Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My Class at Jamie Oliver's Big Rig Kitchen

After watching the television program "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" back in June of 2011, I wrote this evaluation of local school lunches. Then one day last month, I was reading the newspaper published by the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op and saw a blurb that made my heart jump. Jamie Oliver's Big Rig Kitchen, it said, was doing a tour of California cities and would be stopping in Sacramento in January and February. As a long-time fan of the chef and fan of the Food Revolution, I knew I had to sign up for a class.

The Big Rig Kitchen is a mobile kitchen that has been offering free classes as it has made its way through our great state, thanks to donations from the places listed below (on the side of the truck). I hopped onto the website and saw all sorts of free cooking classes being offered, with menus including fish, Mexican and Italian fare, and the one I ended up signing up for - "Fast Food Now", featuring barbecued chicken.   

I arrived for my class at 5:30pm on a Friday night, pulling into the parking lot of Sacramento High school, the same fortunate school that recently enjoyed a visit from Alice Waters to their edible school garden. After a few minutes of waiting outside the closed door of the Big Rig, the door opened and I was welcomed in to don a name tag and a white apron.

At the front of the mobile kitchen was a demonstration area where Everett, our demo chef, showed us the ropes. After the demo, we washed our hands and retreated to one of the three kitchen stations where we would try our best to replicate what we had just seen.

Our kitchen stations were well-stocked with the necessary ingredients, donated mostly by the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op just down the street. (Thanks, Co-op!) Everything was ready for us to attempt to make a homemade BBQ sauce, a French-style vinaigrette dressing, and oven-baked Potato Wedges.

In addition to the ingredients, our kitchen station also came with a local food expert to assist us as needed. Joe helped oversee our group of four as each of us tackled one of the elements of our final meal. He was quiet at first, but once it came out that he was a certified BBQ judge, he was brimming with stories of his travels and experiences. That weekend, he confided, he was headed down to Brentwood, CA for a rib competition. A lucky man, that Joe!
With a little help from Joe, our group completed the meal in a surprisingly short amount of time - the whole meal took us maybe 20 minutes to prepare from start to finish.(To speed up the baking time on the Potato Wedges, we sliced them super-thin instead of cutting them into chunky wedges.) 

The meal we enjoyed together at the end was both healthy and tasty, and just the kind of informal, kid-friendly meal that families should be sharing nightly. If you can't spot the purple potato slices on the plate, it might be because they are camouflaged against the mixed greens!

As I ate my meal, I imagined Jamie Oliver explaining that instead of chicken nuggets every night, parents might see what their kids say to this homemade barbecued chicken. Instead of French fries, see what the kids think of the Potato Wedges. And of course, the salad was made delicious by the homemade dressing, which contained no added sugar (unlike most commercial bottled dressings). It could truly be a revolutionary meal. Our community is so fortunate to have the chance to attend free classes like these!

My one disappointment (besides, of course, the absence of the celebrity chef himself) was a difference I noted between the cooking classes portrayed on the television show and the class I attended. On the show, all of the participants were required to make a pledge to share the knowledge they gained, by teaching at least one other person how to prepare the dishes they learned to make in the class. In this way, the Food Revolution could spread throughout the community. 

In the class I took, we were not required to make such a pledge. But I still want to do my part to help the Revolution spread, by sharing the recipes from the class I took. Viva la revolution!

French Dressing:
1/4 of a clove of garlic
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons of white or red wine vinegar
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Peel and finely chop the garlic. Put the garlic, mustard, vinegar and olive oil into a glass jar with a pinch of salt and pepper. Put the lid on the gar and shake well.

Potato Wedges (serves 4):
1/4 tsp. sea salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 medium (about 10 ounces) baking potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400F. Scrub the potatoes clean and get rid of any gnarly bits. Cut the potatoes into chunk wedges (about 6 per potato). Transfer to a roasting tray and add a good lug of olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss together so all the wedges are coated in the oil, then spread out in one layer, skin-side down.

Cook in the hot oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden, crisp and cooked through. To tell if they're cooked, poke one or two with the tip of a paring knife- you should meet no resistance.

Barbecued Chicken (Serves 4):
1 orange 
1 dried chile
1 1/2 heaped teaspoons smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon or English mustard
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/16 teaspoon sea salt and
freshly ground pepper
4 x 5-ounce boneless skinless chicken breasts

If you're barbecuing, light the grill now so the flames have died down and it's ready when you're ready to cook.

Finely grate the orange zest into a shallow bowl. Crumble in the dried chile. Add the paprika, mustard, honey, ketchup, and a splash of olive oil. Season with a small pinch each of the salt and pepper and mix well. Spoon out a few tablespoons of the marinade and set it aside.

Add the chicken breasts to the bowl with the remaining marinade. Turn them over in the marinade so they're well coated, cover with plastic wrap and leave to sit for 5 to 10 minutes or until the grill is ready.

If using a grill pan, put it over high heat now to get it screaming hot.

Use tongs to transfer your chicken breasts onto the grill or grill pan. For chicken breasts about 1 inch thick, cook for about 5 minutes on each side, turning every minute and basting as you go, or until golden and cooked through. Spoon a little of the reserved sauce over each breast.