Artposium in Delta County: Dinner Stories–cooking with Howard Dubrovsky

Saturday afternoon at the Artposium, we had three fine presentations:

Writer Katherine Leiner, of Colorado and New York, has conducted 130 interviews of people between the ages of 19 and 38 who are going back to the land in search of good food for her upcoming book called Young and Hungry.

Chef Howard Dubrovsky from Toronto demonstrated that contemporary molecular gastronomy is within reach not just of diners with very deep pockets but can be played with in the kitchens of regular folks as well. . . . He's opening a restaurant in Toronto, and it looks like it would be fun to visit. . . . (Howard's a vegetarian and a beer connoisseur.)

Multimedia artist Cathi Schwalbe-Bouzide, also known as the Corn Lady, comes from Chicago and I felt like I'd known her a long time, even though we'd just met. She grows corn in the city and keeps people surrounded by concrete aware of their agricultural heritage and the necessity of growing things. She's obviously having a great time with her art.

_________

Sunday morning, the farm-and-vegetable group of Artposium participants gathered at a grange way out on a mesa to cook lunch for fifty people under Howard's tutelage. Howard is not only a gifted culinary artist, he's a wonderful teacher.

Here's what he had to work with:

  • sixteen people, ranging in skill level from those who had been told to stay out of the kitchen all their lives to someone who had run a catering business (most of us were in the middle)
  • a grange kitchen with broken plastic colanders, not enough knives or other tools, and no really big pots
  • a fridge where "keep cold" was implemented as "lightly freeze"
  • just over three hours

So first we put all the food out and got oriented to how this would work: Howard said he was taking the day off and we would be doing the cooking. We did do the cooking, but he didn't exactly take the day off. We also got oriented to the health processes: which sinks we would wash our hands in, which were for washing food, which were for dishes, and how all the procedures needed to take place in each of those locations.

Howard1_3225

He divided us into three teams—five, five, and six people—and put each team in charge of two of the dishes that would be served. Everyone in the symposium would be arriving for lunch, for a total of about fifty people. The other participants were elsewhere for the morning, either learning how to make wine or making pear strudel.

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My team was responsible for the carrot soup and the spaetzle.

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On the main counter to the left of the sheet of paper was the working area for the savory tart (its team is shown in the photo above with Howard). To the right of the paper was prep area for the most complex of the salads. The soup-and-spaetzle team set up at the round table in the background, although we hadn't moved our stuff when I took this photo—our two quart bottles of malt liquor are still at the far end of the counter.

Here's what the kitchen looked like for most of the morning:

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That's thirteen of the seventeen people all working in the same space simultaneously. I was taking a photo. The other two participants and Howard were over at the prep areas. The only person whose face you can see in this photo is Cathi Bouzide, the Corn Lady, who did get to prep the corn for the salad. Writer/presenter Katherine Leiner is in the red Dinner Stories apron. At front right is one of my team members, Ila Pound.

Come to think of it, the two missing participants are the rest of my team! They were a father-and-son pair. I must have ducked out to take a photo as a quick break from peeling and chopping carrots or mixing spaetzle dough. It took a really long time to mix enough spaetzle dough for fifty people.

So everyone's accounted for at the moment of that photo. And that's pretty much what the kitchen looked like for a solid three hours.

Finally it was time to lay out the feast.

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Howard presented our dishes to the entire gathered group, from least complex (toward the kitchen) to most complex (foreground). Hmm: the spaetzle and the soup (black pot) are both at this end. The adjacent bowl is the ceviche, which was the only non-vegetarian dish. I think which dishes were placed where could be debated. That tart looked pretty complex (it's hiding in the middle).

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Wait a minute! That was supposed to be six dishes, two per team, and
at the finale we laid out nine dishes, going with the flow of what was available and
how it fit together.

  1. lentils with Moroccan spices
  2. savory tart
  3. heirloom tomatoes and olives
  4. celery slaw
  5. ceviche
  6. carrot soup
  7. spaetzle
  8. salad with greens and colorful vegetables
  9. medium-cooked eggs (really served as sort of a condiment: they were cooked fully, but the middles were the consistency of jelly)

Howard brought plans for each dish, but no recipes. We cooked by
following our noses and tastebuds from the starting point to the finish
line, with Howard's help along the way as we used unfamiliar ingredients—and familiar ones in unfamiliar ways.

Here's the centerpiece salad: greens, plus a lot of vegetables, many of which were lightly blanched to take off the raw edge (the yellow and red beets were gorgeous; this was also where Cathi's corn went):

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Here's the celery slaw:

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And the salad of heirloom tomatoes and good black olives:

Tomato-salad_3233

I missed getting a photo of the Moroccan spiced lentils, but here's the savory tart with caramelized onions and other things—it was hard to tell what exactly was in it, but it was exquisite. It was topped with a pear compote:

Tart-spaetzle_3235

That's the edge of our spaetzle at the right. Here's a better photo:

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We cooked spaetzle in a little pot of boiling water all morning, batch after batch after batch. We were a lot better at cooking spaetzle at noon than we were at 10 a.m. It's purple because the liquid it was made with was purple carrot juice (the plan was to use beet juice, but that couldn't be found and purple carrot juice could). It was dressed with a reduction of butter and more purple carrot juice and dressed with herbs.

Here's our soup:

Soup_3237

The soup is in two pots because we didn't have a single pot that was big enough. We started it by infusing olive oil with orange zest and star anise. While that was going on, we peeled carrots and cut them into chunks. We strained the flavoring agents out of the oil, added the carrots, and cooked them until they started to brown and caramelize. Then we added honey and malt liquor, along with some of the braising water from the vegetables for the main salad, and cooked until the carrots were soft. Next, we used a handheld blender to make the soup smooth . . . and poured the soup back and forth between the pots to blend the two batches.

I also missed getting a photo of the ceviche, other than the one above with the whole meal together, but here's my lunch (except for the ceviche, which didn't fit on a vegetarian plate; the eggs, which I helped prepare but didn't eat because I don't like eggs; and the pear strudel, which came later):

Lunch6_3244

Everything there was truly delicious—while we were cooking, I wasn't so sure I was going to like the soup because of the malt liquor, but in the end it was subtle, complex, light, and tasty.

It's hard to say, though, which was better: eating the meal, or cooking it. Howard kept coming around and suggesting next steps and telling us we were doing a great job. So we did!

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