Last week was rough. By the time Friday rolled around, I was overwhelmed with an unexplained sense of ickiness. It was probably the result of five straight days of chasing my base-jumping toddler around the house, a failed toong mai experiment, and a plague that turned my husband into my third child and me into a single parent. That was my week in a nutshell. Nothing disastrous or horrible, just not good.
Finally, on Sunday morning I attended a cooking class. After that, I was myself again.
Chef Eric Leterc from the Pacific Club not only turned my mood around, he changed the way I look at food. It wasn’t his French accent, which by it’s very nature added culture and credibility to everything he did. It wasn’t his ease around the kitchen nor his handling of a scalding pot of soup with his bare hands.
It was his clean and down-to-earth philosophy toward cooking, which favors real butter (lots of butter) over pan spray, and prescribes that the day’s freshest ingredients determine the recipe. I envy people like Chef Eric and Low Dao who are able to build a recipe around ingredients that inspire them and not the other way around. I, on the other hand, will get intoxicated by the colors of fresh produce at the farmers’ market and pick out an armful of vegetables, then watch them slowly go bad in my refrigerator because I don’t know what to do with them.
Another driving principle of Chef’s cooking is the ever true cliche “less is more”. As he so eloquently put it, “ze more flavors, ze more confuzing ze dish.” Like the Chinese, he believes in yin and yang and the perfect balance of flavors. He doesn’t use a microwave oven because it kills everything good in “ze food”. And processed food has no place in his kitchen. Check out this video:
And oh the peace of working in his kitchen – absolutely no distractions, just cooking, the perfect therapy. No screaming kids tugging at your clothes, no dirty dishes, no prepping vegetables, just the cool stainless-steel counter, good company, and a buffet of pristine produce hand-selected by the Chef himself. Every obscure kitchen tool I could dream of was at my disposal, an endless amount of counter space, and a whole selection of oils and spices lined up like beauty queens in their sashes.
After a long day of oohing and ahhing and drooling, we sat down to a lunch of pea soup, salmon papillote, and chocolate souffle paired with a nice Duckhorn Cabernet. Sounds good right? I really don’t know much about wines. All I know is, while it tasted like oak chips before the salmon, after the salmon it was like butter, smooth and rich, and irresistible. I was drunk after the first sip. The pea soup was florescent and fresh. For someone who isn’t thrilled about peas, I ate every last drop of the chef’s bare essentials soup. The salmon papillote just melted in my mouth, and the chocolate souffle, well the souffle can speak for itself.
All in all, it was the perfect ending to my terrible week. Merci beaucoup Chef Eric!
Kabocha Soup Recipe – inspired by Chef Eric Leterc
Chef Eric taught us how to make pea soup, but taking his philosophy to heart, I saw the kabocha on sale and in season at Don Quijote and decided to let the ingredients dictate the recipe. I adapted Chef Eric’s pea soup and made kabocha soup – the hardest part about this recipe is peeling the kabocha. Chef’s minimalist approach to this dish makes for a subtle soup to highlight the natural flavor of the kabocha. Be careful with your use of ginger, which can take over the soup. Try a little at first, then adjust the recipe accordingly. I found that using crystallized ginger candy (found in Chinatown or Low Dao’s pantry) worked better than fresh ginger.
- 1 kabocha pumpkin (peeled and cut into 1″ cubes)
- 3-4 cups chicken broth (just enough to cover the pumpkin)
- 1 piece of crystallized ginger or small piece of fresh ginger
- 1/2 onion – chopped
- salt to taste
- 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
How To Prepare
Melt the butter and saute the onion for a few minutes. Add the kabocha to the pot and cover it with just enough chicken broth to cover the kabocha. Add a small piece of ginger to the pot. Crystallized ginger works better for a softer soup, but if you like ginger, use fresh ginger for more flavor. Bring it to a boil and cook until the kabocha is soft (about 12 minutes). Add salt to taste (approx. 1 tsp). Pour the soup into a blender and puree. Serve hot or cold with a dollop of sour cream (optional). That’s it!