Good ingredients key to making gourmet art

  • By Barbara Quinn The Monterey County Herald
  • Monday, July 7, 2014 1:13pm
  • Life

“If you have really good ingredients, there’s not much more you have to do.”

Easy for him to say. Chef Colin Moody, executive chef at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club, in Monterey, Calif., makes the art of elegant cuisine look easy.

Case in point: Moody recently demonstrated to a small group of enthusiastic learners how to turn a box of just-picked produce into a five-course dining experience. Subscribers to a community supported agriculture (CSA) program receive deliveries of organic vegetables and fruit throughout the growing season. And you’re never quite sure what you’ll get.

This day the box was stuffed with Romaine lettuce, scallions, carrots. fennel, Swiss chard, Italian parsley, strawberries, and zucchini.

As his students donned their aprons, one woman remarked, “I love to cook!”

Another said, “I love to make reservations.”

First on Chef Colin’s fresh-from-the-garden menu: “Carrot Top Pesto” made with parsley and the fluffy greenery plucked from the tops of the fresh carrots.

“I don’t measure, that’s why I’m not a baker,” he said as he placed two handfuls of stemless carrot leaves and one handful of parsley into a food processor. “It’s about a two to one ratio. And throw in as much garlic as you like.”

Into the whirling mixture, he drizzled olive oil. Then a small handful of cashew nuts.

Cashew nuts in pesto?

“You can use any kind of nut you have on hand,” he explained.

I like this guy.

After adding freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a dash of salt for seasoning, we watched intently as he gently spread the bright pesto onto a thin slice of just-toasted French bread. Next came a dollop of creamy soft burrata cheese (“ricotta-stuffed mozzarella”) topped with two halves of oven-roasted baby tomatoes. A bling-bling of mellowy-sweet balsamic vinegar and we were all in love.

On to grilled Romaine lettuce wrapped with prosciutto ham and garnished with a tapenade of scallions, olives and tomatoes.

Then fennel soup, made creamy and smooth with pureed chick peas (garbanzo beans). Yum.

“Now we are going to do a really weird dish,” he announced as he wrapped softened Swiss chard leaves around a garlic-stuffed, mushroom-entombed lamb chop. He held his creation together with “caul fat” — a thin stretchy membrane from a cow’s stomach that bakes off in the oven. “I call it ‘chef’s duct tape,’” he explained.

This elegant dish was served with “squash balls” — zucchini scooped out with a melon baller and lightly sauteed in olive oil. Garnished with pureed “Truffled Carrot Coulis.”

For dessert, rosemary-infused honey yogurt with flambeed strawberries. Mama mia.

“Gourmet” is described as “food of the highest quality and flavor, prepared well and presented in an artful manner.” Yes, it was.

To all his praises, Chef Colin humbly concluded, “A note about perfection: It’s all in your head.”

And in really good ingredients.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Email her at bquinnchomp.org .

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