Celebrity chefs are not new to television. Back in the day you had Julia Child, Jacques Pépin and Jeffrey Smith, aka The Frugal Gourmet. BBQ king Bobby Flay and the ragin' Cajun Emeril Lagasse (from Massachusetts) have been around for a while. Same with the globetrotting New Yorker Anthony Bourdain with No Reservations (a favorite at our house).
Or maybe you prefer Rachael Ray, or the Brit cutie Jamie Oliver, or Ferndale homeboy Guy Fieri, the spiky-haired winner of The Next Food Network Star, who has become ubiquitous on that network. Of course you pretty much have to get cable and watch The Food Network and/or The Travel Channel to be familiar with today's cooking shows.
That changes this week as Humboldt County's PBS affiliate KEET-TV gets into the cooking show game with North Coast Cuisine, a six-part series aiming to "entertain and inspire viewers." The series, along with the one-shot program North Coast Visionaries, also helps celebrate KEET's 40th year of public television on the North Coast.
"With North Coast Cuisine the idea was to have different chefs on cooking with local produce," said KEET outreach director, Clare Reynolds, who put the series together with KEET production director Sam Greene.
"We wanted to try to highlight local restaurants, focus on what they're doing," said Greene. "We had them come into our studios and also went out into the field to look at a couple of different farms and the Farmers' Market."
"Sam is a cooking show fanatic," Reynolds noted. "He watches them all. He and his wife make these fantastic dishes. So he had a lot of inspiration to draw from."
This week's series kick-off features Peter Jones and Marsha Lenz, owner-operators of Folie Douce in Arcata. Peter talks us through preparation of poke (pronounced poe-kay), a Hawaiian-style raw ahi tuna dish garnished with fried nori chips. He follows that with a savory version of crepes served with smoked salmon.
Jones says he was a bit nervous at first, but it doesn't really show on screen. There was a limit on what he could do in the KEET studio kitchen, which is in fact something of a faux food facility. There's a working stovetop but no oven and the sinks are not exactly functional. So poke seemed to be a good choice since there's no cooking required. "And crepes are something I've made a thousand times so I figured that would work out OK," said Jones.
Respite from the studio comes with a trip to one of Folie Douce's local suppliers, Neukom Family Farm. "They asked us if we had a particular farmer or anyone we'd like to feature," said Jones, who found his choice easily. "Marsha and I have been friends with Jacques since we lived in the [HSU] dorms in 1990, so he was a natural."
Jacques Neukom walks us through his Willow Creek orchard as he talks of growing peaches. (Much as he did in Table Talk's "Peaches and Sunshine," July 26, 2007.) Then Lenz shows us a creation made with those sunny peaches: Peach Melba with sabayon.
Of course you'll have to wait a while to try out the dessert if you want to use fresh local peaches. The Arcata Farmers' Market doesn't start up until April 11, and the Neukom's peach crop won't be in until summer. I suppose you could make the dish with South American fruit, but it wouldn't be the same.
The next episode in the series (Wednesday, March 18) features Chef Cory Smith of Hotel Carter's Restaurant 301. He prepares an heirloom tomato salad followed by poached salmon with corn and long bean ragout, and for dessert, a tea-infused crème brulee. The show also takes us into the Carter House herb garden and down the street to the Old Town Farmers' Market.
Ron Garrido and Beverley Wolfe of Avalon host the March 25 show. Garrido demonstrates duck de-boning and shows how Avalon does Kumomoto oysters. This was one of series producer Reynolds' favorite episodes to shoot since it takes us to where the oysters are grown. "We got to eat oysters right out of the bay," said Reynolds. "We were out there with Greg Dale from Coast Seafoods and he just popped some open. They were amazingly sweet, and so fresh."
An April Fools' Day episode brings Kenneth Aldin up from Benbow Inn to show off some appetizing appetizers: foie gras with figs and blue cheese, a mushroom mascarpone tart and a butter lettuce salad with watermelon and goat cheese. And we go down to Benbow to see the restaurant herb garden.
The April 8 episode has Chef Dustin Valance from Curley's Grill and Curley Tait himself, with a side trip to the Fortuna Farmer's Market. Valance prepares Gigamoto oysters with cocktail sauce and pasta with clams and market vegetables, and we see the assembly of one of Curley's famous portabella mushroom towers.
The series comes to a close April 15 with one of my favorite local chefs, Patricia Cambianica of La Trattoria. She shows how to prepare stracotto, an Italian braised beef dish with red wine, onions and Yukon gold potatoes. And we meet potato grower Paul Guintoli of Warren Creek Farm.
At least in the first show, the demo dishes are of the try-this-at-home sort (recipes are posted online at www.keet.org). "Some of the dishes are not nearly as complicated as you might think," said Greene. "Others are complicated -- like I would never try to make crème brulee -- for me that's something you order in a restaurant. But the poke Peter made was simple and delicious. One of the perks of doing the show was: Someone had to eat all the things they create."
You probably won't see the next Food Network star on North Coast Cuisine, but you will get an idea of what's going on in our restaurant kitchens and how our bountiful food production system works. In Humboldt we were buying local food before someone coined the word locavore -- this series shows how that works in our restaurant biz, where "local" is more than a buzzword.
North Coast Cuisine premiers Wednesday, March 11, at 7:30 p.m., which means you might have missed the Folie Douce episode. Not to worry: Each show repeats the following Saturday at 9 a.m. and Monday at 10:30 a.m. -- always on KEET Digital Channel 13-1. And when all six shows have aired, the plan is to run all of them again.
Folie Douce Poke (serves 6)
1 lb. sushi grade tuna, such as ahi
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. fresh chopped ginger
1 tsp. garlic
1 Tbl. chopped green onion
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. chili-garlic sauce, such as Sambal
1 tsp. sesame seeds
Cut the tuna into 1/2 inch to 1 inch cubes.
Mix the other ingredients together.
Add tuna cubes, toss to coat, adjust to taste.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and decorate with nori chips
Nori Chips (for garnish)
8-12 sheets nori
pinch of flour
1 cup water
1/2-1 cup vegetable oil
Cut nori in squares approximately 3 x 3 inch inches.
Add the flour to the water, just enough the make the water cloudy.
Dip nori squares in the cloudy water; shake off any excess.
Drop squares into enough hot oil so that they can float.
Do not stack frying squares.
Fry them until crisp.
Drain on paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt.