From September 2013 to March 2014 I travelled to the USA to train to be a Natural Chef at Bauman College in Berkeley, California near San Francisco. Since I returned I’ve been recapping some of my American adventures in a blog series I’ve called ‘San Francisco Friday’. Keep reading, there is a flourless chocolate cake recipe at the end of the post.
The culmination of six months of hard work in lectures, the kitchen, homework, revision, midterms and finals, and extern hours was a showcase dinner at college. It was the chance for us to put everything we had learned into action, and to show it off to our friends and family.
I think that planning a showcase dinner was rather like planning a wedding. Invitations, guest lists, a five course meal, and room decorations all had to be considered, and be branded under a cohesive theme.
Our theme was Roots To Shoots.
Many of us interpreted this in our own way. The general idea was to showcase root vegetables throughout our meal (not often seen as the glamour ingredients in the natural food world), and to litter this with shoots, also making use of the whole vegetable where possible. Roots To Shoots was also a metaphor for our six month journey on the course. Placing good foundations in our training now would lead to blossoming careers on graduation. The Californian yoga-loving hippie I had gradually turned into really rather liked that sentiment.
We all wanted so much from this evening. We wanted to produce stunning food that looked and tasted amazing. We wanted to serve it up in a beautiful setting. We wanted to work behind the scenes seamlessly. We wanted style, we wanted panache. We wanted to remember this evening for a long time to come. Tempers were frayed at times – planning a complicated event with twelve headstrong women and one man meant this was inevitable – but part of the art of this project was learning to work together. We all had different skills to offer (I’m happy with budget spreadsheets, not so happy with anything requiring decorations), and that perhaps was our greatest asset for our success.
As well as acting as showcase manager, I managed to find myself on the dessert and tea team with fellow natural chefs Brooke and Emma. There was a lot of research to be done to pull this off in the way we wanted. We searched books, the internet, excessively pinned to Pinterest, and experimented with recipes at home (a terrible vegan chocolate beetroot cake being my particular favourite experiment!). I personally took it upon myself to eat dessert at a restaurant each time I found myself in one during this period – well just to look at plating styles of course… We finally settled on the idea of dark chocolate and ginger – ginger being the root. In my mind you can’t go wrong with a chocolate dessert. Ever.
Along with the deliciously devilish cake we served a homemade crème fraiche ice cream (home made crème fraiche as well as making the ice-cream), a kumquat and cara-cara orange coulis, a dehydrated kumquat garnish, and used some beautiful local edible flowers. Cara-cara oranges and kumquats were seasonal in California in February and since chocolate isn’t seasonal we were determined to get some seasonality in our dish.
The recipe saw a number of changes during the testing process, notably from a coconut milk to crème fraiche ice cream base. The chocolate so very rich we needed something tangy to balance it out. The crème fraiche and coulis did just that. We were pretty chuffed with the end result. I only wish we’d had the chance of trying the dish in its entirety ourselves rather than the odd spoonful of spoils.
Here is our Roots To Shoots menu in full
Ginger Sparkle: ginger, cardamom, lime juice, sparkling water
Root on Root Crisp: Roasted beetroot, greens, homemade goats cheese, mint, sweet potato crisp
Horseradish Mushroom Tart: Horseradish, shiitake, chives, Parmesan polenta crust
Spring Cleansing Salad: Arugula, fennel, watermelon radish, pistachio, goat feta, citrus vinaigrette
Green Garden Bisque: Cream of pea, fennel, seared bay scallop, wasabi foam
Seasonal Vegetable Strata: Rutabaga, red beet, kabocha squash, pearl onion, turkey or mushroom, sage
Torte & Ice Cream: Dark chocolate, ginger, crème fraiche, kumquat, cara cara
Peppermint Rose Tisane: Peppermint, rosebuds, lemon balm
With a heavy heart, this is the final instalment of my San Francisco Friday Series. It’s been such a wonderfully cathartic experience for me to share all my Natural Chef and San Francisco memories through this blog. I didn’t write a diary on my trip – so now I have someplace to read back on to remind me it wasn’t all a dream.
I can’t end without saying a fond farewell, thanks and congratulations to all of our Kitchen A Roots to Shoots team & our inspiring instructor Chef Lizette Marx. What a privilege it was to meet, work and share food with you all during the course and especially on the showcase.
I hope you have enjoyed my memories of an incredible six months in America – but now its time for me to get back to my real life in London, and start concentrating on writing new recipes again. May the adventures and journey continue.
As promised, I’m sharing the torte recipe today. If you’re looking for a suitable pairing for the torte, the crème fraiche ice cream we used was adapted from a recipe in the Perfect Scoop by David Leibovitz.
- 200 g / 7 oz 70% organic dark chocolate
- 140 g / 5 oz coconut palm sugar
- ½ cup / 125mls boiling water
- 170g / 6 oz butter cubed (organic or grass fed preferably)
- 4 eggs, separated
- + 2 extra egg whites
- 3 Tbs Juice from grated ginger (approx 85g / 3 oz ginger root required)*
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp salt
- Preheat the oven to 180 C / 350 F.
- Prepare the base and sides of one 10 inch spring form tins with greaseproof paper.
- In a large foor processor, pulse the chocolate and sugar until fine. Add the boiling water, butter, ginger, vanilla extract, salt, 4 egg yolks and process again until smooth
- In a glass bowl, whisk the 6 egg whites until stiff peaks form and then add them to the mixture in the food processor and blend for 10 seconds. Pour the mixture into the greased tin.
- Put the cake tin on a tray in the hot oven for 55-60 minutes*, until the top is cooked and doesn't give when pressed.
- Leave to cool in the tin, then move to the fridge for a few hours, or over night. When fully cooled, remove from tin and wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
*NB I made the cake in my London oven this August, without the ginger flavour. I covered it with creme fraiche & raspberries. Cake took much less time – just 35 minutes in a 9 inch tin (used same amount of batter – but without the 2 extra egg whites), so watch like a hawk. I burnt cake 1 which went in for 50 minutes and was distraught. Lesson learnt? All ovens are different!
Photo Credits: Aimee Porter & Kristin Kotack