For Baltimorean-turned-Bostonian Steven Raichlen, this is a time of celebration. His Taste of the Mountains Cooking School, located in the 100-year-old Bernerhof Inn in New Hampshire's Mount Washington Valley, is entering its sixth year of operation, with both weekend and five-day classes beginning this week.
He has just completed a cookbook, the culmination of seven years of teaching his craft. And last week he returned to his home town, not only to plug "A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School Cookbook" (Poseidon Press, $16.95), but to research the art of making matzo balls and gefilte fish in the home of his 78-year-old Aunt Annette for his next book, on holiday foods.
As Raichlen frankly admitted, however, his culinary pursuits were hardly home-inspired. "My mother was a terrible cook," he said.
Rather, it was the influence of his aunt -- not to mention a scholarship in 1975 to study medieval cookery in France, followed by training at Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris -- that nurtured him from the canned soups and TV dinners of his childhood to professional culinary status.
"When I came back to the United States, I became a French clone, making cre me frai che from heavy cream," he offered as an example. Raichlen even tried teaching nouvelle cuisine, then at its peak, but became disenchanted with "all the advance preparation and last-minute cooking" the style entailed. "Finally, I realized I was living in the U.S. and had to adapt to what was available and how people actually cooked," recalled Raichlen.
"A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School Cookbook" is patterned after the courses developed at Raichlen's cooking school, each chapter beginning with an overview of the food and an historical note, followed by a master recipe and variations on the theme. Said the chef, "Mine is the cuisine of technique, rather than French or American."
Still, Raichlen adheres to at least one of the tenets of nouvelle cuisine by combining unusual flavor combinations in his dishes: The following entree pairs chicken -- "to the chef what a canvas is to an artist," writes the author -- with the heat of lemon grass and a touch of honey for sweetness.
Express Lane list: chicken, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, sweet chili sauce, lemon juice, lemon grass (or substitute lemon zest), scallions GRILLED CHICKEN WITH LEMON GRASS AND HONEY (8 appetizer or 2 to 4 entree servings)
1 pound chicken filets, tendons removed* (or substitute finger-size lengths of whole chicken breasts)
FOR THE MARINADE:
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped lemon grass
1 tablespoon chopped scallion
Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a shallow glass bowl and marinate the chicken filets, turning them from time to time, for 6 to 12 hours in the refrigerator.
Thread the filets on bamboo skewers and grill them over charcoal or under a broiler for 2 minutes per side, or until firm and cooked.
Variation: To make Indonesian satay, add 2 tablespoons peanut butter to the marinade and prepare as described above.
*Lesson 24, from which this recipe is culled, describes the techniques involved in boning and cooking chicken breasts: The breast itself is comprised of two muscles -- a broad flat one that forms the bulk of the breast, and a small, cylindrical muscle called the filet. Usually, the filet can be easily pulled away from the breast. It may be necessary to cut away the tail end with a knife. To remove the white tendon, lay the filet on a cutting board, tendon side down. Pinch the tendon between the knife and the board, and slide the blade along the tendon to remove it from meat.