Saying Goodbye

So, I am going to continue this blog but it is changing gears. Since I’ve finished school I won’t be writing about The Natural Epicurean any more, but I am embarking on a new phase of my learning process. So stay tuned and I’ll keep writing about the good things that are happening, maybe a little bit about what is difficult, and also the things I figured out on my journey.

Below: Before my last day of class.


Below: Before my first day of class. It was colder then. 🙂 

Below: I got to address our guests at the culinary showcase we did in our final month of class. 


Business Skills Classes

In our last weeks of class, we had a parade of business instructors teach us about branding, marketing, web presence, accounting, writing resumes, and more. We also got to choose to to spend four days in a smaller group  with either a personal chef, a restaurateur/food product developer, or a food media expert learning the things that would set us up for success in our chosen career goals.

I chose to work with Amanda Love, a personal chef, and she had many great pieces of information which are going to help me get my personal chef business going. It was great to be in a small group with Amanda because we were all focused on doing personal chef work and got to ask her questions which were on our minds.

That time was really valuable and I appreciate her knowledge and encouragement. In some ways it was my favorite part of the whole school curriculum because it was the timing was so right based on what I needed at that time. It’s really helpful to have connections and mentors in life, especially when embarking on career change.

Below: John Moore of BrandAutopsy talking about developing a brand.


Below: Scott Price of SRP Consulting talks about consumer product marketing. 


Below: This guy, Justin Follin, blew me away with his perspective. He came in to talk about public speaking but what he shared with us was useful far beyond communication. This guy is a straight up life guru. He touched on confidence, emotions, duality of self, meditation, and presence. Half the class was in tears by the end, and I mean that in a good way.


Heart Hospital Follow Up

So, I need to catch up on a couple of things…

We made our presentation to the Heart Hospital of Austin. If you recall, we designed some vegetarian menu items for them to beef up their meat-free offerings. And we did a fantastic job! Some tastings were provided.

Below: Some students presenting on the menu items they designed.


Below: The photos-of-your-food movement was in full effect, even among hospital staff.


Below: Megan Anderson, the hospital dietitian, showed us around the meal service area and the kitchen.


Below: Meal trays with the USDA “myplate” imagery.


Below: The lead cook at the hospital, whose name I’m sorry to have forgotten after this time, gave us a tour of the kitchen. She clearly was proud of the work they do, as well she should be. They feed a lot of people in a short amount of time. They keep the kitchen incredibly clean, as well. A lot of us, however, were surprised at how differently such an industrial kitchen functions compared to our little learning kitchen where every little item, including the hand-grated pink Himalayan salt (which – gasp – not everyone has), is done to order and made from scratch.


We learned a lot about the realities of an mass-production kitchen where the target audience is sick and recovering. We also learned a bit about the realities of limited resources and time. I think it will be a challenge for them to implement many of the menu items we proposed. But it’s heartening that they are thinking about their plant-based options and they seemed to be excited by what we showed them.

Time is Flying By

Time is flying by.

Rewind six months or so: I quit my job and started culinary school. Probably the boldest move of my life. Back then, I had not much of an idea what I wanted to do except work with food and support people in becoming healthier. I had no idea how to go about that.

If you read the blog, you know that we had a catering event about 1.5 weeks ago, which was a great success. The lead-up to the event was packed with planning. I learned a ton. Since then, I’ve done a few things… Continue reading

Video Retrospective

I’m in my final week of classes here at The Natural Epicurean. I was lucky to be in such a large, diverse, and wonderful class. Heather Dale, one of my classmates, put this video together as a look back on the people we learned with and the memories we made. Watch and enjoy!

NE Class of February 2012 from The Natural Epicurean on Vimeo.

Event Day – Pregame Show

Friday was a big day for us, our 100-plus guest catering event. We had planned it carefully but it was now time to execute the plan. I’ll call this post the “pregame show” because I didn’t really capture the event itself very well. I will share photos of that, though.

Below: Unloading our massive order from Central Market.


20120714-121457.jpg Continue reading

Culinary Showcase Behind the Scenes – Planning

We are in the midst of preparing for our culinary showcase on Friday. The showcase represents a kind of last hurrah for our class, even though we have two more weeks of class following it. We’ve invited 150 industry guests and friends to come taste our food and learn about what plant-based cuisine can be when well executed. We’re going to host two separate sessions of 90 minutes each, with a 30 minute reset period in between.

The planning and execution is a learning experience itself – this event is part of learning to be a well-rounded chef. Chef Marko Ellinger from Balcones Springs Resort and Chef Alex, two of our instructors, are mentoring us through this process.

I’ve been working on the front-of-house team, mainly devoting my attention to invitations. However, I also developed a watermelon-basil-lime appetizer recipe and have been working to support the printed menu and materials. It’s been fun so far and a lot of work.

Below: During one of our early planning sessions, the smaller group of students selected for event leadership brainstormed this event logo and invitation vision. The final result was pretty true to this original concept.


