Does anyone have a recipe for Vietnamese street crêpes? It’s just one of many recipes I need to track down in my culinarily festive state, fresh as I am off the feed wagon that is the West of Western Culinary Festival.
The other — seemingly unrelated — bit of information I’m in need of involves how to handle it when the Most Odious Woman in the kingdom wedges her Botox-ed, self-important-ness between you and your husband five minutes into the truly important chocolate class (I mean, who has their priorities so twisted that they’re tardy to the chocolate class?).
But more bitterness from me on the M.O.W. later. Let’s focus first on culinary festivity, which is altogether better for you, heart, soul and all.
Brian and I attended the festival with willing stomachs and open minds, to scout out new ideas and tastes. The annual event purports to be a showcase for food trends, concepts, equipment and methods, savory and sweet. But who’s fooling who? Really it’s a posh line-up of mostly newish Phoenix-area restaurants and other food purveyors foisting prettily plated sample after sample on us poor attendees. It was an ordeal of a day, let me tell you, slurping down seafood panang while standing in line for corn and jalapeno focaccia and all the marinated olives a girl could ever hope for — then chasing it all with a hot and chili-spiced cider “shot.”
At the end of the day, my head was full of all the things I need to try to make, including those Vietnamese street crêpes: strips of tofu and shiitake mushrooms, stirred on a hot griddle and then covered in a quick-cooking blanket of thin, egg-heavy batter. There was also a veritable cloud of polenta, the fluffiest I’ve ever tasted, but with a disarming melty richness. On the sweeter side was a vanilla-bean layer cake with mascarpone frosting that was so dense it will from this day forward change the entire hateful paradigm I’ve constructed around cake in general, and a soy-caramel fondue with pound cake and pineapple skewers.
Hello, satisfaction. Please make yourself at home.
But I made sure to feed the brain as well as the belly (the better to feed the belly later on, based on information stored in the brain). I learned to “bloom” my stir fry oil with ginger or other spices for a more authentic Asian dish and to use a potato peeler to thinly slice carrots for said stir fry. I discovered — and received a free bagful of — tepary beans, indigenous to Arizona, as well as Bambu All Occasion Veneerware. These little guys biodegrade in four to six months and seem an eco-friendly alternative to paper plates.
Especially memorable was the chocolate tasting, where not only did I learn that there are more than 1,500 flavor compounds present in chocolate — more than wine, more than coffee — but that M.O.W. eschews anything but 85 percent dark. (And I thought I was a shoo-in for Club Choco Snob, well-versed as I am in terroir and cocoa solid content blah blah but nevertheless offering thrice-weekly tributes to M&M Darks.)
Once M.O.W. and her husband hustled in and she aggressively inserted herself between me and Brian at our table, we were party to their back-and-forth, high-volume grunts and haughty commentary regarding the lecturing chocolatier. Other than a couple of swift under-table kicks to Brian’s leg and some subtly rolled eyes (all to signal, “Can you believe this woman?”), I didn’t know what to do. Surely there was some pointed (but not mean) comment I could have made to quiet her, but I wasn’t coming up with a darn thing.
At the end of the lecture — and despite her moments-ago criticism — M.O.W. spared no toes lunging for one of the few absinthe truffle samples. We took the opportunity to flee her perfume, which had unfortunately tainted our chocolate tasting. We didn’t stick around to see if the Green Fairy would whisk her away to the hollow of a wormwood tree (not that I’d really wish that on the good folk of Jura) and stepped out again to mingle amongst the white tents, ready anew to taste something else plated on white Styrofoam.