Food writer Hsiao-Ching Chou once said that the best potstickers can’t be bought. In a restaurant setting, she wrote, cooks often take too many shortcuts because of time and money constraints.
Her own homestyle potstickers, though, will be on the menu at the FareStart Guest Chef dinner on Thursday, July 10, a version of the signature home dish she twice made for Anthony Bourdain.
She’s upped the ante for the restaurant dinner, showing FareStart’s students how to make a “Gua Bao” version with braised pork belly, pickled Chinese mustard greens, cilantro and candied peanut powder in hand-made wrappers, with crunchy Asian slaw and ginger-scallion oil. (Here’s the dough recipe and a video on rolling and pleating the wrappers. A vegetarian option of Yu-Choy-Shiitake dumplings, with braised greens, soft egg, tea-smoked salt and ginger-scallion oil uses packaged wrappers.)
Also on the menu for the first “Food Writers” version of the guest chef dinners that the non-profit organization has presented for 20 years: The appetizer is a tweaked version of a delightful local carrot soup that I learned from the chefs at Taste SAM restaurant years ago. It’s on my favorites list of easy home dinners that are as good as what you’d get in a restaurant (because, after all, it is what you got in a restaurant.) Dessert, from Sara Dickerman (you might know her from Bon Appetit) is a pavlova with ginger ice cream, five-spice plum compote and dried strawberry sugar.
The dinners generally feature some of the city’s best-known and loved chefs, raising money for the non-profit while giving diners a chance for a bargain version of their meals and giving FareStart students relevant skills. It’s just one part of an intensive 16-week program meant to prepare students for jobs in restaurants and the hospitality world. (The James Beard Foundation honored the agency with a “Humanitarian of the Year” award for its work.) Shaking up the format is one small change in a big evolution for FareStart, which is expanding to Beacon Hill’s Pacific Tower with plans to more than double the number of students it serves.
Chou and Dickerman have both cooked in restaurant kitchens, but it was an education for me to see the menu come together. While I was puzzling over how to match a dish to the existing menu and logistics, chef Drew Flanders flipped my very Northwest soup into an entirely different gourmet territory. I asked him how: “The menu was leaning toward an Asian flavor profile, so ginger was totally in play. Carrot, ginger, and coriander are a nice pairing,” he replied, while shrimp added value and replaced the cheese as a protein. As a first course, he wanted it light but flavorful, so substituted the truffle oil and herbs in the original for a Southeast Asian touch with red curry, chili oil, cilantro and fried shallots. It was like watching a Flavor Bible come to life.
I’ll be at the dinner on Thursday with Chou and Dickerman to chat and answer any questions attendees may have about food writing, restaurant criticism, and what I cook for my own family after seeing what some of the best in the business do in the kitchen. The answer to that last, actually, is easy: I learn from them as best as I can.
Some of the many memorable lessons: How to fillet a fish from Eric Donnelly, now of Rock Creek, how to throw a pizza, from the guys at Pagliacci’s, and, on regular rotation in my home, the recipe for Beecher’s famous mac and cheese — not to mention that carrot soup, which I usually serve with cornbread.