Chef Monica Pope writes about eating & cooking where your food lives

Oh no, you didn’t… January 22, 2010

Filed under: Green Plum Cooking School — monicaspeak @ 7:07 am
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Green Plum Cooking School –  Sat., Jan 9th, 2010

NOTE: The recipes used in my Green Plum Cooking School classes can be found in my online cookbook, “Eat Where Your Food Lives,” available for purchase at

So, I admit it, things got a little, shall we say, off-color in this class.

I don’t know how it happened but I’d like to blame it on the SUV I’m using to drive off Alice Waters’ yellow brick road and onto Monica Pope Parkway.  I told you it was going to be a bumpy (and sometimes dangerous ride!).

During class, I told a very disturbing story about me in my little Mini Cooper, in my own parking lot, instigating a very large West Indies woman in an even larger SUV.  I know what I did was wrong and I won’t ever do it again but, suffice to say, things turned ugly quickly and my encounter with this woman soon became one of white vs. black.  Or so I thought.  One audience member came up to me and said that maybe it was more of an SUV-related incident and not so much a race-related incident.  “You know how those SUV owners are,” she said.

In any case, that story got me talking about race and acceptance and who’s whiter and who’s really black and who’s not and the cultural differences between what you eat and what you like to eat and that somehow got me on the Culinary Tour I’m doing with Marcus Davis from The Breakfast Klub next door.  These tours (sold out already – ) are hosted by the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau; Marcus and I are going to take 20 people on a bus to “people’s mama’s houses” — my mama’s house, Marcus’s mama’s house and then other people’s mama’s houses — to eat good food and drink St. Arnold’s beer and have lots of discussion, I’m sure, about food and community and race and sex and all sorts of taboo subjects, I guess.  One of my friends – who is black – (some of my best friends are black and possibly some family members from San Diego, but that’s another story I told to the class) was eating in my kitchen at t’afia and he said, “I love eating in the kitchen with you.  Maybe your mantra should be “eat where your food is cooked.”  For him, that’s mama’s kitchen…well, Moni’s kitchen.

A few days after this class, I’m watching CNN and there are three panelists — two black and one white — talking about Harry Reid’s remarks about President Obama.  I didn’t even get all the details, but I loved one panelist saying that his own experience is that the darker the skin (he’s dark-skinned), the angrier the man (he’s perceived as angry) and that lighter- skinned people are more acceptable; he said that we often talk about these things, meaning how blacks and whites are treated, we just don’t do it in the same room and finally, if we don’t talk about it, we can’t learn from it.

In the midst of this race ruckus, we’re cooking…sort of.  Today I made Portobello Carpaccio, which is just a fancy, Italian word for raw.  On the menu at t’afia, I have an Avocado Sashimi — that’s just a fancy word for raw, too.  For the Carpaccio, I used a Japanese mandoline to slice the mushrooms thinly, but with some bite still left to them.  I choose to leave the gills on.

Portobello Mushrooms sliced on the mandolin



The Sum of the Parts… January 2, 2010

Green Plum Cooking School, January 2nd Class

NOTE: The recipes used in my Green Plum Cooking School classes can be found in my online cookbook, “Eat Where Your Food Lives,” available for purchase at

Two days into the new year and I am depressed already.  I’m doing my own recipes for Green Plum and I have to admit that it is not as much fun as making fun of Alice like I did last year (and I also know how my own recipes turn out, sort of).  And, on top of it all, even though it’s the start of a new year, I am worried about the economy.  In 2009, we weathered a 13% drop in business, but any more and we’re talking ouch.

If you’ve ever seen my kitchen, you’ll see that my desk is a dumping ground.  Anything that doesn’t have a home, it gets put on my desk.  On Friday night, it’s the mail and who-knows-what-else.  While I’m planning for today’s class, I find a newsletter from an organization that I belonged to called Chefs Collaborative.  The title of the newsletter is “Five Tips for Managing Food Costs When Running a Sustainable Kitchen.”  Only I would find this interesting, but I bring it to class to read anyway.  It’s timely and interesting to me in many ways but even more so since t’afia will be closed for a few extra days after New Year’s so I am challenged by the great undoing of prep work and products; I am getting creative with the menu so I don’t lose anything and so I also don’t have to order anything until after we come back.

The article makes these points: 1) Strive for 100% utilization (check) 2) Look at the menu as a whole rather than at any individual item (check) 3) Start with what’s easiest (check) 4) Start with what’s local and in season and move out (duh, check) 5) Using the whole animal can make money, as well as using underutilized cuts of meat (check, check).  It may all seem very obvious but you’d be surprised at how many chefs and restaurateurs never give these concepts a second thought.  My main goal has been to run a sustainable kitchen and sustainable business for the last 20 years; we may not always thrive but we’ve always been viable.  To define sustainable, viable, thriving – I think a lot of chefs and restaurateurs will be working on these (and cleaning out our walk-ins) in 2010.

In this context, it made perfect sense to me to do something for the class that would utilize the leftover mushroom stems from the shiitakes we smoked for the New Year’s Eve menu (we don’t throw anything away!) and the crimini stems that we always have around from making the endive salad and Real Ale battered crimini appetizer from the menu.   (more…)


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