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Winter Inspiration

By Anne Mitchell · February 7th, 2012 · The Dish
art20531wideaMolly Thompson
I’m writing this on a January afternoon and there’s a bright blue, cloudless sky outside. Weird, but in a good way, right? I never would have expected anything but grey snow during this time of year, but with the sun shining I feel energetic and inspired. 

I recently spoke with Louis Snowden, co-owner of Fresh Table in Findlay Market. He told me about his recent trip to the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, an annual event that features 1,300 vendors over three days and introduces new cheeses, relishes and pantry products to foodies, gourmet grocers and chefs, drawing more than 17,000 visitors. More importantly, Louis told me, it also provides inspiration. Sometimes it takes a little taste of the new to get us to break out of our comfort zones and add a little zing to our menus. 

Louis had me taste two new dishes that they’re featuring at Fresh Table, inspired by their San Francisco trip. Fresh Table’s Chef Victor Brown developed their new Chicken Escabeche after tasting a dish from Chef Rick Bayless of Frontera and then playing around with a new apple cider vinegar. The chicken, surrounded by carrot coins and onions, is seasoned and slow-cooked, highlighted by the tangy vinegar, sweetened with apple essence and just a little on the spicy side. Delicious.

Their new Sonoran Salad was inspired by a Southwestern flavors trend at the show this year. It pairs couscous pearls with black and pinto beans, corn, red peppers and a little heat — possibly even some Red Rooster sauce. This salad is perfect for Fresh Table, carrying forward its tradition of salads that are anything but boring and predictable. 

Sometimes it’s hard to avoid the “ruts” of cooking.

You get into habits of always buying the same groceries, always making the same meals. Stopping by a place like Fresh Table inspires me. I’ll buy something that looks yummy, take it home, try it and then play around with the idea myself. 

Chef Molly Thompson from Otto’s in Covington told me that her inspiration starts with finding a local or seasonal ingredient she wants to use and then thinking back through her “food memories” for a way to play it up. For example, she recently started with Maple Leaf Farms duck breasts from Indiana.

“They’re local, so that’s cool,” she explained. “And I wanted to use apricots in the glaze to balance the richness. So then I thought about doing a risotto, wintery, with roasted butternut squash, and then caramelized kale. All those flavors, they really go together. That’s what inspired the special, and it sold out.”

I did a little super-scientific polling on Facebook and found that my friends look to vintage cookbooks or serious TV chefs like Christopher Kimball of America’s Test Kitchen for new ideas. Many of them start with seasonal ingredients, influenced by what they find at Findlay or at farmer’s markets. I even had one subversive suggestion from a friend who looks for good recipes in Vegetarian Times and then figures out which meat to add to it to make it better. That cracked me up. 

The internet tends to be my “Fancy Food Show.” A new website that launched recently and is looking good enough to eat is {513}eats. These local gals, Gina Weathersby and Ilene Ross, have impressive photography skills and a real love for food. The pair produces a blog as well as an online gazette filled with food you want to try.  

There’s also a beautiful local print magazine called Edible Ohio Valley available at Park + Vine that features inspirational local farmers and their wares. This treasure — winner of a prestigious James Beard award in 2011 — is a great resource for connecting with local Community Supported Agriculture farmers and growers, news about restaurants that source locally and, of course, recipes.

Local blogger Courtney Tsitouris does some pretty inspirational work. She co-authored Chef Todd Kelly’s Orchids at the Palm Court cookbook (which was beautiful), but her Epi-ventures blog is a lot more approachable. Her recipes start with things you might actually own — like potatoes — and can be cooked in a reasonable amount of time in a moderately well-equipped kitchen. 

I appreciate Tsitouris’ philosophy: “There’s an art and an ease in simplicity. And it’s nice to remember. ’Cause the only thing that really matters is eating good, honest food with good, preferably honest people.” 

Now that’s inspirational.

CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: amitchell@citybeat.com



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