Archived Story

Chef displays original ideas for veggies in cooking class

Published 5:49pm Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Chamber After Hours event was held at Brown Nursing Home Tuesday afternoon.  A ribbon cutting was in order in celebration of their renovations following last summer’s horrific flooding.  Guests munched on finger foods such as deviled eggs and chocolate dipped strawberries before washing them down with blueberry filled lemonade.

Cecily Lee, the Administrator of Brown, gave me a guided tour of the fresh, new wing and as we flipped through a photo album showcasing the damage, I looked out into the parking lot in amazement as I struggled to imagine what it must have been like that day.

The photos displayed the half submerged cars and it was quite unreal to think that fire trucks had begun to float and flatbed boats were cruising around Washington Street. Alex City is incredibly blessed to have such a dedicated home, not group, of people caring for our elderly.

Spotted:  Susan Foy, Mayor Barbara Young, Emily & Rob McDaniel, Beverly Boldin, Sean Bland, Donna Milstead,  Susan Hardy, Donna Foshee, Abby Guy, Teresa Grier, Wayne Cowhick, Randy Dawkins, Larry Uptain, Craig Lee, Jane Howell, and Jim Peace.

Wednesday evening I sat in on Chef Rob’s cooking class down at Spring House. It was to be the last one until fall, and I hope everyone has the opportunity to attend eventually.

It was quite the experience, and I hungrily absorbed Rob’s vast ray of knowledge on the subject of vegetables.  I am always desperate for original ideas to cook vegetables.

The assorted earth toned pottery lined the chef’s counter and piles of fresh, brightly colored produce were spread upon the stainless steel worktable.

From my vantage point off to the left of the action, I began with fried oysters and sipped a house Cab as Chef Rob began to work his magic. We had grilled okra succotash, spring vegetable stew (made from broth out of corn cobs), and hearts of palm and fennel slaw.

He first introduced the produce, pointing out that the cherry tomatoes and English peas had been brought out earlier than normal due to our unseasonably warm spring.

Spring vidalias are delicious roasted or grilled. Baby carrots are found almost year round and asparagus needs to cook to a bright green, not dark, or it is considered overcooked.

Poblano peppers and okra were also to utilized that evening, and speaking of okra, you must try the okra fries at Spring House, served with tomato smoked aioli.

The fiddle head fern was discussed, and Rob emphasized that it is noted for its “earthy, earthy flavor” and best when blanched.

Blanching is an easy technique that many cooks use to keep vegetables crisp and tender. By boiling vegetables briefly, chilling them in ice water, then reheating them slowly, blanching preserves texture, color and flavor. Rob likes things light and fresh.  If vegetables are overcooked, then they will not have quite the same snap to them.

Rob held a funny shaped vegetable in the air and asked if anyone knew what it was.  It looked like a funny ghost eggplant to me.  It was palm heart – truly the center of a palm tree and can be eaten raw.

He then expertly supremed an orange (for the dressing), meaning he sliced on either side of the membrane, extracting the most tender of the fruit.

Rob dished out plenty of tips and as a fairly novice cook, I tried to take good notes. He pointed out that the first rule of knife cutting is to have a sharp knife.

Boiling vegetables are done when you can pierce them with a knife and it pulls out clean. Pollen can be used as a seasoning.

Keep tomatoes at room temperature.  Instead of splurging on a grill pan, just buy a resting rack and turn it the opposite way of your grill grate so nothing will fall through. When dressing your salad, distribute the dressing around the outside of the bowl, because it will spin better with the dressing not becoming caught up in the center.

Vinaigrette dressing is already considered to be a healthy dressing choice, but it also preserves the flavor of food.

The acid cuts through the fat of the food, and fat acts as a barrier by deadening the sense of taste and masking the flavor of the food.

It is true that cooking is an art and presentation is everything.  One must stay flexible to remain creative, yet there are always a set of rules to remember.  Blue and yellow combine to make green in the same vein that peanut oil has a higher smoke point than olive oil.

Rob moved fluidly and confidently around his kitchen, wielding his knife with surgeon like precision not unlike a painter with his brush.

His sense of humor and down home attitude kept his guests both entertained and intellectually stimulated.

The foodie conversation flowed, and I found it all to be just fascinating. It is a delight to be around someone who teaches you sometime new each time you see them.  Thank you, Chef Rob.

Howell works as an advertising representative for Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc., in addition to writing this column. Contact Howell at to keep her In the Loop of events.