Monday, September 17, 2007

Food Network Guest: Mory Thomas visits Jacksonville


I read the other day that the California based 'fast food' chain EL POLLO LOCO is contemplating a move to the 'South'. If that happens and they end up in Jacksonville; much to my embarrassment I would welcome them here.

There are some decent/acceptable fast food chains in Calif/esp. L.A. - are you now laughing at my hypocrisy? EL POLLO LOCO is one of them with their citrusy and slightly spicy grilled chicken with a Mexican twist. At least it's not adding to the deep fried renditions of pollo at the local fast food elements about town.

When I was an L.A. girl - el pollo was mainstay on nights right after work if I wasn't off to an event or out & about (yes - I had a life then....or the beach, the gym, a date or after work hike in the Malibu mountains *sigh*) and heading straight back to my loft apartment and two cats).

Always a take home order with a side of fat pickled jalapeno pepper and if I was lucky some carrots in the mix.

Then there's In-n-Out. Don't get me started on In-n-Out Burger.

I hope we get an In-n-Out - if so; I might want to be one of their general managers. They don't franchise - it's still a family operation. With the best *#$#&@! burgers in the world!

Moving towards a finer palate - we just had a highly coveted guest here last Friday from the Food Network. Mory Thomas, Food Network's Recipe Developer arrived and had a much anticipated visit at the kitchens of Publix Aprons Cooking School.

I had too much on my plate that night (hah!); and you will be delighted to know that my friend *M* (you may recall her from the Botan Japanese Restaurant journey I posted about) went on special assignment for

So here's *M* girl's insight about Mory's visit which I heard was quite captivating by our guest blogger....I wish I could have clicked my heels and been there:

**Mory Thomas, Recipe Developer for Food Network

written by *M*:
I must confess I was pretty excited at the prospect of being on “special assignment” to cover the Apron’s Cooking class with Mory Thomas of Food Network — and was duly rewarded.

Going in, I felt a little like Gail to Inga’s Oprah; standing in for my oh-so creative and provocative friend who was otherwise committed and could not attend (though I am, after all, already known on this site as the elusive “M”).

Here is my first observation: if you are a bit of a novice in the kitchen, just getting interested/learning, etc. this is a great forum....and I feel I can say this as a veteran of about 2 years of cooking classes myself.

By the time the class got underway; there was a good mix of couples and what appeared to be family and girlfriend “groups”. Chef Patrick Walley, Resident Chef of the Jacksonville Publix Apron's Cooking School began by educating the audience about upcoming classes (including legendary Paul Prudhomme - reservations for fall classes start 9-17-07 so call early or be disappointed!) and shared that all the cookware being used in the class would be available for 20% off – nice touch!

***Pulled pork seasoned plentiful with jicama & mango to the punch atop hand made corn tortilla

He then introduced the *star* of the show: Mory Thomas of Food Network.

Mory is a recipe developer in the Food Network test kitchen (he is one of only two!) where over 3,000 recipes have evolved from. He has culinary and restaurant management degrees and has worked for Martha Stewart Living (including a brief stint as her personal chef) and Food & Wine magazine - pretty impressive. He hails from Texas and loves all things Southwestern and had just returned from a trip to Mexico; thus the featured menu. He brought photos from his trip to share with the audience which was not only fun to see but really quite good (definitely better than the ones I took to accompany this piece!) Throughout the evening he entertained us with anecdotes about ingredients, techniques and experiences from work and travel - not the least of which was a lesson is cactus trimming for our first dish: Cactus & Shrimp Quesadillas.

Unbeknownst to most of us, a “classic” quesadilla is much smaller than what is served in our local eateries and made with a corn, not flour, tortilla. I was so anxious to taste this when it was delivered to me I completely forgot to photograph it (looks like you’d expect, tasted INCOMPARABLY better than anything you’ll be served at Chili’s) The cactus did not add any “weird” flavors, it was actually texture that made the difference…other ingredients you’d expect: shrimp, cheese, chilies, seasoning, etc.

****Esquite me ......

Mory quickly moved through a lesson on making tortillas from scratch (very cool and very easy) and eased into the second course: Esquites. Have no idea what it means but it is a classic corn dish in Mexico and big time delicioso. Chorizo, fresh corn, chilies, cilantro all tossed with lime juice, cheese and a dollop of mayonnaise (I know, but trust me, it works). He then prepared a Turkey Breast in Mole Verde....and have I mentioned all of the recipes were developed by Mory specifically for this class? Mole, as he explained it, is a “category” of sauce in Mexican cooking and there are many variations beyond the chocolate/cinnamon variety you might anticipate. The “verde” in this mole came from tomatillos and romaine lettuce...and the beauty of this dish is its simplicity of preparation. Blend @16 ingredients, strain and pour over a browned turkey breast to bake in a Dutch oven---but such flavors (cumin, cloves, cilantro, and brown sugar!!) Bueno!

The last course was a highlight: Mexican Pulled Pork for Puffy Taco topped with Mory gave us the lesson on tortillas from scratch but he did point out that this variation on a tortilla/taco shell is actually TexMex, originating in San Antonio. Imagine pork steeped (not correct culinary terminology but I’m going for imagery here) in 3 kinds of chilies, garlic and beer…among other ingredients…served atop a puffed taco and finished with fresh jicama (Mory likened it to a cross between a potato and pear), mango, cilantro and red cabbage tossed with lime juice and garnished with Queso Fresco.....I asked for seconds.

*****Mory (center) with Jacksonville's Cooking School Staff

As I mentioned at the beginning, all of this was woven into cooking and technique tips, i.e. proper way to season, how to use a microplane, explanations of unusual ingredients and so on…it was wonderfully educational while at the same time exceptionally entertaining and massively satisfying. Oh, and we enjoyed a few wines in the process as well! I should also mention we were the beneficiaries of a great NYC restaurant recommendation from Mory---but to be privy to it, you’ll have to return to regularly and find it whenever revealed! And one more note on Mory’s behalf: Food Network is launching a line of cooking products and cookware which he reminded us of several times—watch for that as well as possibly discovering Mory on air!

Publix Apron’s Cooking School just published its fall class schedule and if you are even slightly curious: GO!

You will be satiated, educated and delighted....See you there! ~”M”

Publix Apron's Cooking School
10500 San Jose Blvd.
Jacksonville, Florida 32257
Cooking School: 904-262-4187

* photo courtesy PD
** photo courtesy Publix Apron's Cooking School
***, ****, ***** photo courtesy *M*

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