Below: Another early planning project was a brainstorming session on menu items. However, I must add that Continue reading

Indian Stuffed Okra

I love the okra. My mom used to cook fried okra and it was so good, but I don’t eat it much any more. I learned from my friend Todd about stuffed okra – an Indian dish that calls for stuffing okra with a mix of intense spices. We cooked it once during one of our Thursday night regular cooking sessions and it was an instant favorite.

Below: Start with fresh organic okra. Preferably from Texas, if you happen to be a Lone Star stater like me. 🙂


You make a slit down the side of each okra. Your goal for making this cut is to create a pocket inside the okra into which you can stuff a half teaspoon or so of powder. To make my mix, I used 2 tsp mango powder, and one tsp each of chili powder, cumin, and turmeric. Next, you toss the okra in the leftover spices and saute them with some chopped tomato in a hot pan. I sauteed them in some ghee, which is clarified butter. (I can handle ghee since the proteins have been removed.)


Now, after a super hot meal (I also added some whole dried chiles), I needed something to cool me off. Luckily I had some NadaMoo! in the freezer. Ahh…



I love dosa. I think I might go out to Swad and get some dosa later. I just think I could over-dosa on this delicious gluten-free flatbread from India.

Dosa, Basically

Dosa is made from ground urid dal (a white legume) and ground rice. Some methi seeds (fenugreek) are added for flavor. The blend is mixed with water and left to ferment, which gives it more flavor. The batter is spread thinly and cooked to crispy, golden-brown-and-delicious perfection. If you’re in Austin, I recommend the aforementioned Swad (up North) or Nomad Dosa (South). Then, make it yourself.

Below: Chanha dal, soaking. We used this to make a thicker dosa.


One of our recipes called for fresh coconut water AND we had a recipe to make a chutney from fresh coconut shreds. So, Chef Maya showed us how to open a mature coconut. Up to this point, we’ve only worked with young coconuts, which are relatively easy to hack open with a cleaver or even a regular chef knife. Mature coconuts required a bit more force, however…

Step one is to drive a pointed object into the coconut so you can drain the water.


Below: Chef Maya about to pierce the coconut with a screwdriver.

20120701-111514.jpgBelow: Draining the coconut.


Below: You have to smash up the mature coconut to get at the white fleshy part.


Below: Making a perfect dosa takes some skill as the batter lacks gluten to make it stick together. I’m still working on my technique…


Below: A fresh dosa with yummy chutney and savory potatoes. Welcome to yummytown!


Chutneys and Oils

Ghee and chutneys are like key parts of an ayurvedic sandwich. The ghee is the bottom slice of bread; chutneys the top slice. The main stuff goes in the middle, but without that bread, your sandwich wouldn’t be the same.


Ghee is clarified butter. There you have it.

To expound on the topic, clarified butter is when you heat butter to a simmer, thereby pulling out the milk solids and boiling off the water. The result is pure milk fat with no proteins or sugars – this would render the butter digestible for people with dairy allergies and lactose intolerance. If those are properties of interest to you, I recommend you only buy ghee that claims to be casein free and/or lactose free.

Ghee is used as a foundation for many dishes – it provides the oil you’ll saute your aromatics in. It works like olive oil does in Italian cooking. Or pork fat in less health conscious recipes. Ghee gives the silkiness, the fat, that makes life sweet and delicious.

Ghee is considered a prized ingredient in the ayurvedic arsenal. Quality ghee is said to produce ojas, the element considered the foundation of immunity in ayurveda. Ojas is really good. One website said ghee is the recipient of a “crowded river of praise” (1). Wow.

To make the ghee, you just cook the butter at a fairly low temperature and bring it to just a simmer. You don’t want to burn the solids.

Below: About to make some ghee.


Below: Pouring off the ghee. The milk solids are the brown bits you see in the saucepan.


Below: Two ghees – the darker one is close to burned, but OK.


Chef Charlotte Jernigan had us infuse some oils. I chose a roasted peanut oil, added lime and garlic with red pepper flakes. See photo below…



Chutneys are intensely flavored condiments you can eat with breads or along with your main dish. What really helped me envision chutneys was Chef Charlotte’s direction that you’re going for something really salty/spicy/sweet. This is because you want the chutney to hold up to whatever else you’re eating it with. Also, you’re not going to make a meal out of a chutney, so it can be extra salty or spicy. The main idea is to create something really strong and unique to provide a counterpoint to the meal.

I guess you could make a chutney out of a lot of different things, but I ended up making a few variants on the classic coconut+cilantro+spices theme. Another favorite was apple+spices. Chutneys are a great tool to have in my culinary toolbox.

Below: Apple raising chutney at bottom.


Below: A cool, herby and delicious cilantro-coconut chutney. Really great with any Indian meals.


Below: A palate of chutneys! One of them is coconut black peppercorns. A few of them are apple based, and some cilantro based.