Yesterday was my debut as chef-in-residence at the Washington Youth Garden, National Arboretum. The mission: conduct a cooking demonstration for the parents and children who come out to the garden on Saturday mornings to tend their plots.
Not knowing exactly what to expect in terms of kitchen accommodations, I chose something easy to go with the season: a 12-egg frittata with spring herbs and goat cheese.
I know, you're probably tired of hearing about my frittatas. But in fact, frittata makes great theater. Around 11:30 the families began to assemble around the picnic tables parked under a large shade tree at the edge of the garden. My "stove" was a pair of propane burners. I'd brought my own cutting board and tools.
My daughter and a couple of kids accompanied me to the herb garden where we gathered what seemed to taste right in my mind. There was plenty of mint, some dill, a variety of thyme and bunches of parsley. We also cut some of the scapes from a row of onion plants to give our egg dish a little zip.
While I was chopping herbs and making small talk with the crowd--feeling very much like Emerill on my little soap box--one of the parents gathered a group of kids to crack and beat the eggs.
I heated my 11-inch, non-stick skillet over one of the burners, laid on a thick drizzle of olive oil in my most theatrical manner. Then we poured in the eggs.
A non-stick skillet is essential. And I use a heat-proof spatula as well. As the eggs began to bubble and set up on the bottom, I showed my audience how to lift the edges, tilt the skillet and run the egg underneath so there are always new layers forming.
In went the herbs, "Bam!" Just like Emeril. Salt, "Bam!" Pepper, "Bam!"
When the eggs were almost cooked through, I crumbled goat cheese over the top. Now for the hard part, the big flourish. Would this baby flip? I wasn't sure.
The first frittata flipped, but only half-way. Now we had what looked like a giant conventional omelet. Not so bad. On the second try, everyone held there breath. Up into the air went a 12-egg pie. It flipped. It landed perfectly upside-down.
See how nicely browned that is? I said, pointing to the lovely, crinkly, brown underside that was now facing up.
Normally I cook the top side under the broiler. No chance of frittata paving the kitchen floor, and it browns much more nicely. But nobody was complaining.
Each pie got a nice drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil (I explained what that meant), then a dusting of Parmesan cheese. Then people lined up with their plates. I was told to expect up to 50. We might have seen 30. Nearly everyone took seconds, just small slices so everyone could have a taste.
Then a group of gardeners whisked my tools off to the water source in the garden and scrubbed them down. Heck, are we done already?
That was fun...
Photos by Tom Janota