it had been named one of the best cookbooks of the year by epicurious.com and had been on the New York Times Bestseller list as well. And he shared with us his being the chef for Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi's vegan wedding. (Okay. Stop. Star Struck Moment. Did I just type that in my blog?)  

Chef Tal has been on a whirlwind tour promoting vegan cooking and his cookbook, The Conscious Cook since last October--visiting other Le Cordon Bleu affiliated schools. He was most recently in Boston at Le Cordon Bleu there. Our group on this Monday morning was "quiet" he said. Then he asked, "Is this the Midwest?" And I heard someone say, "The heart, man." Amen. We were polite and as Midwest as we all could be. I was proud to "represent" this way for him. Afterward, as you see from the shot above, I had a few precious seconds with Chef Tal, and as it was I was clearly NOT a chef, I simply introduced myself as a St. Louis vegan blogger, home chef, then told him my age and my husband's age (for some stupid reason!--what is wrong with me. . . I have no idea). And shared with him how long we'd been vegan and then vegetarian prior. I also said that St. Louis had a fairly large vegan population and not to let the "location" fool him, i.e., the Midwest. Was that exactly what I said? Cripes, I can hardly remember leaving out the door this morning. I do know some things flew out of my mouth and that I began to get more nervous and then it felt like it was time to go--for me to head home.  

I will be honest and say I have much more "exploring" to do with regard to creating meals for our household from Chef Tal's repertoire. He is a passionate vegan chef and I couldn't help walking out of the demonstration feeling some sort of special kinship with him. I was familiar with many of the cooking terms he tossed about: tempeh, nori seaweed, nutritional yeast, to name a few, but I also knew them from our own vegan home cooking, far from the kitchens of a trained professional. I've considered cooking school. But I've considered a vegetarian friendly one like the the Natural Gourmet Institute of New York. I have, seriously. I have plenty of frequent flier miles to get me there. That's not the problem, there's the whole married and dogs thing I'd have to arrange my schedule around. Plus, I doubt I have enough miles to fly home every day around three to get dinner on the table by six. But I can dream.   


14 comments:

  1. Wow....lucky you! I don't have his book yet, but a friend of mine has it. Will have to look through it when we visit her in the summer. And a great picture of you two as well :)

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  2. OH I love Tal! I wish I could have gone - that's awesome!

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  3. That's so cool! And the food looks great!

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  4. It was great to have you come visit LCB St. Louis. If we ever offer Vegan cooking classes to the public you'll be the first to know!
    Chef Vicki Davenport

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  5. I'm glad you were able to go! I think he'll be at Whole Foods today, there was quite a display of his products in the frozen food section.

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  6. Looks like you had a great time! That "chicken" dish is making my mouth water. Did you get to taste it?
    I would love a vita mix...but first on my list is a dehydrator!
    Thanks for the tip on adding salt to your non-stick, never knew that :)

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  7. Hi Tanya! Thank you for your very kind comment! Oh, I would have picked an extra copy up for you and had him sign it! I was so nervous, I didn't even think I'd make it to be quite honest! It was a fabulous opportunity to be sure--and one I won't soon forget!

    Hi Annie! He was so humble and down to earth--you would have loved it! If he is on a tour near you, I'd say try to make it--totally worth it!

    Hi Monique! I really had a great time--and yes, the food, especially that soup, was incredible!

    Hi Chef Vicki! You all were so gracious to allow me attend--I can't thank you enough. What a great school you have right here in St. Louis! I was very impressed! And, yes, please remember me in the future as a vegan class participant! I would love that!

    Hi Lisa! Yes, he will be at Whole Foods at Brentwood at 1:00 today--I hope you can make it! (I'm still recovering today so no going anywhere for me!) I thought of all the STL vegan foodies out there--you should meet him! He was great--the cookbook has not had the use it should here in my kitchen--working on that in the future!

    Hi Kirsten! It was too fun, but I was extremely nervous and sat so still I had a back ache last night! I stress out easily. Okay, so I have a dehydrator and used it last summer to make the BEST sundried tomatoes I have ever had--the house smelled amazing! Those vita mixers are no joke price--wise! I have been all over the internet this morning trying to get my hands on the best deal. That salt trick really worked--I was surprised. But we have to be careful with the salt around here given our "age" and all! I tasted the Gardein, and it was good. I am not familiar with cooking with it b/c I've not found it in our grocery stores--at Whole Foods, yes, but in the BBQ pieces and stuff--so not wanting that, I had not tried it outside of yesterday. He made it taste superb!

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  8. What a great experience that must have been. I would love to do something like that(but I would probably be scared to death, I get nervous doing unfamiliar things). How funny that I commented about Gardein Yesterday, what a coincidence. Good for you girl!

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  9. Hi veganhomemaker! Me, too--I suffer from the same thing! The whole "nervous thing doing unfamiliar things and meeting new people"--I had WAAAY too much of that over the weekend with the race and all! So, today it's been naps and cooking! Yesterday morning, I was a wreck and really did not feel up to going until about an hour before I left! Now, am glad I went--but boy my nerves were shot. I am just happy I made it--and happy to have my blog to talk about it and show myself when I'm eighty! I was so tired when I got home, we went to bed at eight last night! Am I getting old or what?!

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  10. Yay Kelly! What a great experience! I found the cookbook at the library yesterday and have really enjoyed looking at all the recipes. I am planning on making "chicken" piccata tonight! Yum! SO glad you have a nice time!

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  11. What a fun (yet nerve-wracking) experience! I would have been terrified, too! All the samples look amazing. And wow, vegan pasta! The color is just perfect. I'm so inspired to check out Chef Tal's book.

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  12. What an awesome experience! So happy for you (and slightly jealous at the same time!) :) His book is, for sure, one of the most beautiful cookbooks I own. I've been saving my pennies for a Vita-Mix for sometime now - hoping it will be the first purchase for our new home in Portland! Hope you can find a good deal on one!

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  13. How awesome! I wish I could have joined you, it sounds like a really interesting experience. Do you have his book? How gardein heavy is it?

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