When deciding what to write for our inaugural Kern’s Kitchen blog post, I thought about what a rich (dessert pun intended) culinary history Louisville, Kentucky has. Our hometown is the birthplace of our very own famous Derby-Pie® chocolate nut pie, Benedictine spread, and – as many claim – the cheeseburger. Another famous dish from these parts is the Hot Brown sandwich, straight from the kitchen at the historic Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville.
Just how historic is the Brown Hotel? The first person to sign the guest register was former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George in 1923. Since that first signature, the likes of Harry Truman, Elizabeth Taylor, the Duke of Windsor and another Louisville legend, Muhammad Ali, have all taken in the stunning architectural mastery the Brown is known for. The hotel boasts 293 rooms and two amazing restaurants, including the award-winning English Grill. It’s at the English Grill a few years ago that my friend and I experienced an unforgettable evening of dining and food education in a class with former executive chef Laurent Geroli.
I recall being a little nervous at first. In this cooking class, I wondered if we were expected to actually prepare our own meals with a respected talent like Chef Laurent breathing down our backs. As the Pie Guy, that’s my forte. I only know how to bake pies. How was I to know how long I should sear scallops before finishing them off in the oven???
Much to our relief, we didn’t have to cook at all.
We relaxed and laughed as we sat down at one of the eight tables set up in the Brown’s massive kitchen. The experience of being in the “back of house” (that’s a little industry lingo for you) was exciting, as it meant we had our own private show going on separate from where cake decorators, sous chefs, and others were bustling around preparing meals for the English Grill’s front-of-house diners.
We had a ball that night as Chef Laurent led us course by course. Each dish he prepared was accompanied by details, special tips, tricks and anecdotes about how growing up in Montreal and travelling the globe influenced his cooking. Even today, I can still smell the curry in the acorn squash soup, taste the golden beet puree that sat under country ham and spinach stuffed scallops, and feel the sweet bite on my tongue of the Maker’s 46 veal reduction that was drizzled over the rosemary encrusted rack of lamb.
What I remember best from that evening, and still use today, are several kitchen-hacks that Chef Laurent taught me and my fellow classmates. Here are my favorite six tips – I hope they help you in your own kitchen as much as they’ve helped me in mine when I’m not making Kentucky and Southern Indiana’s favorite pie.
- Only eat oysters in a month that has an “R.”
This helps to ensure freshness, safety from toxins produced by certain algae, and promotes sustainability as it gives the oyster beds time to rest after their summer production period.
- Grass fed beef always tops angus beef.
It’s lower in calories, higher in good fats like omega-3s, and is better for the environment due to the way the livestock is raised.
- The best place to buy seafood in Louisville is COSTCO.
Wherever a chef tells me to shop, that’s where I’m going to shop. No questions asked. Chef Laurent also pointed out that frozen seafood isn’t a crime – just make sure you thaw it properly. This means letting it thaw overnight and drying off the excess moisture before cooking.
- Control your portion sizes.
When serving multiple courses, make sure you control the portion sizes so you or your guests don’t fill up before the main event. My favorite tip Chef Laurent gave us for this was to always serve your soups in coffee mugs!
- Expensive cookware doesn’t mean better cookware.
Chef Laurent said it was A-OK to buy pots and pans from places like T.J. Maxx, insisting we didn’t need to “waste our money” at Williams-Sonoma and other pricier outlets.
- Use your own creativity.
When cooking, “be creative” said Chef Laurent. Use recipes as a frame of reference, not a strict set of guidelines that must be followed at all costs. “Glance at it,” he said, “but always put your own spin on it…unless you’re baking.” Creativity in baking can be saved for the outside.