Projects for each CulinaryCorps trip are planned many, many months in advance. Menus are created, recipes tested and shop lists written, but sometimes even the best laid plans are undone. And, sometimes, it is in their undoing that unexpected opportunities save the day.
When we were told on the day we arrived that our brunch in the Lower 9th Ward was not feasible, we immediately started making phone calls for a back-up plan. We just knew someone could use 24 idle cooks’ hands for something.
Within 24 hours, we got this e-mail from local cook, filmmaker and most recently, director of Colton Kitchen — David Aman:
Yea, you want to build a kitchen?.. Seriously, we’re using the kitchen next weekend for jazz fest events and have been burning the midnight oil getting it ready. the CC came to the rescue at just the right time.
Obviously, the answer was yes! And while it wasn’t a cooking event it was close kin. Housed in the Colton Studios, Colton Kitchen aims to be New Orleans’ first incubator kitchen for local chefs in the area. In exchange for space to cater or develop products, each cook involved in the program must develop a unique after-school cooking curriculum for local high-school students. The first program to launch this summer is “In It To Win It” — a program that has students researching cooking contests and designing, testing and entering recipes for prizes. A fantastic (and potentially lucrative!) project.
After an amazing tour of the entire school — gutted and overtaken by 80 talented artists, dancers, photographers, musicians and gardeners — David introduced us to the kitchen space that was in need of a bit of fine tuning before their grand opening in a week’s time. We painted the exhaust system (lovingly nicknamed “the mangler”), de-greased light covers, cleaned sinks, moved kitchen appliances, mopped, swept and generally used a whole lot of grease of the elbow variety. We left the place looking at least “25%” better and walked away knowing that we helped get Colton Kitchen on track.
Before the team left, we gifted the kitchen a trunkful of brand new Henckels pots and pans to give them a head start in the equipment department. They were thrilled with the first few additions to their cupboards.
From Colton Kitchen, we were off the the French Quarter for a very special evening at Bourbon House. Escorted upstairs into a private dining room, we were greeted first by the smell of rich wine and second by the warm welcomes of Michael Eckstein, winemaker at Franciscan Estates. After a brief introduction, Michael took us through a wine blending workshop where each cook had their own “laboratory” of wines set out in front of them complete with a pipette. After tasting the varietals individually, we were tasked with creating our own blend. We then tried Michael’s, the wonderful Magnificat, and quickly realized the true craft and rare genius behind blending. Michael called it a lesson in synergy; with the way the trip’s events had been unfolding, we completely understood what he meant.
From the workshop to the table, we were greeted by towering “fruits de mer” plates and our culinary host for the evening, Chef Darin Nesbit. A true friend of CulinaryCorps, Darin showcased a “best of” menu, pairing them perfectly with curated selection of wines by Michael.
- Sauvignon Blanc…Fruit de Mer
- Chardonnay…Butter poached lobster claw with lobster brioche, grapefruit buerre blanc and a petite citrus salad.
- Cabernet….Pan seared ricotta “Purse” with a mixed berry salad and pomegranate vinaigrette. Probably toss in some currants and candied hazelnuts…..
- Merlot…clove rubbed dry aged duck with “four spice” sweet potatoes
- Magnificant…bbq venison chop with three pepper crust
- “Blondie” and bourbon milk punch.
It was a meal never to forget. The food and wine pairing was pitch perfect, but beyond that we fell in love with our hosts for the evening. Michael moved us as he stood and read from President Obama’s inaugural speech. We felt renewed and humbled by the kindness showered upon us. At that table, we were synergy in its pure and blissful state. A magnificent blend of good food and good will.