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The day dawned grey and drizzly but the intrepid UCCE/LA County Master Food Preservers were raring to go. The “concluding events” of City of LA Mayor's Day of Service – this year scheduled all across the city on Cesar Chavez Day (March 31) and dedicated to the theme of Good Food for All – took place in a lively corner of the urban jungle at the edge of Chinatown, at Metabolic Studios, an arts/eco experimental collective, which organized the “Cornfield” we’ve all heard so much about.
Next to the train tracks and under a concrete bridge, chairs, tables and canopies were set up for non-profit organizations involved in food issues to distribute materials and talk to interested members of the public about their missions.
And just below the neon sign on the wall that reads “Another City is Possible,” the Master Food Preservers (MFP) and Master Gardeners (MG) set up tables with volunteers, books, informational handouts and – in the case of the MFPs – demonstrations on how to make kimchi, preserved lemons and refrigerator pickles.
A handful of MFPs were preliminary judges of the “Cabbage Contest,” which is in season now. Beginning at 9 am, entries in three categories – fresh, cooked and fermented – were delivered by members of the general public – AND three of our Master Food Preservers, too!!
MFP/MG Susan Nickels submitted a slaw – and made it into the finals. As did MFP/MG Rachael Narins, whose Thomas Starr King Middle School students not only made but grew the ingredients for their kimchi submission.
Of course, those choices of finalists (REALLY!) had nothing to do with the MFPs – dishes were numbered and anonymous on the table and judged on the merits of taste, appearance and creativity.
The final six choices (two in each category) were delivered to the panel of celebrity judges, who sat at a table on a “stage” and made the final call. They included Eric Oberholtzer of Tender Greens, Josiah Citron of Melisse, Pulitzer Prize winning food writer Jonathan Gold, farmers Phil McGrath and James Birch and mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti.
Susan’s coleslaw (secret ingredient, Preserved Lemons), the one on top in the photo, sits at the final judging station alongside winner Jennifer Mandel’s cabbage, kale and carrot salad. In the case of Rachael’s students, it was literally a toss-up – there was equal praise for both final dishes, and a coin toss settled the winner. (Photo courtesy Susan).
The prize was likely not appropriate for the kids anyway: a dinner for two at Citron’s very posh Melisse restaurant in Santa Monica; but a consolation prize came with it. Once Eric Garcetti heard the story that the kids grew their own ingredients, he promised to come visit and congratulate the students in person at their Silverlake school, which is in his neighborhood.
But much attention was paid to the demos at the MFP table. Hae Jung Cho is a professional cook and an expert kimchi maker – she showed us her ingredients and techniques and proved how very easy it is to make kimchi, and how healthful its fermented properties are.
Then Amy Goldman and Roshni Divate demonstrated one of the key ingredients in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking – preserved lemons. There’s no surfeit of lemons in California, so get past the “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” mantra and learn this simple salting, squeezing and spicing technique. Preserved lemons are a secret ingredient that chefs use for many different dishes, from pesto to salad dressings and more.
And finally MFP/MG Laurie Dill and Karen Hobert showed us how simple it is to create original, delicious refrigerator pickles, with a spiced brine and fresh cucumbers, which are showing up now at Farmers Markets. Grow your own, and “when life hands you extra cukes,” make pickles!
It may not be the sexiest vegetable, but cabbage had its day in the sun (well, not exactly sun -- it was a grey day!).
On Saturday, March 31, the UCCE/LA County MFPs participated in "Good Food Day LA," as judges for the "Mayor's Day of Service" Cabbage Contest, "From Kim Chee to Coleslaw." Pictured above is Paula Daniels, who heads the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, which had a big hand in organizing the day's activities -- and for getting the Mayor's Day of Service to focus on Good Food for All.
Categories were FRESH, COOKED and FERMENTED cabbage, and the entries engendered comments from some of our team of MFP preliminary judges (they selected the finalists from which the celebrity panel would later choose the winners). There were entries from both the general public and three MFPs (one taking the class now, the other two grads of the Spring 2011 class).
Rachael Narins' (MFP spring 2011) students entered kimchi (left, finalist) made with ingredients they grew themselves in the school garden she also oversees as a Master Gardener at Thomas Starr King Middle School in LA's Silverlake area. They were finalists (but didn't win the coin toss--see end of post below for recipe!)
MFP Susan Nickels (right, finalist), who submitted cole slaw and therefore did not judge: "So much fun! I did a take on traditional coleslaw -- yogurt and rice vinegar, minced red jalapenos and secret ingredient -- preserved meyer lemons!" Hers is the dish on top of photo on the right.
MFP Hae Jung Cho, fall 2011 grad and a professional cook by day: "I judged the fresh category. There were nine entries which were almost all really tasty! I really liked one dish that was not showy; it just looked like a bowl of sauerkraut (although with a nicer color). It turned out to be a Haitian dish, spicy and crunchy and kind of sour like sauerkraut but only let to sit four hours. There were also a couple of interesting takes on coleslaw, especially one that incorporated preserved meyer lemon (editor's note: Susan's, and it was a finalist!) -- so aromatic and unexpected. But the salad that won this particular category was a colorful mixture of kale, orange, cabbage, almonds and other things with a dressing that used walnut oil. There were so many different flavor profiles - savory, sweet, spicy, crunchy and chewy."
MFP Laurie Dill (spring 2011): "The cooked cabbage category was not hard to judge. It seemed easy to distinguish whether the foods were attractive, tasty, and creative, and we three did our own tasting and evaluating, and then we compared notes and came up with a collective vote, which we all were pretty close on. There were 2-3 cooked cabbage dishes that were clearly atop of all the others and we were able to choose the top 2 in agreement. The cabbage contest was a great idea and I think, very well received!!"
Jenn Su (fall 2011): "Our category was fermented cabbage, and it was really interesting to think about the foods we tasted in terms of fermented flavors (and other flavors as a byproduct of food preservation). The wonderful kim-chi chips in our category were one of my favorites -- they were first fermented and then dehydrated. The flavor was great, but I think the fermented/pickle (acidic) flavor of the kimchi was really subtle (maybe too subtle?) after dehydration; and rather the spices in the recipe were really concentrated -- super spicy and salty. Either way, delicious and cool idea for a snack!"
The kids of the Thomas Starr King Middle School Garden Club (built and funded by EnrichLA and LACER), where I volunteer as a Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver, entered a fermented kimchi.