Last weekend I journeyed to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, at the invitation of the folks from Jones Dairy Farm. Jones has made a major commitment to the school, sponsoring a full Bachelor’s scholarship, funding a kitchen, and backing a student competitive team. The CIA was more than happy to reciprocate by giving us a day long to be remembered… culminating in a CIA Blogger Cookoff!
We started off with a breakfast of Jones products in the student dining hall, which looks like something out of Harry Potter but in fact started life a Jesuit chapel; the main building was a monastery prior to its acquisition by the CIA in the 1980s. Then to the kitchen, where Jones Executive VP Rick Lowry, who has a PhD in Food Science, gave a tour of the Jones product line.
Rick broke down several cuts of pork and turkey to show how Jones maintains the integrity of the meats and keeps things natural as it prepares its products, and displayed “white slime” and smoke-flavored sausage casings to show some of the ghoulish ways competitors cut corners. We next had a class in knife skills (amazingly, of the 16 bloggers, there was not a single injury other than to the vegetables) and then to the main event of the day: the bloggers’ cookoff.
We were separated into teams of four, and each got a box of ingredients which we were required to use. My team’s included ricotta cheese, Swiss chard, brown mushrooms, ripe pears and Boston lettuce. In addition, we had to use at least two Jones products in our dish.
My group chose to make stuffed mushrooms filled with a mix of the ricotta and Swiss chard pesto, and garnished with a bacon slab; and a pear and lettuce salad with bacon vinaigrette featuring croutons made with Jones scrapple.
The team included some really good cooks—my partners were Ashley Dingeman from Saratoga Food Fanatic, Lisa Huff from Snappy Gourmet and Sarah Caron from Sarah’s Cucina Belli –and I have to compliment my colleagues on the excellent flavor balance and presentation.
In awarding us the prize, the judges (two chef instructors from the CIA and the most recent recipient of the Jones scholarship) noted that the scrapple croutons were the most imaginative use of a Jones product that day. I’d gotten the idea talking to Rick about scrapple the night before. He lovingly described how this cornmeal and pig parts mélange is like “meat toast” (as in French toast) because it crisps up on the outside while retaining a custardy interior, and advised long slow cooking on a griddle for the ideal texture. Seemed like a natural to put on a salad. (I was originally thinking of more a banneton thing but the bigger size is too fragile.) The recipe is here!