This is the unlikely story of how a college wrestling star called Troll became Dennis Taylor, caterer and baker.
Actually he was always Dennis Taylor. Troll was a nickname given him at Howard that stuck. Taylor liked college, but found campus food wasn't up to the standards he'd become accustomed to at home in Flordia. So he bought a hot plate and started cooking. "The fellas tried it," he said, "and found it pretty good. Then I moved to an apartment and I had to run people out of the kitchen. There was a crowd there every time I was cooking."
Since graduating in 1969, his cooking skills have been called upon more than his training in zoology. He has catered parties of 10 and benefits of 1,000, tended to the food needs of a movie crew on location here and appeared as a guest on Channel 9's "Nine in the Morning."
This last experience, plus a personal taste evolution away from "heavy meat," has led him to begin work on a cookbook.
"People complain about the time and effort it takes to prepare food," he said last week. "They need to be exposed, to learn how to eat fresh minutes to make something. When people on the show tasted the food, they were amazed. It was quick, easy and tasted different. So my aim is to present dishes and menus that can be prepared quickly, using vegetables and seafood."
Taylor gave up pork and beef about three years ago, but is not a total vegetarian. "It hasn't gotten to that point," he said. "I intend to be a complete vegetarian one day, but I was raised on seafood and probably will keep eating it unless the oecean becomes too polluted. I will make a pot roast or another meal for a catering job if the customer wants it, but I explain that for the same cost I can offer them more, another salad or an extra dessert if I don't have to buy meat."
As a caterer, Taylor tries to put "personality" into his work. "It's becomes a standardized business," he theorized. "It's so solemn. I like to prepare the food on the spot or just before it's delivered. I would never serve droopy vegetables. I like a lot of color in the food and the settings. I can do paper plates or silver service and sometimes I mix them. I usually try to include a surprise, an extra dish, fresh flowers or maybe my carrot cake."
Taylor is outgoing and personable. As someonw who has cooked from boyhood, he improvises easily from available ingredients and thinks others could too if they were more relaxed in the kitchen. "I would try to take them back to nostalgia-type cooking," he said. "I don't use tablespoons and teaspoons. I tell them to use a pinch of this or four shakes of that. It's more fun and once you develop a feeling for how much tastes right to you, it makes cooking easier.
"I do a lot of blender cooking. I make an all-purpose tomato sauce and use it over rice or with fish. I try to buy fresh ingredients. If they're fresh and taste good, you don't need lots of seasoning. Usually I don't peel tomatoes or fruit. I try to throw away as little as possible.
A mean at home might consist of shrimp flavored with lemon juice, rice with tomato sauce and a salad. He likes to layer shredded raw beets and carrots atop lettuce, but, depending on what is on hand, the salad might be made from carrots, apples and raisins instead. Dessert will often be fresh fruit. For a catered summer dinner for 10, Taylor suggested a menu of stuffed red snapper, saffron rice, corn fritters, a tossed salad, tea and a fresh fruit salad with whipped cream. He cooks the snapper in an erect position rather than on its side to insure even cooking and to allow the juices to drip into the stuffing beneath.
Taylor has given up butter for corn oil margarine and relies on a seasoned condiment called Vege-Sal instead of salt. "People are so into sugar," he said shaking his head. "They could cook with honey, they could use different flours in baking. I'm experimenting with natural colorings, using beet juice and carrot juice. You can take the meat out of corned beef hash. I replace it with finely diced mushrooms, celery, onions and green pepper and get a meat texture when I fry them.
"A lot of people are wide opne to new cooking ideas," he said. "I'll make cornbread, but mix onions or even raisins into the batter. They like it. They just need exposure to stop doing the same things over and over." He also feels home cooks do not understand how important good quality pots and pans are to good cooking.
Many of Taylor's food concepts are instinctive, but he has considered returning to college to seek an advanced degree in nutrition. At the same time, as a man with a wife and child to support and a shopping cart full of ideas, he wants to market his cooking skills. He has marketed some of his baked goods under the "Something Natural" label and promises more will be forthcoming.
His carrot cake is "different" from others on the market, he said with conviction. He dreams of using freshly ground flour, honey and other top quality ingredients to create "oldfashioned" cobblers and cookies, of developing new approaches to doughnuts, such as making a carrot doughnut and sugarless fillings. He envisions a mass-produced "vegeburger" that will have less fiber and more flavor than those now on the market.
"And what about bringing back the old-time fig newtons," he said enthusiastically. "Or making Dreamsicles with carrot juice coloring for the outside and natural ice cream on the inside."
