I’m coming at you on the heels of the awesome Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged 2013 conference at the lovely Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center, right here in Little Rock. As usual, it was tremendously inspiring and the community was great (despite my tendency toward introversion). Even more so, everything was very timely, as I’m wrapping up some big changes here at Fancy Pants Foodie.
I’ll esplain that soon enough. For now, I’ll tell you about Foodie Friday, the early-bird section of the conference just for us foodies.
The first speaker was Little Rock chef Donnie Ferneau.
Ah, Donnie. He’s so pretty. (You know, in a manly sort of way.) Talented, too. Known to be a bit of a renegade in the pro community, he brought some edgy authority to the Foodie Friday portion of the conference.
The home cooks in the crowd (as well as Benton area chef Liz Bray) gasped when he suggested cooking most everything in the oven at 500 degrees. “I bake brownies at 350,” he said. “Everything else gets blasted at 500.”
He offered these additional tips to home cooks:
- Save money by buying produce in season. Take notice of when certain things are cheap because they are plentiful, especially things like cherries that have a very short harvest.
- Make accommodation friendly. If you’re serving a group of people who have a mix of special dietary needs (gluten free, vegetarian, etc.), prepare a single dish that will accommodate everyone when possible. It makes everyone feel special and well-served without singling anyone out.
- Let meat rest after cooking. He said this is the biggest mistake people make in cooking meats, cutting into them too soon. Resting allows juices to redistribute and settle into the meat.
- Save money on cuts like ribeyes by buying a rib roast and cutting it yourself. Which leads to the most important thing…
- Work on your knife skills. He mentioned the food blogger movie Julie and Julia, in which both title characters mercilessly practiced knife skills with bags of produce. And to do this, you need to…
- Find a proper chef’s knife that feels good to you, and use it. This doesn’t have to be expensive. He said he often reaches for a $20 safety knife over his more costly models.
After his departure from his namesake Ferneau (later Rocket 21), Donnie has focused on freelancing with a vengeance while he waited for the next big thing. He’s spent quite a bit of time volunteering for my favorite food nonprofit, Share Our Strength, and he’s taught cooking classes in partnership with fellow blogger Thanh Raisco of Red Kitchen Recipes. Lately, he’s been busy as a consultant for Cellar 220, which used to be Italian Kitchen, which used to be Lulav, while his own new restaurant comes together.
Repeating his well-reported disdain for adult macaroni and cheese, he said his upcoming restaurant will be “only the kind of stuff that I like.” He described creating elaborate, creative dishes at Ferneau, only to get order after order of macaroni and cheese with fried chicken, what he called “kids’ plates.” The new place will just be what he wants to make, all the time.
Oh, and tilapia. There will be NO tilapia, ever.
“I’m gonna cook with my palate and only make the food I want to eat,” he said.
He also described the upcoming restaurant as nothing like anything Little Rock currently has or has even thought about, calling it “the restaurant we don’t know we need yet.”
All that said, Donnie’s a good friend to the food community. If your palate doesn’t match his (and, by golly, that’s all he’s gonna have at the new place), he’ll be glad to teach you how to cook for yourself at home.
I’m totally down with that.