I do some consulting for a local restaurant called Ginger’s Garden Cafe. They specialize in vegetarian, vegan and raw vegan dishes and they’re only open for lunch – but occasionally, they have large, private dinners. At their last dinner, they wanted to serve a sampling of raw vegan fare to help educate the attendees about the complex tastes and delicious flavors that can be present in raw gourmet food. The head chef, Sandy Thomas (a.k.a. “The Red Hot Chef”) asked me if I could help her create a raw sushi dish for the event, so about five days before the dinner, we got together in the kitchen and started creating. For the sushi rice, we used jicama, a large root often used in Mexican Cuisine. It looks like a large squashed ball with brown elephant-looking skin and tastes like a radish with a bit of sweetness and none of the heat. Jicama is over fifty percent water, so we first peeled the thick skin off, cut the white inside into chunks, processed it in a food processor until it was thoroughly shredded, and then packed it in cheesecloth and pressed it in a hydrolic press to get the water out. When we were finished, we had two bowls: one full to the brim with jicama water and the other about half-full with the fibrous white pith. We seasoned the latter with traditional sushi rice seasonings and then spooned it onto nori sheets (dried seaweed pressed into a thin square). To this we added thin slices of cucumber and avocado (traditional japanese sushi fillings), marinated portabello mushrooms, red pepper strips, sunflower sprouts, and julienned carrots. Sandy made a traditional pickled ginger by julienning ginger and pickling it for several days in a mixture of beet juice (for color), agave, and apple cider vinegar. I created an almond and shoyu sauce I call Thai Nut Sauce, and we decided to plate up the sushi with a side of this sauce and regular Nama Shoyu (a living/raw version of soy sauce).
A couple days before the event. One of Sandy’s chef’s fell ill with a terrible flu, so she asked me if I could come in and help. I absolutely love the intensity of a commercial kitchen; food and people flying everywhere. So, 0f course I said yes. My work was much less challenging than creating a sushi dish, but still fun. Sandy and her team chose to serve a grilled polenta dish with a brazil nut hummus sauce to their vegan guests and I was set to the task of forming the polenta rounds and frying them for later reheating. Sandy also asked me to cut and assemble a fruit tray. There are two things that really get me excited about food: 1) the smells and 2) being an artist with the final product. I was so thrilled to do the fruit. It smelled glorious and designing it was like putting together a puzzle of a Hawaiian Sunset.
I thought I would be involved in just the preparation part of the event, but the day before the dinner, Ginger’s manager asked me if I would be the host for the event. I gladly accepted and after preparing the last of the sushi, ran home, changed my clothes and went back to the restaurant. After everyone was seated and dinner started, I ended up spending most of my time in the kitchen helping with last minute preps before the plates went out. The energy was frenetic and exhilirating – focused expressions, furrowed brows, people (mostly Sandy) running back and forth shouting orders. I helped garnish plates (in my nice clothes) and took lots of pictures to prove to the staff, later, that they were amazing.
The event, thanks to good planning and a talented kitchen staff, turned out to be a great success. Sandy got several compliments (you know, “My compliments to the chef”) and we got raving reviews on the sushi, most specifically on the Thai Nut Sauce. People were asking us if we’d bottle it and sell it at the restaurant. Well, I’m not planning on bottling it any time soon, but look for the recipe in my upcoming cookbook. I’ll keep you posted (literally).