If people's appetites are as large as Dennis Taylor's imagination, "Something Natural" is going to happen. In the meantime, his catering services may be obtained by calling 232-1765 and here are several of his recipes. The carrot cake remains a closely guarded secret. LEMON-FRIED STEAMED SHRIMP (2 servings) 8 jumbo shrimp, washed but unpeeled 2 tablespoons corn oil Juice of 1/2 lemon Vege-Sal or salt to taste 2 tablespoons corn oil margarien
Heat oil in a heavy pan. Add shrimp, cover pan and cook over medium heat, turning shrimp once a minute for three minutes. Add lemon juice, seasoning and margarine, recover, lower heat and simmer 4 to 5 minutes. Serve with a salad and rice, if desired. B - C - L SALAD (2 servigs) 1 small raw beet, peeled and shredded 1 large carrot, washed and shredded 1/4 head iceburg lettuce, diced 2 tablespoons mayonnaise Vege-Sal or salt to taste Vege-Sal or salt to taste
Make a bed of lettuce on each of two plates. Arrange shreeded beet atop lettuce, then add shredded carrot. Top with mayonnaise an sprinkle on seasoning. Chill in refrigerator while while making rest of the meal. Each person mixes the ingredients together while eating the salad. ALL PURPOSE TOMATO SAUCE (Makes about 1 cup) 2 tomatoes, diced 1 small onion, peeled and diced 1 small green pepper, diced 1 tablespoon corn oil margarine 4 sprinkles (about 1/6 teaspoon) Vege-Sal or salt 1 teaspoon cornstarch, mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
Melt margarine in a pan. Add vegetables and seasoning, cover and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Scrape contents into a blender jar and blend. Return to pan over heat and add cornstarch mixture. Stir until sauce thickens. Servce over rice, fish or vegetable of choice. EPICURIAN CARROT BURGER (Makes 3 or 4) 1 cup finely shredded carrots or same amount of carrot pulp from a juicer 1/4 cup tamato sauce (see previous recipe) 1/4 teaspoon Vege-Sal or salt 1/4 cup unprocessed bran 2 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying Mix carrots, tomato sauce, seasoning and bran, adding more bran if needed to make mixture firm. Form into patties about 1/2-inch thick and pan fry in oil until heated through, turning to brown both sides. Serve with rice or potatoes and salad. STUFFED RED SNAPPER (3 or 4 servings) 1 red snapper, 3 to 4 pounds (substitute rockfish or sea trout) 1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning 4 slices whole wheat bread, torn by hand into small pieces 4 tablespoons corn oil margarine 1 rib celery, finely diced 1/4 green pepper, finely diced 1/4 medium onion, finely diced 1/2 teaspoon Vege-Sal or salt.
Have fish gutted and scaled but leave head and tail.Wash, pat dry and sprinkle seasoning around the cavity. (Use seasoning lightly as it has a strong flavor.) Prepare bread. Melt margarine ina frying pan. Saute vegetables until soft. Off the heat add salt and mix in bread pieces, tossing them together not pressing the stuffings into a solid mass.
Fill cavity without packing stuffing too tightly. Lightly oil the surface of the fish and the bottom of a roasting pan. Stand the fish upright in the pan, so it rests on its stuffed belly. Place pan in the middle of a preheated 350-degree oven and cook the fish, uncovered and without basting, for about 25 minutes, or until flesh near the top fin is firm to the touch of a finger and begins to pull away from the bone.
To serve, cut fillets away from backbone, then spoon stuffing from cavity. Accompany fish with rice and tomato sauce or vegetable of choice.
Note: For entertaining, crabmeat or cooked shrimp can be mixed into the stuffing before the fish is baked. Extra stuffing can be baked in an ovenproof container, covered with foil wrap, until heated through. FRUIT SALAD (4 servings) 4 peaches, sliced from the pit, skin left on 1/2 cantaloupe, cut in pieces or balls 1/2 honeydews, cut in pieces on halls 1/4 fresh pineapples, cored peeled and diced 1/4 pound white grapes, washed 2 red appels, cored and diced Juice of 1 lemon 1/4 cup clover honey
Place fruit in a glass bowl or serving dish. Add lemon juice and honey and gently turn fruit. Cover bowl and chill in refrigerator at least 30 minutes. For a topping, if desired, whip 1/2 pint of heavy cream. Spoon it over each portion of fruit, drizzle on a little honey and top with a sprinkle of nutmeg. BREAD PUDDING (4 to 6 servings) 1/2 loaf whole wheat bread 1/2 cup heavy cream 3/4 to 1 cup honey 1 egg 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1 apple, cored and finely diced 2 tablespoons corn-oil margarine 1/4 cup raisins, soaked for 15 minutes in hot water
Bread should be slightly stale. If not, tear it by hand into 1 1/2-or-2-inch cubes and set aside for an hour to dry out. Combine cream, honey to taste, egg and vanilla, using an egg beater or a mixer on low speed. Fold bread into mixture, sprinkle on cinnamon and nutmeg and fold in apple and drained raisins. Lightly greast a 1 1/2-quart heat-proof casserole. Transfer the mixture to the bowl ad dot the top with margarine. Baker in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a knife blades comes out moist but not drippy.
Serve hot or cold. If not, pass cream or serve it with ice cream. If cold, serve it alone.