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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Foodie Camp Naples at Alexander's Restaurant

Foodie Camp Naples is an event bringing together chefs and food aficionados for two charitable causes. Proceeds from this event benefit culinary scholarships at FGCU's Resort and Hospitality Management Program in addition to help feed the needy at St. Matthews House in Naples. 

The event is made possible by Naples Originals, a marketing group promoting local, independently owned restaurants. At present, Naples Originals has over 30 member restaurants. In addition to Foodie Camp, they sponsor a quarterly promotion offering a thirty percent discount on member restaurant Gift Certificates. The promotion is very much a win-win for restaurateurs and patrons.

I was happy that the team at Naples Originals would allow me to document one of their eleven Foodie Camp chef presentations this year. I attended the Very Vegan cooking demonstration at Alexander's Restaurant

What is a vegan anyway? The late Anthony Bourdain had definite opinions about them. “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food..." 

Strong opinions aside, Chef Alexander Bernard (Chef) brought his thoughts and methods vis-a-vis vegan dining into the Foodie Camp presentation that day, and it was most informative. I think it noteworthy he would champion this solely plant based diet. It is estimated that only 1/2 of one percent Living in the USA are vegan, or those that completely eschew a diet not exclusively plant based. It was mentioned during this presentation that only about 15% of Alexander's Restaurant sales are from their plant based "healthy" menu. Taken into consideration, a plant based diet has a much lower Carbon Footprint than animal protein, in addition to providing Benefits against obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

I thought it telling that Chef was observing the twenty fourth anniversary at his restaurant. This turned out in hindsight to be a very good portend of the group's culinary experience to come. Chef prepared four vegan dishes for Foodie Camp, but more on that later. He was an excellent instructor, making the preparation of these dishes seem easier, in addition to providing some good cooking tips along the way. 

Very Vegan Foodie Camp Naples, Alexander's Restaurant

We were told before the dishes were being prepared that there were 2 basic building blocks of vegan cuisine. One of these is vegetable stock, either home made or store bought, which serves as a flavoring agent in addition to a base for sauces. The other is cashews, which is a common base when ground into a paste for dairy substitutes in addition to a thickening agent for sauces.

Zucchini cannoli with mushroom stuffing and tomato sauce

The first menu item was a zucchini cannoli stuffed with duxelles (savory mushroom paste) and served with tomato sauce. It was very good, the thinly sliced zucchini being a substitute for traditional dough and doing a very nice job of being a vehicle for the mushroom paste stuffing. The tomato sauce was a very nice accompaniment here, even made better with the addition of some cinnamon. This was something I would never even think of and will be a must try for my next batch of red sauce.

Vegan mushroom duxelles
The second dish was a cashew curry stir fry, and was very good. The curry sauce was a great flavor combination, a wonderful amalgam of turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, almond milk, cashew paste, garam masala and curry powder.

Cashew curry stir fry with rice

The vegetable stir fry was made all that much better with the addition of sesame seeds and chili sauce. Probably my favorite of all was the mushroom Stroganov.

Mushroom Stroganov with pappardelle
Vegetable stock, garlic, onion, Dijon mustard, harissa (North African pepper paste) and chopped baby dill pickles were components of this dish. I would never thought of adding pickles to this dish but it worked very well and will be a must try the next time making Stroganov. We were also shown how to prepare vegan sour cream in the following video.

The mushroom Stroganov was a great flavor combination and is, as of this writing, on the menu at Alexander's Restaurant. We finished with a dessert of vegan flan topped with fruit, berries and granola.

Vegan flan with fruit, berries and granola

The flan was crafted from a mixture of pureed cashews and agar, which solidified it allowing the flan to be molded before it set. This did not really work for me, I suppose I'm just a dyed in the wool egg based flan man. The toppings were superb however, and this would have made me very happy with a traditional flan or panna cotta base. Not only were participants given a great cooking demonstration by a very talented chef but entered in a raffle as were attendees of the ten other Foodie Camps this year. The raffle was for an autographed Foodie Camp apron as a memento but also for a fifty dollar gift certificate to a Naples Originals member restaurant. In addition, all attendees at Alexander's Restaurant were given a fifty percent off coupon for dinner and beverages, an unbelievable bit of largess from Chef. All of this was a bargain for the fifty dollar entry fee for attendees. This event was a lot of fun and highly recommended.

Mise en place, Very Vegan Foodie Camp Naples presentation, Alexander's Restaurant

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Foodie Camp Naples 2018
For more information visit this link, Foodie Camp Naples.

Alexander's Restaurant
4077 Tamiami Trail N.
Naples, FL 34103

Monday-Friday: Lunch 1130AM-2PM, Dinner 5PM to 9PM, Saturday: Dinner 5PM-9PM; All major credit cards accepted

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