Well, well...what an amazing, challenging and thrilling experience it was for me to be able to present a cooking workshop at the famous James Beard Foundation (JBF), in Manhattan, New York. The JBF is a prestigious culinary organization that hosts workshops and events featuring culinary experts, prominent authors and chefs from around the country ( www.jamesbeard.org/events ). The JBF programs include classes, conferences, readings and other educational experiences that help people learn about and engage with food. Food matters a great deal to the members of this organization who not only pay an annual membership fee but also pay to participate in individual events held round the year.
I presented a workshop titled, "Enticing Indian Flavors" on Sunday April 26th , 2009 at 11 AM.
Close to the date of my workshop, the Director of House Programming for JBF called to let me know that my workshop was a sold out event with 20 New Yorkers attending it. I was excited and I started planning immediately to see how I was going to accomplish this challenging task. It is relatively easy to discuss and demonstrate food preparation, and to serve food to a small group of people. But for a larger group it is not practical to combine all of these activities in one event. Hence I decided to cook the bulk of the food ahead of time in Milwaukee and, for demonstration, to prepare small amounts of food at the workshop. On April 20th, I decided to do my grocery shopping in Milwaukee and to prepare the food with the help of my able assistant Sharon.
The menu item included: Tuna Masala on Crackers, Lemon Rice with Cashews, Chettinad Chicken Masala, Chickpea and Mango Soondal, Cucumber, Tomato Yogurt Salad, and Mango Lassi with Champagne.
I followed my earlier "food in a suitcase" routine. (see my blog: Food in a Suitcase). I decided to prepare appropriate amounts of the first four dishes in the menu and store the food in the freezer until it was time for me to travel.
So, from Monday, April 20th, each dish was prepared, carefully packed and was placed in the freezer. On Friday April 26th, I started packing. Solid frozen foods were wrapped and placed in a suitcase. Besides the foods, I packed some cooking pots and pans because I did not know what kind of utensils were available at JBF for cooking. Also, all the necessary spices had to be taken with me. After my program, I wanted to say "thank you" with small gift bags for the participants. So, I chose to offer the Taj Mahal Elachi tea bags (cardamom infused tea bags) 6 in a bag tied with a beautiful string and placed in a small gift bag for each participant. My assistant Sharon was invaluable in helping me with all the above preparation.
On the day of the departure to New Yok on April 26th, it was raining heavily in Milwaukee. All the above items were carefully packed in three suitcases to be checked in at the airport. My main concern was, that my flight should take off and arrive in New York on time. Of course, another concern was that the checked suitcases should also arrive with me! When I checked at the airline counter, the associate remarked, "You are lucky because today the flight is going to take off on time", adding that this was unusual. It was like Devine voice assuring me that everything is going to be alright. I received such a warm welcome at my cookbook publisher's house not far from the airport in Jamaica Estates. Indeed the food arrived safely in the suitcases and was placed carefully in the refrigerator. Can you believe, the prepared foods were all still solidly frozen- just the way they were supposed to be. I had a good night's rest.
Sunday, the day of the event, was a sunny day. But it was also a hot 90 degrees day in NY! A car service was arranged by the publisher to pick me up at 8 AM. The publisher's office manager Awilda accompanied me and the food suit cases to Manhattan. It was about a 45 minute drive. When we arrived at JBF, there was help to take the suitcases inside and to setup for the event. Later my book editor came with our newly released cookbook (Healthy South Indian Cooking:Expanded Editon). I had two assistants to help me. First I checked the food. It was still solidly frozen. We decided to transfer the food to warm up in the oven around 9:30AM.
People started arriving at 10:30AM. New Yorkers are really friendly people. The Director of House Programming at JBF, was so welcoming and appreciative of all my efforts. I discussed the cuisine, oriented people to spices and legumes and started cooking each dish. Many brought their cameras and were taking many pictures. There were numerous questions during the presentation. The food ( that I had taken with me as well as food prepared on site) was elegantly served in the "Green Room" by the JBF servers. Thanks to the preservative quailty of spices, even the food I had prepared and frozen in Milwaukee had such a wonderful aroma and flavor.
The lunch was followed by a book signing event. After that, I was asked to sign the JBH (house) jacket. hanging on the wall. Many famous chefs had signed the jacket during previous presentations. I felt so honored. I was also given a certificate "for outstanding contribution" to the Foundation.
When it was time to say bye, I felt like I knew all these people before. They were very enthusiastic, informed particpants with diverse backgrounds. Everyone seemed to like the workshop and the food. There were suggetions that I should come back to New York for another event. It was an unforgettable and amazing culinary journey for me from Milwaukee to New York !