Reading the title, you’re probably thinking that this post has something to do with cooking. And chefs. And the Legal Sea Foods restaurant. Well, guess what?
Now doesn’t that feel good?
But maybe you haven’t ventured so far as to guess that my Food for Thought Class would actually be cooking with the EXECUTIVE HEAD CHEF OF LEGAL SEA FOODS, Mr. Richard Vellante himself:
Turns out Chef Vellante is a Hamilton alum. Who would’ve thunk?
So for Fallcoming (aka Alumni Weekend), my professor managed to snag a Friday afternoon with the chef for our class. Wanting to be as local and as seasonal as possible, the chef wrote up a menu focusing on our harvests from the 1812 Garden with a few of his own ingredients that he brought to the party.
Friday afternoon we met up at the McEwen Dining Hall, ready to eat seafood, legally.
Unfortunately, the chef wasn’t quite ready for that yet – so he made use of all the extra hands lying around and put students to work washing potatoes,
and setting up the cooking station.
The first course that Chef Vellante had prepared was a very basic soup made from kale, chorizo and potato.
The base of the soup was just water – no vegetable or chicken stock here. But the chef tore off little bits of chorizo into the base at the beginning that gave the soup plenty of flavor. The potatoes were also cut into cubes and added to the pot, although by the time it had finished cooking, there weren’t any chunks left – they had all kind of dissolved to make the soup thicker and give it some body.
Last to go in was the kale, which was chiffonaded and stirred into the almost-done soup.
The soup was on the heat just so the kale could cook, and then it was served to us hungry students.
You’ll notice the pot changed halfway into the cooking process – that’s because the chef had already prepared a batch so we wouldn’t have to wait too long before eating.
The soup was good, and a lot thinner and lighter than I’d thought it’d be. As you can see, there weren’t any big chunks of chorizo or potatoes in it – kale was the main focus and the rest of the ingredients were there to just add flavor.
Next, we had beans from the 1812 Garden which had been cooking in the kitchen during the soup-making process.
We seasoned it with olive oil, lemon, and a BUNCH of different herbs from the garden – even flowers!
I know, I know – beans sound kind of unglamorous, right? But these were really tasty – citrusy, peppery, and bright, totally not what you expect when you eat beans.
Next up was an herbed squid dish. Like with soup, the squid was already cooked, so all the chef had to do was heat them up in the pan.
This left him free to talk with us about the current food issues and trends that are sweeping the restaurant world. Stuff like eating seasonally, drop in fish populations, the BP oil spill, molecular gastronomy, vegetarianism on restaurant menus, where Legal Sea Foods sources their fish, etc..
It was really interesting to see how the food industry looks like from a chef’s point of view – really, you don’t get opportunities like this very often. Talking to Chef Vellante made me realize that this isn’t an ideal world, and things to have to be compromised in restaurants when it comes to stuff like eating ethically. By talking to the chef, we were able to see how the Legal Sea Foods tries to balance their food and their profits between the restaurant, the customers, and the sourcers.
While we were talking, the squid finished reheating and we were invited to help ourselves to the food.
There were also potatoes from the 1812 Garden that had been roasted with rosemary.
And roasted cabbage and squash – it was cinnamony and just the teeeensiest bit sweet. It tasted yammy, and very much like fall. I was a fan. :)
And for the main course….
Seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs.
Broiled until prosciutto is crispy and fish is cooked.
Of course, I love all fish so I loved this dish too. I honestly think the bass would’ve been fine on its own – it was an oilier fish and while it definitely stood up to the prosciutto in terms of flavor, I enjoyed it even without the pork. Chef Vellante was worried that it might’ve overcooked, but I thought that it tasted delicious – flaky and soft and yummy.
The fish was the final dish to come out, and I was almost glad because I was soo FULL. I hadn’t eaten lunch that day, but I kept going back for more of the beans and the cabbage because they were just so yummy. Plus, the fish and the squid were the first seafood dishes I’ve had since coming here – and you guys all know my love affair with seafood. Let’s just say, this was very much needed.
So that wraps up my post about cooking with Chef Vellante! I think we were all a little bit intimidated/star-struck at first, but once we got started talking, everyone enjoyed this privileged time with the chef. Who would’ve thought going to Hamilton would bring crazy opportunities like this? Legal Sea Foods is a big restaurant here on the east coast, and I had a hard time believing I was actually talking and taking photos of the executive head chef.
I’m amazed every time that sinks in.
Well, fall break is wrapping up too. I actually edited these photos at home, but ended up typing up this post in my dorm room. It was a relaxing, awesome 4 days at home, even though all I really did was bum around – but hey, I NEEDED ME SOME R&R. It was so weird how my home seemed almost foreign at first, but everything that was routine to me a couple months ago just came back automatically. And even though I don’t “live” at home anymore, I fall asleep way faster on my bed in my room.
I miss home now. Even though I was sitting in my couch watching the Food Network only a couple hours ago.\
And as you can imagine, I ate a LOT of good food while back in Jersey. My mom and dad made sure I was well-fed with Korean food to make up for all the times that I couldn’t get it on-campus. My mom’s kimchi has never tasted so good – I pretty much Hoovered that stuff while I was home. We went to our favorite restaurants too, and yes, I did take pictures – those will be coming soon. But it’s back to the grind tomorrow, so updates are probably gonna be slow again. I’M SORRYYYY. I’LL TRY MY BEST TO BE GOOD. SOB.
On the bright side… 33 MORE DAYS UNTIL THANKSGIVING BREAK! I’m already counting down :D
So with that, good night all! And good luck with the work!!