Friday, March 24, 2017

Chef for a Day (Using the 1887 White House Cook Book!): Rick Knapp

The year 1887 was interesting, indeed. On February 2 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a group of people decided to observe a groundhog searching for his shadow, a novel weather prediction idea. On March 3, a woman named Anne Mansfield Sullivan began to teach a six-year-old child who was blind and deaf. The girl’s name was Helen Keller. On August 31, Thomas Edison received his patent for a device known as the Kinetoscope. Its purpose? To produce moving pictures.

And, 1887 was also the year the original White House Cook Book was published, a book containing “Cooking, Toilet and Household Recipes, Menus, Dinner-Giving, Table Etiquette, Care of the Sick, Health Suggestions, Facts Worth Knowing, Etc. Etc.” This book was the official cookbook for the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife, Lucy.

Moving forward to 2017, on February 18 Rick Knapp served as Chef for a Day at the Culinary Vegetable Institute where our team of chefs prepared an 11-course meal that provided a contemporary twist on recipes contained in this 1887 cookbook.

WhiteHouseCookbookDinner 64

“This really was a great day,” Rick shares. “I greatly enjoyed meeting new chefs and helping to make recipes new to me in a beautiful environment. The kitchen was extraordinarily well equipped and the three chefs were fantastic. They patiently answered my questions about cooking techniques and much more that were already engrained in them.”

Rick’s compliments are especially nice for us to hear, given that he has taken multiple cooking classes in the past, including in Paris, France and in Italy, and he has eaten at fine dining establishments around the globe. “Yet,” he says, “this was the most elegant dinner I have ever helped to prepare and I really liked the hands-on approach at the Culinary Vegetable Institute.”

WhiteHouseCookbookDinner 5

Rick says he learns new things every time he participates in culinary workshops and events. Terminology-wise, he had never heard the word “raft” used in a culinary context before it was used by Culinary Vegetable Institute chefs. “Raft” is a mixture of ingredients with its purpose being to clarify broth. Rafting traps impurities to skim them off.  

“Ingredient-wise,” Rick adds, “I’d never cooked with microgreens or miniature vegetables before. I was amazed by how tiny these delicious vegetables were.”

WhiteHouseCookbookDinner 34

Rick had arrived at the Culinary Vegetable Institute at 10:30 a.m. and met with the three chefs about the menu planned from the 1887 White House Cook Book. “Chef Jamie,” he says, “laid out each of the plates and bowls to be used, labeled them and walked through the process for my benefit. Some prep work had been done before that day, but we then needed to continue that prep work.”

WhiteHouseCookbookDinner 25

He participated in a wide variety of tasks, including whipping cream, slicing “tiny carrots,” creating a mixture of egg whites, greens and micro-herbs to flavor and raft the consume, and much more. He helped to create an intriguing multi-layer white cake that took the best features of multiple recipes, including making and applying a layer of burnt almond icing that held ladyfingers to the outside of the cake like glue. He also placed tiny delectable flowers on the cakes’ tops. “Everything,” he confirms, “is created from scratch and there is no question that the food is very fresh.”

When meal preparation was complete, Rick was then free to enjoy the 11-course dinner with his wife, Ellen Mattingly. But, he instead hopped back and forth from Ellen’s table to the kitchen, wanting to also be part of the plating and presentation process.

WhiteHouseCookbookDinner 47

When we asked Rick if the 12-hour-long experience at our culinary center tired him out, here was his response. “Chef for a Day,” he says, “reaffirms how much I really like to cook – and also how I could never be a chef. I have a renewed appreciation for their creativity.” After the event, he and Ellen stayed in the chef’s suite overnight, which he said was an excellent decision.

Here is more information about the Culinary Vegetable Institute event where Rick served as Chef for a Day, and here are more details if you’re interested in participating in this unique hands-on experience at our culinary center