A look back at the year in Food by Tom Yates

A look back at the year in Food by Tom Yates

OCTOBER 2010: WEG’s James Beard Celebrity Chef Series at the Horse Park

On a warm autumn Saturday early evening, 80 guests gathered on the lawn of the The Farmhouse tucked amid the rolling grounds of The Kentucky Horse Park for one of the final James Beard Celebrity Chef Dinners.

Last night’s dinner featured spectacular James Beard celebrity chefs cooking alongside very high caliber local chefs. They gathered in the kitchen of The Farmhouse to spotlight Kentucky food and ingredients. Chef Michael Cimarusti, partner and Executive Chef of Providence, Los Angeles, California is a 2010 James Beard Award Winner. Chef Christopher Lee, Executive Chef of Charlie Palmer’s Aureole, New York, New York was a 2006 James Beard Award Winner and earned two Michelin Stars at Gilt Restaurant in New York before taking over the kitchen at Aureole. Chef Dean Corbett, Corbett’s, Jack’s Lounge, and Equus, Louisville, Kentucky is an institution in the local culinary community. Representing Holly Hill,
Midway, Kentucky, was three-time James Beard Award nominee Ouita Michel.

Those were some heavy credentials hitting the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park and the kitchen of The Farmhouse. It promised to be an eventful evening. It was epic. In every way.

NOVEMBER 2010: The Nick Ryan’s Saloon Preview on Jefferson

Jefferson Street dining corridor has welcomed a new option to its expanding dining and bar scene with the opening of Nick Ryan’s Saloon.

The original Nick Ryan’s Saloon was opened at 120 North Mill Street in 1905. Nicholas Ryan was the son of prominent Lexington saloon man, John Ryan, who had run saloons in town since the early 1880s. Nick and brother J. Edward Ryan worked with their father and, after his death helped run the family saloon and billiard room on South Limestone next door to the “original Levas’s restaurant” (CentrePointe Block).

The new incarnation of the saloon is perched just above street level on Jefferson Street located between 2nd and Short Streets. The interior opens up to a cozy veranda through floor to ceiling french doors (open for last night’s preview and unseasonably warm weather).

Last night’s preview buffet included cheesy celeriac gratin, beef tenderloin with chimichurri sauce, huge tender sauteed scallops, and cured salmon on micro arugula with capers, minced onions, minced eggs, and sour cream. Nick Ryan’s Saloon joins additional Ace culinary neighbors, Wine + Market (Ace coverstory March 27, 2008); the Grey Goose and Stella’s Deli.

JANUARY 2011. Spicy.

I had everything I needed to prepare a riff on Turkish Red Lentil Tomato soup. Everything, that is, except red lentils. Knowing my grocery certainly wouldn’t have them, I thought about going to Parisa International Supermarket, but didn’t want to deal with the traffic. The same issue arose with fresh Market, Good Foods, and Whole Foods. Traffic. I decided to split the travel distance and check out a relative newcomer to the foreign
market landscape, Selby’s International Market on Harrodsburg Road.

Four aisles were packed to the gills. Angela, the delightful proprietor, greeted me warmly and asked if I needed any help.

I stepped into Selby’s for red lentils and left with two bags filled with plaintains, yucca, tamarind paste, cardamom pods, black mustard seeds, fresh curry leaves (a first), and lentils.

LENT 2011

Ok, Ok, so Lent lasts for forty days. Fourth week of Lent. Fourth Meatless Friday. I have been thinking a lot about mussels lately. Locally, we have had mussels all over town. Le Deauville offers an all-youcan- eat steamed mussels special every Tuesday. The steam bath wafting off the mussels
alone is drinkable. Clamato’s Mexican Seafood has a seafood soup filled with an entire fish (head and tail) along with mussels, shrimp, cilantro, and jalapeno peppers in fish stock. Spicy, challenging, and fantastic. Bellini’s seafood entree section includes a very classic Farfalle al Frutti di Mare with
mussels, clams, shrimp, and scallops bathed in a saffron fennel and white wine tomato seafood broth. Acidic tomato and seafood heaven. Personally, my favorite flavor profile is asian, and Arirang Garden’s Hoe Mool Tang, with vegetables, crab, mussels, squid, and scallops in a rich spicy stock is heartwarming and mouth watering. As I planned this week’s meatless Friday menu, and it does take planning, these mussel memories inspired me.

APRIL 2011: Farmers’ Market Opens

After a long, cold, and snowy winter, yesterday was the eagerly awaited opening day of Lexington Farmers’ Market. It seemed like an eternity since the vendors sold their last end of season pawpaws, gourds, and winter squash before closing shop for the winter.

Although gloomy and overcast yesterday morning, the atmosphere at the market was upbeat and lively.

We sampled beer cheese and chocolate truffles before stopping by Quarles Quality Beef from Waddy, Kentucky. After tasting their beer-steamed brats, we picked up a package of brats, a pound of short ribs, corn relish, and jam cake. Weird combination. They had it covered, for sure.

As we strolled around the back side of the market munching on chocolate croissants from Sunrise Bakery, I stopped dead in my tracks when I spotted huge Bracken County oyster mushrooms protruding from tiny baskets and left with one as big as my head.

MAY 2011: A Sneak Peek at Shorty’s Market

T h i n k i n g Shorty’s opened today, we stopped by on our way to the farmers’ market. Even though staff and employees were busily stocking shelves
and readying the store for the grand opening, they eagerly invited us in to take a look around for a sneek peek. Wow. The space, formerly occupied by a bank, has retained quaint remnants from the past while sporting an urban edge.

The jewel of the market is the old bank vault. Just beyond the deli, the space opens up to a larger section of the market crowned by the vault with its gigantic vault door swung open to reveal their frozen foods and refrigerated items. Very cool.

