Last night we had the honor of having Justin Cucci, chef and owner of Root Down and Linger, teach our September cooking class! The class was wonderful and the participants were so engaged! The class sold out in less than 24 hours so we knew the participants were as excited as we were to learn from the infamous Chef Justin. And, as a bonus, guess who else showed up to help out? Executive Pastry Chef Samm Sherman, who taught last month’s cooking class, came as a surprise guest!
Did you know that Chef Justin is a meat minimalist? That’s right, he believes in eating meat as sparingly as possible, something I have been trying to do for years (and I’m convinced I would have been successful if bacon weren’t so dang good!). We did not use meat at all the entire class but instead utilized protein-packed beans and nuts. In fact, the first two dishes we made were not only vegetarian, but also gluten free and vegan!
We started off with an incredible Vietnamese crepe, made from rice flower, turmeric, scallions, salt, sugar, coconut milk, and water. And that was just the batter! We then stuffed the crepes with various goodies and topped with a number of homemade Asian sauces and wrapped it in lettuce. Talk about amazing!
We followed-up the crepes with a gourmet gazpacho made with peaches, tomatoes, nuts, and lots of other secret ingredients that only the class attendees have the privilege of knowing. The gazpacho was fantastic! I have never been a cold-soup lover, but this was truly delicious. The different ingredients, which I would have never thought would pair well, created a bouquet of unbelievable flavors that left me wanting for more. Also, did you know that some nuts, when soaked overnight in boiling water then blended until creamy, are a great alternative to cream when making soups? Another vegan cooking secret, courtesy of Chef Justin!
We took a break from the heavy cooking and whipped up a quick, delicious hummus. Now, I will claim to be a hummus snob and have tasted almost every brand of hummus under the sun (at least under the Colorado sun) and I thought I knew it all. Again, Chef Justin surprised me by adding pistachios to the mix and throwing out the traditional chickpeas in favor of another, lesser-known substitute. He then topped the hummus with a medley of spices, both for presentation and an extra kick of flavor.
Finally we finished with a fermented yogurt pancake, topped with a homemade Indian condiment (that Justin literally just made up) and simple syrup made from agave, ginger, lime zest, vanilla sticks, and more. I can honestly say that I have never tasted anything so delectable and apparently neither had Justin… he even mentioned perhaps adding it to one of his restaurants’ menus!
All in all the class was fantastic and we are so grateful that Justin took the time out of his busy schedule to come to Café Options and teach our September cooking class. I know I learned a lot and so did the other participants. I will now leave you all with a few lessons I learned from Chef Justin:
- If it’s on the cutting board, you must use it
- If a soup has less than 3 garnishes, it is not worth eating
- Nuts go well in and with anything
- Don’t use recipes, just make it up as you go (Justin had never made any of the dishes he taught us last night… he made them all up!)
- Use The Flavor Bible whenever and as much as possible
- Korean Chili is the new Cayenne Pepper
- Buy your spices off of Amazon.com
- Be adventurous when it comes to food and break all the rules.
Click here to see more pictures from last night and while you’re at it, like our page!
Thank you Chef Justin for taking us on a culinary adventure around the world!