Apologies for not writing yesterday. After taking trains, planes and automobiles (literally), I find myself at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee for a cooking school with famed chef and cookbook author Sara Foster.
The program kicked off last night with a five-course dinner and wines by winemaker Pam Starr of California’s Crocker & Starr. But today we got down to business, first visiting the extensive gardens that supply Blackberry’s restaurants with fresh produce like the long beans and Kamado potatoes in last night’s dinner.
Chef Sara Foster in the garden
Clad in overalls and checked shirt, John the head gardener humbly led us through his garden, sharing stories of seeds he’s collected and saved over the years (he’s part of the Seed Saver’s Exchange) and stopping every now and then for Sara to pick arugula, basil and peppers. Armed with baskets full of produce, our group headed to the demonstration kitchen. John presumably set off to sow turnips, collect sumac berries and do all the other items on the To-Do list posted in the shed.
Gardener John’s To-Do List
The rest of the morning we watched and listened and talked as Sara prepared the kind of simple, fresh, seasonal dishes that have become her hallmark: roasted red bell pepper and carrot soup; tomato-mozzarella cheese toasts; capellini with feta and mixed herbs; and individual peach-raspberry crostatas.
Sara with Joseph Lenn, Blackberry Farm’s chef de cuisine
As she moved from one dish to the next, she shared tips gleaned from nearly 30 years in the food business. One of my favorites was to throw all those leftover onion peels, carrot tops, pepper cores, tomato trimmings and garlic skins into their own pot of water and to let them simmer while you’re cooking. The result will be a vegetable broth you can either use or freeze for your next batch of soup. As a farm-share member, I wish I’d known that sooner! (Just avoid things like broccoli stems and eggplant peels, she advised, as they’ll make things bitter.)
Peeling skins off blackened red peppers for the soup
The beauty of her demonstration was that we got to eat everything we’d picked and watched her prepare, resulting in a lunch I’d put against any I’ve eaten, anywhere. Simple. Fresh. Delicious.
Stay tuned for more updates, as the cooking school continues with a hands-on session tomorrow.