SOME like it hot, except in Louisiana, where all like it hot.
So it was to be expected that when the first annual Acadiana Culinary Classic in Lafayette, La., Wednesday night, was billed as a "hot food contest" the judges and the 600 guests would expect spicy-hot food. What the hot referred to, though, was temperature.
They swallowed their disappointment, a 110 dishes of it created by 33 chefs from around the state. While entries were divided into eight categories, from soups to desserts, every one but the latter was heavy on crawfish. Veal with crawfish, chicken with crawfish, oysters with crawfish, manicotti with crawfish and crawfish with crawfish. Crawfish stuffed and stewed and baked in a pie. Big city chefs and small town chefs came with their creations already cooked and ready to serve, dishes of tradition (seafood gumbo) and invention (pina colada cheesecake bread pudding). And New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme--the Paul Bocuse of Louisiana--brought a busload of judges, some of them food writers in town for the American Cuisine Symposium. Having sampled Prudhomme's homemade sausage and pepper-spiked Cajun martinis on the bus, plus a weighty Cajun lunch nearby, the judges then took a full two hours to taste their way through the contest entries. Their conclusions:
Too many Louisiana restaurants are living on their reputations.
"A lot of the best cooking is in people's homes," as Times-Picayune food editor Sandra Day tactfully put it.
Though it was an impressive collection of chefs and dishes, they were surprisingly under- seasoned for Cajun food and certainly for an event sponsored by the McIlhenny Co., producers of Tabasco sauce. "I do desserts with more pepper in them," responded Prudhomme.
YOU are going to hear a lot about sauceless cooking, but don't confuse it with simple, unadorned food. This is haute sauceless, the newest invention of three-star French chefs such as Alain Senderens of Paris' L'Archestrate and New York's Maurice restaurants.
Several years ago Senderens returned from his summer vacation fired up with new ideas, among them sauceless cooking. We were curious to know more, particularly how he was going to get the public to accept that a dish without a sauce was worthy of a $100 meal. "That's the problem," he answered.
Washington is not quite so avant garde. But Jean-Louis Palladin of the Watergate's Jean-Louis restaurant, has come up with the next-best idea (or to our mind, maybe the next-better idea): hidden sauces, namely, a mousse with the sauce inside.
He demonstrated a lobster-mousse version of his idea--which he said grew from his passion for chocolate-covered cherries--to the women's professional culinary society, Les Dames d'Escoffier, last Sunday. (The other revelation was Palladin's passion for V-8 juice; he uses it in tomato consomme', tomato coulis, wherever he can.)
First the sauce is made and frozen in tiny cups, about a couple tablespoonfuls in each; in this case the sauce was of green peppers (4 to 5 green peppers simmered in 2 cups heavy cream, pure'ed and strained).
Next comes the mousse; Palladin used a pound of lobster meat, 2 cups heavy cream, salt and pepper pure'ed in the processor, cautioning to process it in short spurts and not too long, lest the cream turn to butter. Other mousses could serve the same purpose--scallop or chicken, for instance--and other sauces such as red bell pepper, parsley, spinach, cucumber or tomato-basil could be matched with them.
A layer of mousse is spread on the bottoms of buttered individual custard or souffle' cups (the above amounts made about 30 servings). A pastry bag makes the filling of the cups easy. The frozen sauces are removed from their containers and wiped dry, then centered on the layer of mousse. More mousse is then piped around and over the sauce so it is completely enclosed, the top smoothed and the custard cup tapped on the table to force out air bubbles. The cups are then covered closely with plastic wrap, set in a pan of hot water and baked at a low temperature--200 to 250 degress--for about an hour until the mousse is set but soft; with the sauce melted inside, about the texture of a soft-cooked egg. The mousses are unmolded on individual plates and garnished with julienned peppers.
But they are not to be eaten carelessly. For the full effect, one should dip the spoon into the top, as with a soft-cooked egg in an egg cup, to let the green sauce pool over the top of the pink mousse. After one bite the sauce will pool on the plate. In all, it makes the buttery surprise of chicken kiev pale in comparison.
WHEN Julia Child and Robert Mondavi join in a project, you can count on more than good food and wine. In this case they are honorary cochairmen of the 1983 Festival of American Food and Wine in San Francisco May 3 to 5, a fund raiser and the first major public event sponsored by Child's pet project, the American Institute of Wine and Food. Several years in the making, this nonprofit institute is dedicated to the study of gastronomy, intending to establish an information center and library on gastronomy at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The center already has acquired an important collection of European and American books, and plans to be not only a research facility but also produce a newsletter and scholarly journal, and sponsor lectures, conferences and classes. The list of backers and the board of advisors includes this country's major food and wine professionals; membership fees range from $50 to $1,000. And now, with this May event, the organization is going public with a wine seminar, a dinner created by prominent American chefs from coast to coast, and a panel discussion "With Julia Child and Friends" on American cooking. Events range from $35 to $250; for more information call (415) 761-8880. Or write The American Institute of Wine and Food, 655 Sutter St., Suite 512, San Francisco, Calif. 94102.
CARDAMOM and allspice in the morning, chives and rose geranium at lunch, rosemary for tea. It promises to be at least a highly aromatic day, April 30 at Long Ridge Farm in Union Bridge, Md. Writer, lecturer and gardener Sandra Seymour will start it with breakfast at the Methodist Parish Hall in Johnsville, move to the farm by teatime, and will offer instructions for herbal gifts, planning an herb garden and using herbs in cookery, with a recipe booklet included and freshly dug herbs available. The cost is $25, and reservations are necessary; call 301-775-2083 or write Long Ridge Farm, RR1, Union Bridge, Md. 21791.
THAT a restaurant should be named The Yellow Brick Bank is enough to take one aback. That such a restaurant should annually salute, of all places, Buffalo, N.Y., is further beyond logic--until you discover that the chef and bartender of this Shepherdstown, W. Va., restaurant are both from Buffalo. But that solves only one mystery. It still leaves us wondering whatever one would serve for a "Buffalo Night." Buffalo chicken wings, of course. And roast beef sandwiches on Kummelweck hard rolls. And Genesee Cream Ale. And the final question: Is a roast beef sandwich and cream ale worth a trip to West Virginia? You can find out on April 21 at 9 p.m. Call (304) 876-2208.
MARYLAND has its seasonal temptations, too. April 30 and May 1 Union Mills Homestead Museum will have its Flower and Plant Market, the gastronomic interest being provided by the sale of vegetable and herb plants, a lunch of barbecue sandwiches and chicken, and for the first time in this 14th annual festival, stone-ground cornmeal from the restored mill. Seven miles north of Westminster on Route 97, the Mill will run its festival 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 30, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 1. For more information call 301-848-2288 or 301-848-6536.
The same days Calvert County will hold its first annual Mayfest--with activities at five locations throughout the county--and Feast of the Tidewater. The feast, April 30, from 1 to 5 p.m., will be at the National Guard Armory in Prince Frederick. For $12.50, the all-you-can-eat buffet includes fried oysters, fried clams, Calvert County country sausage, barbecued chicken and hush puppies. For more information call 301-257-6697.
Seeing, not eating, is the thing at the Greater Washington Area Cake Show and Contest April 23. The show goes on from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Stephen Decatur Junior High in Clinton, Md., with demonstrations, a film and the contest itself; admission is $1, 50 cents for students. To enter the contest--$2 per entry--contact Hilda Mitchell, 7505 Gresham St., Springfield, Va., 703-256-9707. There are 24 categories, from pre-teen to professional, from cupcakes to foreign techniques, all requiring you to come with pre-iced cakes and decorate them on the premises. Edible? Not necessary.