Bert Greene, 65, food columnist, cookbook author, died last week. This was the last column he wrote for The Times before his death.
Against our will, food writers like me tend to become compulsive. Which is to say, we eat all the time. No matter in what territory a food writer finds himself, at home or abroad, the fervent hope is always that the next meal will provide fodder for an upcoming column.
As travelers we return home with memories of menus rather than local monuments and, sad to say, usually depart with the nagging misgiving that all the best places went untried and the best dishes were untasted for lack of time and intestinal fortitude.
That is one of the reasons why the recent International Assn. of Cooking Professionals Convention in St. Louis was such a resounding success. The intrepid organizers of this event persuaded every top restaurant in town to be part of a gala Chef's Showcase; where attendees and members of the press alike could stop, sample and savor the offerings that restaurateurs felt best displayed their kitchen's creativity.
Held in the grand ballroom of the city's newest hotel, the Adams Mark, the Chef's Showcase was literally a wall-to-wall food spectacle, with such an extravagant array of hot and cold dishes to choose from that most of the crowd was forced to balance half-a-dozen plates at a time.
For those who thought of St. Louis as just another Midwest city dominated by a hoop of stainless steel, it may have come as culture shock to realize the gateway to the West was also the open door for ingredients from all over the globe. But this moveable feast altered all such preconceptions at first bite.
As a long-time "hoof food" imbiber, who learned out of necessity how to wolf victuals with my left hand while making copious notes with the right, I came to the Chef's Showcase with some critical evaluation in mind. But the sheer largess of the fare undid my best intentions. Instead of cogent jottings, I went away with unintelligible grease-stained squiggles.
At the outset I mentioned that food writers tend to be compulsive eaters. Well, I did my best to restrain the baser impulses at the showcase but it wasn't easy.
The following recipes are two of my favorites served at the gala. They may be duplicated at home by any cook who aspires to showcase a little talent.
CHEESE RAVIOLI WITH WILD MUSHROOMS AND POMMERY MUSTARD SAUCE (David Slay of Laveranda)
12 cheese-filled ravioli or other stuffed pasta
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups sliced wild mushrooms (shiitake, chanterelles, etc.)
1 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup half and half
1 1/2 tablespoons Pommery mustard
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cook pasta in boiling water until tender. Drain.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and saute, stirring constantly, until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in whipping cream, half and half, mustard and remaining butter. Heat to boiling. Cook until thickened.
Add cooked pasta and heat until warmed through. Stir in cheese and transfer to serving dish. Garnish with enoki mushrooms. Makes 4 first course servings.
GATEWAY MALL CAFE BLACKENED CHICKEN SALAD (J. Hunter of J. Hunter's)
3 tablespoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinned chicken breasts
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped
1 tomato, cut into wedges
1 small cucumber, sliced
Combine paprika, basil, oregano, thyme, cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon salt and garlic in small bowl. Set aside.
Combine lime juice, honey and 1/4 teaspoon salt in another small bowl. Set aside.
Dust chicken breasts generously with seasoning mix. Cook over high heat in cast-iron skillet until blackened and cooked through, 4 or 5 minutes per side. Let cool slightly. Cut into slices.
Arrange lettuce leaves in shallow serving dish. Place chicken slices in center. Garnish with egg, tomato, cucumber and olives. Pour honey-lime dressing over top. Makes 4 servings.