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Archive for Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Lawrence chef shares expertise with KC culinary center class

February 13, 2002

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— The scents of garlic, ginger and red wine infused the air as Chef Ken Baker shared some of his favorite recipes with a group of about 20 men and women.

"We're going to do what I call comfort foods," he said. "This is something close to my heart  eating well and having friends over."

Baker brought the "Best Recipes of Pachamama's Restaurant" last week to the Culinary Center of Kansas City, in Overland Park. It was his second class at the center.

"It was interesting last time," he said. "They said I brought too much food."

After two years as chef at Pachamama's, 2161 Quail Creek Drive, Baker bought the restaurant last month. He received his formal culinary training at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and then did a chef apprenticeship under Chef Daniel Bonnot at Bizou in New Orleans. Baker, 30, also traveled in Australia and New Zealand to learn about different cuisine before coming to Lawrence.

Every week, Kansas City area chefs, restaurant owners and others in the food industry teach a variety of classes at the culinary center.

Manager Kurt Oetting said the center offers about 300 classes a year on everything from cake decorating and bread baking to homemade pasta and children's cooking. The 4-year-old center is owned by Laura and Kevin O'Rourke.

The center also offers themed bistro dinners, team-building workshops, office parties and private cooking classes.

"Anything related to culinary arts, we try to find a way to do it here," Oetting said.

Baker's class menu featured four dishes: Roasted Portobella And Carrot Tower With Ginger-Mushroom Soy-Mirin Essence, West Indian Peanut Soup With Shrimp Dumplings, Toasted Coconut And Red Wine Braised Short Ribs With Sundried Tomato-Veal Reduction, and Horseradish-Creme Fraiche Mashed Potatoes. Everything was finished in a little more than two hours with the help of a sous chef from Pachamama's.

Baker started with the braised short ribs because they need to cook at least an hour and 30 minutes. He dredged the meat in seasoned flour so it would have a nice brown color when cooked, sauteed the vegetables and herbs and later added the beef stock and red wine.

"Braising is using a little liquid that will reduce down to make a nice sauce," he said.

The wine and stock help concentrate the recipe's flavors, Baker said.

"Very slow cooking is very important," he said. "The longer you cook, the more tender the meat is going to be and the flavors are going to be better."

Next, Baker started mixing the ingredients for the roasted mushrooms. Class participants helped chop, dice and prepare the mushrooms, carrots, scallions and shallots.

"This dish has earthy, salty, ginger, soy and mirin flavors," he said. "Japanese flavors."

Baker suggested serving the mushroom and carrot tower with a mesclun mix dressed with a little peanut oil, salt and pepper. He finished the dish by adding some of the sauce around the mushroom.

"This sauce has a lot of flavors going on, so you don't need to pour it all over your plate," he said.

Throughout the class, Baker explained his recipes step-by-step and answered questions. He even threw in some cooking humor, including some guidance during the soup preparation. It requires a scotch bonnet chile, a Caribbean hot pepper.

"Whatever you do, if you use scotch bonnet chilies, please use gloves," he said. "If you choose not to, then don't touch your body anywhere for at least a week."

After the class, Baker said he enjoyed teaching others how to cook and sharing his recipes.

"I don't believe in secret recipes," he said. "When I teach, I'm also learning at the same time. Cooking is a continual learning process. You learn all the time."

Everyone's favorite part of the class was being able to sample the dishes at the end.

"I enjoy cooking, but I enjoy eating more," said Becky Gibson of Lawrence, who took the class. "I think I could take parts of this meal, like do the soup one time and the ribs another time.

"He certainly gives the everyday cook some techniques that we can use."

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