A few years ago when I was cooking a VIP lunch for the Grammy winning singer with an Empire State of Mind, all while scrambling to get my normal weekly food drop offs out of my kitchen, I crystallized my culinary point of view. I recognize a culinary POV may not be all that important to you, but at the time I was preparing to shoot a pilot for the Food Network with a production company out of Australia and I knew I needed a food philosophy that would set me apart from every other cook out there trying to find a bit of the spotlight. (If you are creating a business of your own or trying to move forward in your career, I highly recommend clarifying your personal POV.)
My POV? Everyone’s a VIP when it comes to food. I shopped for these jobs together, I prepared all of the dishes in my kitchen at the same time, and I even had the same car service drive me to the upper westside of Manhattan for my client dropoffs and then whisk me away to meet the Girl On Fire on set with her lunch in tow. Everyone got VIP treatment and service that day. The idea that every single client is special, that every single eater is important, has stayed with me. Every occasion is an opportunity for me to do my best.
I got to prove my theory once again last weekend. I had the great good fortune to give a cooking class to 3 (plus a little sister) eager 12-15 year old girls. We practiced knife skills, and we compared grocery store and farmer’s market produce. We created different shapes and textures with vegetables using a variety of cutting and cooking techniques. We stirred, roasted, tasted, simmered, deglazed, shaved, julienned, sliced, diced, and minced. They worked hard! We celebrated our day by serving our dishes to their Moms and then feasting on our efforts.
I shared a roasted apple and butternut squash recipe with them that is one of my Fall staples. Last year’s Why Soup? blog post featured the same soup using kabocha squash. I prepared this particular butternut squash soup recipe for a fancy Brooklyn wedding that I had catered a few weekends before. Bride and Groom = VIP, right? I served it in sweet little shot glasses placed on an antique silver tray. The soup shooters were passed around during cocktail hour. It was a very important occasion and very important guests celebrating a big day. I garnished the soup with an apple cider cream and sprinkled the top with cinnamon.
My culinary students served their soups in tea cups with fried sage leaves for garnish. Different vessel, different occasion, different level of skill in preparation, but the very same soup. Everyone is a VIP when it comes to food. Whether you are cooking for celebrities, newly married couples and their families, your wife and kids, or just learning to gain some independence in the kitchen, each of these are VIP experiences. Or they can be.
Technique and fancy ingredients definitely elevate and enhance our food, but intention and presence make meals extra tasty. What does that mean? Intend for your cooking to be delicious, nourishing, and well received. Staying present is paying attention so you don’t cut yourself, burn the food, or have your pots boil over onto the stove and floor. Keep mindful of the very important people who will partake in your efforts. Sprinkle the pot with your good wishes and blessings.
We also made a Moroccan Chicken Tagine, parmesan zucchini chips, and a raw carrot and herb salad with sage oil vinaigrette. The day was a true success. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share the kitchen with these girls, it was fun to see them enthusiastically embrace tasks and take them on together. They asked great questions and made me think. I was able to slow down my normal process and really consider how and why I do things in the kitchen. And if we came across something I didn’t know, we picked up one of our smart phones and googled the answer, and learned something new together. I look forward to our next VIP kitchen adventure.
Apple and Butternut Squash Soup with Dukkah and Fried Sage Leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
4 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped butternut squash
2 cups peeled, cored, and chopped apple
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups vegetable broth
1 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons dukkah
Heat the oil in a big pot over medium heat. Add the first 5 ngredients, stir. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Add broth and cider. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 more minutes. Remove form heat and let cool slightly. Puree in batches in a blender or in the pot with a hand blender until smooth. Stir in the dukkah spice. Garnish with fried sage leaves.