What happens when you think that you’ve packed everything that you need for a cooking demonstration and just before it starts, you realize that you’ve left all the cooking equipment (induction burner, pots and food processor) in your car that is parked at your home 45 miles away?
This exact scenario happened to me on Saturday. I was getting ready to set up for my cooking demonstration at Serenbe Farmers Market when I realized that I had left the majority of the equipment at home! I quickly asked around, in hopes of finding a portable burner or heating element, with no success. I decided not to panic and take advantage of the situation. I asked myself, “What would a Top Chef do?” The answer quickly came to me–improvisation!
My original plan was to highlight a particular type of Japanese turnip called Hakurei, that is sweet and delicious when sautéed at a high heat with its green tops. Since the induction burner was 45 miles away, it wasn’t going to be possible for me to demonstrate this recipe. I wasn’t sure if raw Hakurei turnips would be well-received by the audience at the market. I quickly tested the idea, by thinly slicing the turnips and their green tops and tossing them with Meyer lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. The result was—shockingly—very good. I loved the slight bitterness from the turnip greens and the sweetness from the lemon and turnip roots. A new creation was born– Hakurei Turnip Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette. I shared this improvisational recipe with the market goers and received a fantastic response. Many people were just as surprised as I was at the delicious flavor.
I was reminded that when you’re forced to improvise, the result will leave you feeling free from the constraints of a recipe. You don’t have to be a Top Chef to improvise; anyone can do it. The first step is to learn some basic cooking techniques and then you can vary them. In this case, by knowing how to make a vinaigrette and knowing that thinly slicing vegetables makes them much more palatable when raw, I could create delicious food with the ingredients I had available. This process of cooking through improvisation is ongoing and can lead to a lifetime of variation and creativity in the kitchen.