Updated: Jul 21, 2020
Almost 4 years ago, I attended the New York City Wine and Food Festival with my mom. We spent a long October weekend in New York attending events with chefs that we knew and ones that we didn't. That's where we met Jim Lahey - a baker who changed the way we thought about and baked bread. I even got to see Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and Robert Irvine.
Although each event was more special than the next, I was completely star struck by seeing a panel with Iron Chef Mario Batali, Andrew Zimmern, and Iron Chef Guarnaschelli. Batali was one of the chefs I grew up watching on Iron Chef America - rolling fresh pasta and making amazing dishes. I remember rooting for him on endless weekends at 1AM re-runs of the show. Guarnaschelli was (in my eyes) a force to be reckoned with. She was the newest Iron Chef and she was a harsh judge on Chopped. I could hardly contain my excitement as I listened to the panel, hosted by Food and Wine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin.
The panel was held in a posh member-only lounge, filled with eager listeners. When it was time for questions, I painfully racked my brain to find the best question to impress these chefs. A young, relatively inexperienced, 21 year old like myself who never cooked in a professional kitchen. I didn't want to look like a fool, but I wanted to ask something, anything. In the end, I settled on, "What do you do when you want to explore new ingredients? How do you go about testing them out?"
A sense of terror fell over me when they didn't have an answer readily available, but a glorious sense of relief came over me when Batali asked to take the question. His answer was perfect, "I dice it, put olive oil, salt and lemon, throw it in the oven and I see what happens." The answer of a genius.
Since then, I've actively sought new ingredients, spices or eagerly watched Chopped for hints on new foods - daikon, sunchokes, watercress, togarashi, etc. During this recent trip to Canada, I came by some fiddlehead ferns at the Byward Market. For $2, I grabbed a handful of them. Noticing that I'd never seen/cooked/eaten a fiddlehead fern, the seller told me to boil them for 2 minutes and then sauté them with salt and butter.
Everyone asked me 4 times when I made it home what they were. Fiddlehead doesn't roll off the tongue. They almost look like they come from an alien planet, but we took a chance on them. I followed the instructions I was given and added a squirt of lemon juice, with Mario Batali in mind. I enjoyed the asparagus-textured, spinach-tasting green spirals and so it turns out, so did everyone else.
My next experiment will be with my Bulk Barn purchases - Szechuan peppers, pink peppercorns, and dried lavender buds.