On a recent afternoon, Newport High School culinary students passed around a morel mushroom, commenting on its brain-like appearance.
Foragers who have scoured nearby forests come in to Rover’s restaurant in the springtime with baskets full of the wild mushrooms.
“The Northwest region is a gold mine of culinary ingredients,” Rover’s Chef Adam Hoffman told about 30 students during a cooking demonstration at the school, noting that the area alone grows more than 2,000 mushroom varieties, including crimini, shiitakes and white elf.
And when it comes to taking the lead on fine dining, the Seattle restaurant has collected just the right ingredients.
Featuring Pacific Northwest cuisine refined by a French accent, the restaurant has focused on locally grown and organic products for more than 20 years.
“We have a ton of local farmers here, small farmers who do cheeses, or a lady who raises chickens and brings us farm eggs. These are the kind of people we want to support and try to find,” Hoffman said, adding local products taste better and are healthier. “It’s this kind of thinking that we’re changing. So many restaurants order anything around the world at any time and we’re trying to get into local and seasonal only at Rover’s.”
During the demonstration, which was part of the school’s culinary arts program led by Newport instructor Tracy Green, Hoffman taught students the difference between wild and cultivated mushrooms. Cultivated mushrooms, such as portobellos, are grown indoors on special racks, while each wild mushroom has its own season. Rover’s brings in its mushrooms and other stock according to the season and if it’s not fresh, it’s not worth it, Hoffman said.
He also discussed the difference between farm-raised and wild salmon. Holding up a 6 pound farm-raised salmon from the Atlantic, he noted how small it was compared to the 20 pound salmon he also brought in from a local Seattle merchant. Farm-raised salmon are also artificially flavored and have a higher mercury content, he said.
He then showed students how to butcher a whole salmon, slicing the flesh from fin to head, and prepare salmon tournedos.
Eleventh grader Nikole Novikova ran her finger down the inside of the salmon to feel for the small pin bones. With a pair of pliers, she yanked at a pin bone.
“It’s not easy,” Novikova said, hands shaking.
Nearby, 11th grader Toya Marrow learned how to chop and clean portobello mushrooms.
For the past seven years, Hoffman has brought young culinary students from around the country in to Rover’s and introduced them to the world of fine dining, as part of the restaurant’s apprenticeship program. The Reporter chatted with Hoffman about his work and the restaurant’s local concept.
Reporter: What makes Rover’s unique?
Hoffman: Owner Thierry Tautureau, also known as the Chef in the Hat because he always wears his fedora, grew up as an apprentice in France. So he has that old-school technique and he brought with him his a taste for fine food.
Here, the quality of food is the most important. There are no short cuts. If a dish is not absolutely perfect and flawless, it doesn’t leave the kitchen.
It also doesn’t have to be truffles or caviar or high-end stuff; everyone is getting halibut and copper river salmon. It’s how it’s prepared and that’s the difference and what makes Rover’s unique.
Reporter: How does Rover’s keep it local and seasonal?
Hoffman: Our sous chef, Branden Karrow, goes out and forages all the time for things like morels that you see here regularly. It takes a little elbow grease and a lot of walking through the forest, but he will bring in hundreds of dollars worth of mushrooms.
We don’t want anything that’s been sprayed or out of season. Thierry said it doesn’t make sense to bring in something like strawberries in the winter. Whatever comes in the door that day goes on the menu, so it’s really of the day.
Reporter: What is the apprenticeship program all about?
Hoffman: Community colleges from around the country call us up. After an extensive interview process, we bring in students for externships that help around the kitchen five days a week. All my cooks were previous externs.
Reporter: What is a salmon tournedo and how do you prepare it?
Hoffman: It represents a round shape, like a filet mignon. You butterfly open the salmon filet and once all the good pieces of meat are trimmed from the middle of the salmon, they are all rolled up together – there is no waste. It is rolled into a cylinder shape and trussed with twine.
The beauty of the method that I teach is that most people who are served salmon in a restaurant don’t all get the same cut. Some may get the belly or the center of the fish, but with my methodology, everyone gets the same parts of the salmon. That’s part of the french influence – the concentration on utilization and refinement. The salmon can be served grilled, poached or sauted in brown butter and served rare or medium rare. It’s seasoned with french sea salt and some white pepper.
Carrie Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-453-4290.
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