I’m just getting home from four days in Las Vegas where I attended the inaugural Food Fight Write conference held in conjunction with the ultimate cooking competition – the World Food Championships, where serious cooking competitors throw it down in hopes of becoming world champs in their category. When the smoke clears and the Final Table judges have their say one lucky competitor will be left standing as the World Food Champion.
The field for the 2014 World Food Championships was expanded to nine categories with 550 competitor spots. Returning categories include: Barbecue, Chili, Sandwich, Burger, Dessert, Bacon and Recipe, while Pasta and Seafood have been added as the two new categories. As in years past, the Recipe category is based on a theme of food, and this year that theme is Cheese.
Occupying arteries and parking lots adjacent to the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas, you’ll find passionate cooks and grill masters from across the country intent on their craft, nonplussed by rows of spectators and the parade of characters and performance artists that stretch along Fremont Street between the Plaza Hotel and the Container Park.
The four-day conference offered focused sessions on topics directly related to food blogging, from video production, photography skills, graphic design, the path to publishing, finding your voice (writing), to the history and art of cocktails. The business strategy sessions delivered by seasoned veterans of the trade and members of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) really honed in on the”The Business of Blogging”.
To complete the experience, attendees were shuttled off on a foodie field trip to Le Cordon Bleu Kitchen at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Las Vegas. We watched hands-on demonstrations by Le Cordon Bleu’s chef instructors in eight different areas and experience what it’s like to be a culinary student pursuing our passion in the professional kitchens of Le Cordon Bleu. Building on over 100 years of tradition, the Le Cordon Bleu is synonymous with expertise, refinement, honor and discipline. Students hands-on skills and study in a fast-paced kitchen classroom and are taught the techniques essential to cooking any style of cuisine.
I was drawn to the kitchen that had a colorful display of vegetables and spices and the teaser, “Who said Healthy Food cannot be SEXY?” Two thumbs up. My mantra is “healthy food doesn’t have to be boring”, but sexy works for me, too – I was in the right place! Chef Alexandra Fochi engaged us immediately with her friendliness and Brazilian accent and entertained her audience in an animated discussion about the elements of flavor, and the Red Beans & Rice and Cauliflower in Curried Tomato Sauce was divine vegetarian fare that everyone, before and after us, enjoyed thoroughly.
Chef Fochi shared valuable tips with us on creating complex flavors. One was it takes TIME! She started the beans three days before, soaking them, cooking with spices, letting them rest for a day to allow the flavors develop. For the sauce she recommended canned tomatoes without added salt – I LOVE her! She demonstrated the order in which the components are cooked develops maximum flavor for the curry tomato sauce: after heating your oil, add seeds first, then the spices and briefly cook until you smell the intoxicating aroma of the spices – and sometimes this may be slightly too long. Remove from the heat immediately, to prevent burning.
I’m pleased to be able to share this recipe, direct from Le Cordon Bleu with you. The Red Beans & Rice is reminiscent of the classic New Orleans dish and rounds out the Cauliflower Steaks in Curried Tomato Sauce perfectly. A satisfying dinner for Meatless Monday, a vegetarian meal, or accompaniment to grilled meat, fish, or chicken.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 sweet onion, finely chopped
- 1 Fresno chile, seeded and finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes*
- 1 late head cauliflower
- 3 tablespoon live oil, as needed
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves
- 1 preserved lemon, seeded and chopped
- ¼ cup chopped green onions
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place a saucepan over medium heat with olive oil. Cook onion, chile and curry powder until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and tomato sate and cook until aromatic, about 1 minutes. Add white wine and scrape any bits stuck to the bottom of pot. Add tomatoes and mash with a spoon. Simmer sauce until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Puree until smooth and reserve warm.
- While sauce is simmering, prepare cauliflower. Trim any green leads from cauliflower and invert on a cutting board. Slicing through the core, cut four steaks about ½-inch thick from the center of the vegetable. Reserve any remaining pieces for later use.
- Place a large skillet over medium-heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Working in batches as needed, sear cauliflower until well-caramelized, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet and continue broadening remaining batches, adding additional olive oil with each batch. Bake cauliflower steaks for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Serve with tomato sauce and garnish with whole cilantro leaves and preserved lemon, if using.
*If preserved lemon is unavailable, garnish with grated lemon zest.
Recipe from Le Cordon Bleu Las Vegas.