Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending a culinary roundtable in New York City hosted by Lean Cuisine. This meeting of some of the country’s top ‘food minds’ happens several times a year, and is a playful, informal forum in which inventive meals are inspired by quality ingredients, cuisines from all over the world and top chefs. The aim of each session is to inspire innovative new flavors and products — and this meeting really did inspire!!
Among the chefs were Michelle Bernstein, restauranteur, James Beard Award winner (Best Chef South 2008), author and Food Network star; Brad Farmerie, restauranteur and ’09 alum of Iron Chef; Paul Kahan, Chicago-based executive chef and James Beard Award winner; Anita Lo, Top Chef alum and chef/owner of Annisa in NYC; chef and “Spiceologist”, Lior Lev Sercarz; and Lucien Vendome, Director of Culinary Innovations of the Nestlé Prepared Foods Company. Tasked with coming up with new, inspirational salads, each of the chefs worked his/her own magic to create truly amazing, fresh dishes.
I learned so much from this “culinary chic” event. To cite just a few inspirations… Lior Lev Sercarz introduced me to the wonderful Middle Eastern spice za’atar; Anita Lo switched up the ususal greens for buckwheat noodles in her salad; Michelle Bernstein whipped up the perfect Green Goddess dressing in just minutes. I wish I could decribe each dish in detail, but I think that a few photos will do a much better job than my words. If only you could taste them!
One of my favorites from the day were these Mirin Glazed Pecans from Chef Brad Farmerie. Mirin is a clear, gold liquid. It adds a mild sweetness and nice aroma to many dishes. Not only were they delicious, they quick and easy to make. They are a perfect addition to any salad — or you can do what I did and eat them on their own!
Mirin Glazed Pecans
Makes about 2 quarts
1100 g pecans
2/3 c mirin
2 all spice
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ancho chili
3 tsp maldon salt
1 tbsp icing sugar
Grind together all ingredients except mirin and pecans in a spice grinder. – In a mixing bowl toss together the pecans, mirin, and spice mix. – Place on a lined sheet pan and bake at 325° for about 8-10 minutes.
While I had the ‘fun’ job of observing these culinary masters at work, as the day progressed I got a chance to roll up my sleeves too and cook with some of the best. Note to reader: my chopping and peeling skills are woefully underpar!
My biggest take away from this event was that a flavorful salad need not take a lot of prep time or require the skills of a professional chef. There are so many wonderful ways to ‘spice up’ the ordinary, like with the Mirin Glazed Pecans. It was inspiring not only to see culinary masters at work, but also to know that some of the resulting dishes might ultimately make their way to store shelves. Nestle is committed to making healthy food taste amazing. Some of their Lean Cuisine entrees and their new Salad Additions line have incorporated ideas coming from previous culinary roundtables. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next! For more on the Culinary Roundtable, check out the facebook page.