Monday, March 30, 2009

Local with Laura

Way back in January (I know, I am so ashamed) I attended a local cooking class at the Fort Lauderdale Whole Foods Lifestyle Center. Here you see Chef Laura Thomas proudly displaying her delicious entree, which was part of a three course dinner featuring local products. Our first course was a potato, tomato basil and corn salad with sheep's milk feta cheese. Next Chef Laura made us shrimp scampi with Key West Pink Shrimp sauteed in Branford's Hot Sauce (made here in Hialeah). On the side she roasted some locally grown zucchini and topped it with a raw tomato sauce with capers and lemon zest. I loved the lemon zest. In fact, because of this class and this particular dish I invested in a micro-plane zester and have been zesting every citrus fruit that crosses my path. I'm surprised I haven't zested myself yet. For dessert we had local strawberries, which have been spectacularly in season down here since January. The strawberries accompanied a slice of angel food cake with whipped cream and were drizzled with local wildflower honey provided by Buzzn Bee out of West Palm Beach. The dinner was delicious. I loved everything I ate and Chef Laura was warm, friendly and a lot of fun. The class was also a huge bargain at $15.00 because we also got a copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the book that helped inspire this blog. The food was cheaper and better than what you'd get in any restaurant.

I do, however, have a few critiques of the class. I feel terrible, but a couple things about the class really bothered me. For one, as darling as Chef Laura is, she wasn't very familiar with local geography and culture. Like most people, she is more familiar with the local food movement as it manifests in a northern climate. This is ok, because eating local in the tropics isn't as popular as it is "Up North." She's probably just learning like the rest of us. More than this, I was bothered by the fact that some of the products used weren't really local. For instance, the sheep's milk feta in the potato salad was from Greece. That's pretty anti-local. That said, the cheese was so good that it nearly brought tears of joy to my eyes and I admit that I actually had to go and buy some of my own after the class. Still, the cheese was from really far away. To be exact, the sheep's milk feta could be considered terroir, meaning that even though it comes from thousands of miles away, the cheese is locally produced by artisans in Greece and not by some gigantic factory that pumps it full of by-products. Still though. The angel food cake and whipped cream also bothered me. The cake was from the Whole Foods bakery and not made from local ingredients. The whipped cream came out of a can. Had I been teaching this class I would have skipped the cake and cream. The strawberries were ripe and the honey sweet and complex enough to stand alone.

That aside, one aspect of the class that I really appreciated was that Chef Laura not only used locally grown produce, she incorporated locally made products from small companies in the area. I hadn't considered this before and because of her, I'm going to be posting about several local food businesses I've since discovered. Chef Laura really inspired me and I'm glad I took the class.

The next "Local with Laura" class is next Thursday April 9th. I'm thrilled to see that she's decided to make this a regular feature at the Lifestyle Center. Be sure to call and make a reservation. You can click on the link I provided up in the first paragraph for the schedule and phone number. Just remember, if you're Jewish, that's the first night of Passover. If the class were held any other night I would have taken it again, but alas, I must attend the Seder.

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