The humor was not lost on me that it was Country Captain Chicken, a sort of earthy, southern meal, to end two and a half years of mostly fine-dining training. I imagine this was because chicken is easily purchased and quickly used, things critical to a college kitchen trying to close up shop for the summer.
My last class just happened to be American Regional Cuisine, which I have really enjoyed this semester. The class was supposed to be taught by my PITA Food 4 instructor (who, incidentally, I now adore). But, due to a scheduling issue, the class was taught by a new instructor, Matthew Cooper of Lulav. No, not that guy, a new one. I imagine this one knows how to make sushi.
We did our written and practical final on the same day, which doesn’t always happen. The test had 70 questions. I was the first to turn it in, which always makes me a little nervous… overconfident much? Not really. I only missed three.
We didn’t know what we’d be making for our practical final until just before entering the kitchen. The class was divided and assigned one of two dishes, the Country Captain and a clam chowder. I was glad I got the chicken.
I really relished my last time in the kitchen as a student. For this final, we worked individually, which I enjoy, although I’m also known for often forceful leadership of a group activity. (That’s a phlegmatic/choleric personality mix, for those who are into that sort of thing.)
I finished. It was awesome. Then I realized I forgot to add the raisins, so I scraped off the sauce, fixed the error, and re-finished. Even more awesome.
Not ever being one to leave well enough alone, I asked Chef Cooper if he would mind a bit of liberty taken with the sides. He said that would be fine, with the sides only. So, rather than sautéing the recommended side of asparagus, I broke protocol and used my favorite technique: blanch, shock and awe. (I’m seriously going to make that into a T-shirt.) See recipe below.
The chef dug the food. I got an A.
I had a moment as I walked out the back door, toward the loading dock and trash area that was near my car. Never again will I have the opportunity to learn, play, experiment and grow that I’ve had here. Never again will I be surrounded by such culinary genius, all the time. Never again will I be with this particular group of students, of all ages and talents, who have become some of my best friends.
Here’s to whatever comes next.
Blanch, Shock and Awe Asparagus
- 20 stalks asparagus, woody ends trimmed/snapped off
- Olive oil
- 1 Lemon, zested, halved
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper, fresh ground
Prepare a bowl of ice water while you bring a pot of salted water to boil. Heat a grill or grill pan to high heat.
Blanch the asparagus in salted water for 10-15 seconds, or just until the color becomes a bright green. Immediately plunge asparagus in the ice water for a few seconds to stop the cooking process. Don’t leave it there too long, but remove and dry thoroughly on paper towels.
Drizzle olive oil lightly over the asparagus and rub with your hands to thoroughly coat. Season with salt and pepper, then grill for 5-10 minutes or until the asparagus acquires grill marks and the desired level of charring, if you like.
Remove asparagus from the grill and place in a shallow container. Squeeze one half of the lemon over the asparagus, then sprinkle with the zest. Serve to astounded and awed guests.