Potassium permanganate reminds me more of chemistry than domestic science lessons. But Head Chef, Cephus, taught me how to make salad safe in a very hot climate. https://youtu.be/ySvfk61wL4E
I was at the wonderfully eclectic and renowned Latitude 13 Hotel www.latitudehotels.com in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, in Africa: cooking under the shade of a huge tree beside children joyously romping in the swimming pool. It was part of my prize-winning tour: cooking across six continents.
We were making a haloumi salad but first needed to ensure that the lettuce was bacteria-free. Even when food is locally grown, if there isn’t enough refrigeration between the farm and hotel kitchen, the heat can create a breeding ground for bugs. Consequently, our first step was to dissolve the potassium permanganate in water to create a purplish bath in which to soak the lettuce to kill off any bacteria. Once rinsed, there’s no difference in taste but a much safer salad.
Cephus is a great advocate for local farmers and food producers. He had devised his own version of polenta using “sema”: the traditional maize flour porridge-style dish that features at nearly every Malawian meal. For this cooking session, he was using local haloumi which he fried to give a crispy coat to the cheese. He added more texture with homemade vegetable crisps: beetroot, carrot and butternut squash. The whole dish was topped with a magnificent cooked dressing using the pulp of passion fruit (or granadillas as they are known locally).
Salad sounds simple but this was far more sophisticated.
Top chef Luis turned under-cooked rice and grass from the coast of China in to an amazing fine dining experience (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2E48p7eViU).
You will be as staggered as I by the amount of time (potentially three days), the attention to detail and the amazing interpretation of a beach after a bonfire! This was Luis’ inspiration in creating the seagrass cracker that was the crowning glory to his delicate dessert with passion fruit cream
And he didn’t stop there but delicately added bubbles of smoke flavour to the plate! This is where the chef with Michelin experience stands head and shoulders ahead of the home cook. And even more so when that cook can’t see either.
It was a fabulous dessert and he generously shared both his recipe and the tricks of the trade – check out the video.
I was lucky enough to cook alongside him at the outstanding China Live restaurant in San Francisco’s famous China Town thanks to winning the Holman prize run by the city’s LightHouse organisation for blind people.
Imagine the challenge of cooking alongside a Michelin-level chef making eclectic Chinese cuisine from authentic ingredients in an ultra-high-tech kitchen – without any sight at all (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqRx8cGznGs). Then double the anxiety and stress because everything is being captured on video and it will be your first test of the Baking blind world tour.
Yes, I was very nervous that I’d make a complete mess of the day: bang around the kitchen, drop the ingredients and generally look stupid. Thank goodness for consummate professional Executive Pastry Chef Luis who not only cooks at the top of his game in the prestigious China Live restaurant in San Francisco but is also a compelling instructor at the local college. He chose to show me his seagrass cake with passion fruit cream. Not only utterly delicious and a fabulous example of fine dining but capable of being translated in to this blind home cook’s repertoire. If I can do it, anyone can!
I’d never heard of seagrass which comes from the coast of China and is used in place of flour to produce an ultra-light sponge that is flecked with green and brown. And the passion fruit powder is definitely on my shopping list to create desserts with real intense flavour – you can find it on the web. Luis showed me new ways of making the cake and cream – just basic for him but great learning for me.
China Live is in the famous Chinatown area of San Francisco and is not to be missed. Across five floors, it offers every aspect of Chinese cuisine from the more relaxed café at the entrance to the fine dining and banqueting facilities. They also sell authentic ingredients and innovative ceramics and equipment. We lunched on some fried dumplings that were just outstanding. Big thumbs up.
San Francisco was the starting point of my adventure cooking across six continents because it is also the base of the LightHouse organisation that created and funded my international Holman prize. My goal over all the coming video episodes is to show that a shared passion, whether for cooking, work or anything else, breaks down barriers of disability. I think that you will see that Luis happily treated me like any other semi-competent cook: we just got on with the job in hand because my blindness didn’t matter.