Shorty’s, An Urban Market is going to fill a hungry void for downtown workers and residents. We’ve needed it and wanted it. Yeah, we were a day early, but I’m glad we stopped by Shorty’s today. Their enthusiasm, excitement, and gracious hospitality was infectiously compelling.

MAY 2011: Crabby

A few days ago, I had a hankering for soft shell crabs. There must have been some weird instinct lingering in my brain reminding me that May and early June is molting season for Maryland Blue Crabs. As they grow, they shed their smaller shells. When they molt, there is a very short period of
time before their soft shells harden. During that small window, whole crabs, (soft shells and all) are completely edible and delicious.

Either pan fried, sauteed, or deep fried, we adore them. Whenever we run across soft shell crabs, we order them. While at work, I followed up my hankering with a call to the Lexington Seafood Company to ask if that had any in stock. They have fresh seafood flown in regularly, so I thought I
had a good shot. “Why, yes sir, we do.”

After searching around for various methods and ideas for soft shell crabs, three precooking procedures were consistent.

#1. Only use live soft shell crabs. Got it.; #2. Trim the apron from the underbelly to remove the gills and other junk. Check. And……#3? Use kitchen shears to cut the faces off of the live crabs. What? Cut the faces off of the crabs? With kitchen shears? While they’re alive? Are you kidding me????

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done my share of seafood killing for our dining pleasures.

I’ve pierced live lobsters between the eyes to instantly kill them before cooking. (Granted, I’ll never do it again. I was in a classroom with people watching. There was pressure.) I’ve dropped thousands of fresh living crabs into steam pots over the years simply for the shear joy of swiping their succulent meat through drawn butter. I’ve killed countless live clams and mussels to toss with pastas or slurp with varied sauces. Who hasn’t, really?

But, soft shell crabs with faces off? Nope. Didn’t do it for me.

That day, my soft shell crab hankering morphed into soup and a salad for dinner. Harmless.

JUNE 2011: Garlic Scapes

One vendor, tucked away and hidden from the market madness, offered only three things this weekend at the farmers’ market: hydroponic tomatoes, (our only option for quite some time), curiously green rhubarb, and beautiful ropes of garlic scapes. I snapped a scape in two and tasted it. It had
the essence of fresh garlic without the biting heat of raw garlic.

Garlic scapes are the fl owering shoots from young hardneck garlic cloves. They push through the ground, curl toward the sun, and fl oat through the air effortlessly. Garlic growers snip the shoots to focus the garlic’s energy back into the bulbs for growth and development. For a short time, we get the scapes. Having the texture of young fresh green beans, scapes can be stirfried, sauteed, or pureed into pesto. Last night, I decided to grill them.

JUNE: Cupcake Wars

Brown’s Bakery is a local, family-run bakery owned and operated by baker James Brown. After serving the locals for four and a half years at their old location on West Main Street in Meadowthorpe, they recently moved to their new location at 1226 Versailles Road. It sits in a small strip center near the Subway, fl anked by everything from a tattoo/piercing shop to a martial arts studio. The new location is still within a quick minute of downtown. Eagerly, their loyal customers followed them.

On his trip to California for Cupcake Wars, (he competed with a Mint Julep entry for a Derby-themed competition) he was inspired by the number of specialty cupcake shops and wedding cake shops he noticed while in Los Angeles. We he returned to Kentucky, he thought, “maybe if we became
more specialized, we could be successful here and it would bring me back to what I wanted to do.”

LABOR DAY: Watermelon

My grandparents’ house was nestled on a slight hill surrounded by patches of trees and rolling fi elds on a lake in Western Kentucky. White-washed wooden planked fences separated the main house and work buildings from the fi elds, creating idyllic panoramas for the property. After we moved back to Kentucky to live with my grandparents, one of the fi rst things my father did was haul out the Bush Hog, attach it to my grandfather’s tractor, and mow a large square area around a huge oak tree on one side of the house beyond the whitewashed fencing. After leveling the knee high hay, he climbed aboard a riding lawn mower and mowed the same area until it resembled a well manicured lawn. I had no idea what he was doing. I really didn’t care. At the time, restless catfi sh jumping around our murky moss-laden pond fascinated me a lot more.

The next morning, he fastened thick grass rope to an old tire, climbed the tree (with the help of my brother), and secured the rope over the thickest arching limb from the oak tree. He made a tire swing. I’d never seen one before. Being an eleven year old boy, it certainly grabbed my attention. I happily played on the swing for several days until the catfi sh lured me back to the pond. The swing hung lifeless in the tall grass for the duration of autumn and winter.

The following spring, he was back out there Bush Hogging, mowing, and manicuring the tire-swing lawn in preparation for an upcoming Memorial Day family cookout. During our fi rst few years living there, he repeated the ritual twice a year for family cookouts on Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Memorial Day was the usual pot-luck affair, but the Labor Day cookout was his baby. After everyone gathered under the oak tree, lounging about in hose old timey brightly colored aluminum folding lawn chairs, he’d light the fi re and grill onion studded cheesestuffed hamburgers and husked-wrapped buttered fi eld corn. Dessert was always sliced and chunked sun-kissed watermelon straight from the garden served atop leftover newspapers to catch the mess.

The tire swing was in constant use during those picnics, its rope rhythmically squeaking around the worn tree limb from the weight of the people riding it throughout the day. Summer sounds.

After a few years, the picnics slowly faded away until they stopped all together. Toward the end of what was to become our fi nal picnic, I somehow managed to wrestle the rights to the tire swing. Seizing the moment, I grabbed an end chunk of warm watermelon, climbed onto the tire, pushed
my feet to the ground for acceleration, and lazily fl ew through the air chomping on watermelon while spitting tiny black seeds into the newly mown grass.