There’s something about the competitive nature of professional cooking that turns me off. Sure, I held my own though years of smack-talk and innuendo in restaurant kitchens, yelling and flying food, and burns worn like badges of honor, but none of that really felt like cooking to me. What’s with all the drama? When tensions would get too high in my own restaurant kitchen, we had a saying: “Hey. It’s just food.”
Of course, my life revolves around food. It is very important–we are what we eat, after all. But the muscle-bound sense that it’s a contest? That just seems odd to me–isn’t eating supposed to be a communal act, a daily opportunity to connect, to nourish, to comfort, to share this most pleasant and sensual ritual? And here’s another thing I always knew: any cook is only as good as her ingredients. The other day, a friend of mine said, “forget chefs–farmers are the new rock stars.” I worried for a moment about what that meant for rock stars (never mind the chefs, what will become of the rock stars now?), but then I realized it is true, and for good reason.
There’s nothing I can do with out-of-season, bitter carrots, limp and exhausted from days of travel. Don’t have the ability to bring life to tired, tasteless herbs from a clamshell, or lemons that are more pith than juice. What would I even do with gassed and processed “baby greens” in a bag from a continent away, or those impostor “baby carrots,” crunchy tasteless nothings whittled from a real carrot in some far-off factory? It’s the growing that makes food good. Was it planted with care, the proper distance apart? Was the soil rich and dark, full of nutrients? Was the sunshine warm, was the hand that tended and harvested it gentle? Was it picked at the perfect moment of ripeness and flavor? With carrots sweet and a little earthy, creamy, rich chevre, peppery arugula, olive oil that tastes both herby and buttery, my job is simple: don’t screw it up. I know better than to pretend to be a rock star with that manifesto. Sometimes I cook lunch at the farm, and Stephanie says, “This is soooo good.” I just look right back at her and say, “Yes. It is.”
Warm & Crispy Chevre with Carrot-Almond Salad
1 bunch carrots, washed and peeled
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 Tbs. mint, chopped
2 shallots or spring onions, green stalks discared, sliced thin
4 oz. chevre, chilled
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbs. orange white balsamic or white wine vinegar
1-2 Tbs. sour cream
extra olive oil for frying
1/4 cup whole raw almonds
several handfuls arugula or tender, young garden greens
Grate carrots into large bowl. Stir in herbs and onions. For dressing, place lemon juice and vinegar in small bowl. Whisk constantly while drizzling in olive oil in a thin stream until emulsified. Add sour cream and whisk until creamy and blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. Toast almonds at 350 until browned and fragrant. Cool, then roughly chop.
Scoop golf ball-sized portions of goat cheese if soft, or cut 1″ thick rounds if more dry. Chill thoroughly. Form into “coins,” dip into beaten egg, then dredge in breadcrumbs. Heat 1/4″ olive oil in a small heavy skillet, and quickly fry goat cheese until golden and crisp. Toss dressing with carrot salad. Add almonds and toss again. To serve, arrange greens on serving plates, make a mound of carrot salad on top, and top with fried goat cheese. Serve with crispy baguette.