Hours of food prep goes into food service at the Ottawa Wine and Food Show. Oh, and here’s my recipe for kimchi
NOV 10 14 – 12:30 PM — Few things focus the mind of a chef quite like serving many hundreds of people lined up at your food station. Think of almost 1,000 folks dressed in their finest, each with plate and wine glass in hand waiting to taste your dish in the space of only two hours.
Yes, 120 minutes. Yikes!
Which was precisely the near-panic I felt on Friday and Saturday as I joined volunteer Ottawa members of the Canadian Culinary Federation, and a platoon of eager Algonquin College culinary arts students, to prepare and serve small plates from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Tasting Alley during the Ottawa Wine and Food Festival. This year’s 29th edition was held again this year at the Shaw Centre (which I still think of as the Ottawa Convention Centre) on Colonel By Drive.
On Friday we served an estimated 450 guests in two hours flat. The next night, it was a sold-out capacity crowd of 850 — which, trust me, doesn’t leave a nanosecond to mess around for those of us on the cooking line.
I was in charge of one of four “action” stations strategically placed along on the periphery of the spacious fourth-floor hall. Mine was the only hot vegetarian food option featuring Asian gyoza dumplings fried on the spot, and a sample of my own kimchi with both ponzu and spicy sesame sauces on the side as condiments. While I manned one of two burners with frypan at-the-ready to finish off the dumplings, a second Algonquin student did the same beside me. We were flanked on either side by two more students who placed dumplings and a spoonful of kimchi on each tasting plate, which they handed to the lineup of hungry visitors to spoon on sauce as they preferred.
Other action stations included two with flambéed shrimp — always a good show — with garlic, sundried tomato and Pernod, and a large setup in the centre of the room against a panoramic window where chefs ultimately carved and served some two dozen 12-pound roasts of beef strip loin with condiments and Burgundy jus (that I helped trim two days earlier in the college food services kitchen — the same kitchen where I made 15 gallons of kimchi a fortnight earlier to give it time to ferment).
We also served a selection of smoked and marinated seafood including salmon, trout and mackerel, assorted bread, cream cheeses and toppings, as well as generous cheese and fruit platters and charcuterie on display buffet-style for people to help themselves.
You may notice, here, not many photos of serving people — I was too darned busy, that’s the fact of it.
I was impressed at how organized food service stations must be to serve a very large crowd in a very short time.
In my case, logistics demanded two frying stations in the middle of the table, a tray of kimchi off to either side, sauces placed in front for people to spoon as they wish, and plates/forks/napkins within easy reach to keep the service flow as smooth as possible. Incorrect placement in the wrong order of, say, cooked Asian dumplings beside the plates with kimchi and condiments beyond that would hopelessly interrupt the flow of service — a salient point that CCF Ottawa president Russ Weir impressed upon me at the outset, having decades of experience as a professional chef at major hotels and, today, head of the food service kitchen at Algonquin College where they dispense many thousands of plates every day.
Of course there are always glitches you have to roll with.
The first night, our idea was to steam the vegetarian dumplings in a kitchen located down the hallway, then deliver trays as needed to our frying station on the floor for a final sear and service. Problem was, too many steamed dumplings fused together by the time we tried to separate them to finish in the frypan. Weir remedied the problem on Saturday when he decided, a few hours before service, the dumplings should instead be deep-fried in an inch of hot canola oil, bypassing the troublesome steaming process entirely — which produced a wonderful result, complete with attractive browning colour and no sticking.
Yet even with this improvement, our team of four couldn’t keep up with demand about an hour into service Saturday, so we conscripted extra help in the backstage kitchen to supplement our supply of freshly fried dumplings and keep the line moving. Their just-in-time delivery worked brilliantly.
My kimchi was very popular on both evenings, if I may say. Even more gratifying, many patrons knew exactly what it was — to the extent some jokingly asked if I buried pots of kimchi in the ground in the traditional method of Korea. (No, I used a fridge.)
Kimchi is the national dish of Korea, where there are myriad variations available absolutely everywhere as a piquant cabbage-based side dish. It’s similar to sauerkraut but much more spicy, traditionally fermented in Korea a day or so at room temperature before it is stored in tightly sealed containers buried in the ground. It is traditionally dug up and used through the winter, and keeps almost indefinitely in the refrigerator.
I learned to make kimchi years ago from Malim, my Korean sister-in-law, although I toned down the requisite red pepper powder for our Canadian audience at the show.
Flavour accents include minced garlic, fresh minced ginger, green onion, thinly sliced radish (I use the Canadian version as opposed to white Chinese radish, for better colour), soy sauce, sesame oil and both white and black sesame seeds. It is usual to include a thick Asian shrimp paste, which I always leave out to keep it vegetarian.
I had many requests for the recipe, so here it is.
Makes about 2 quarts/ 2 L
– 1 head nappa cabbage, core removed, sliced crosswise then ½-inch thick crosswise
– 1 ½ cups (375 mL) coarse pickling salt
– 6 radishes, halved and sliced thin
– 4 baby bok choy, coarse chop
– 4 green onions, sliced thin on diagonal
– 3 cloves garlic, minced
– 1-inch (2.5-cm) fresh gingerroot, peeled and chopped fine
– 1 medium carrot, sliced thin with potato peeler, then cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) segments
– 2 stalks celery, medium chop
– 1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh cilantro, chopped
– 1 tablespoon (15 mL) white sesame seeds
– 1 tablespoon (15 mL) black sesame seeds
– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) sugar
– 1/3 cup (75 mL) soy sauce
– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) sesame oil
– 1/3 cup (75 mL) hot red pepper powder (at Asian food stores), or to taste
1. Prepare nappa cabbage, baby bok choy, carrot, radish, celery, onions and place in large colander. Generously salt, tossing to coat well. Let sit three hours in a clean empty sink to wilt, then bathe twice in cold water to remove excess salt and drain well. Place in a large food-safe non-metallic mixing bowl or bucket.
2. Add remaining ingredients and toss well to combine. Cover and let sit at room temperature 1 or 2 days to ferment and develop flavours. (Mixture will develop its own juices.)
3. Taste and add more red pepper powder, if desired (remember, kimchi will taste more spicy over the first week or so). Pack tightly into clean, sealable food-safe vessels (I use quart- and pint-size Mason jars). Seal and refrigerate a month to mature.