Yesterday, Clare and I served as volunteer assistants for Chef Mamie, one of the teachers of public classes at the Natural Gourmet. We were cooking for an event hosted by the NYWCA (New York Women’s Culinary Alliance) highlighting umami*. The “fifth taste” (after the basic four: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter), umami is strongly present in many foods including tuna, chicken, seaweed, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, and parmesan cheese.
Last night’s event, held at the Institute for Culinary Education, featured a guest speaker from the Umami Information Center, who gave a short lecture on the history of the taste, which was followed by a buffet dinner full of umami-rich foods. The discovery of umami, in 1908, is credited to a Japanese chemist (Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University), thus people often associate the taste with Japanese foods. While it is true that many Japanese dishes are high in umami-rich ingredients, people of all nationalities have been tasting umami for centuries, it just wasn’t labeled as such. In fact, we learned during the lecture that breast milk is high in umami.
The buffet we cooked included Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Italian dishes, each of which were paired with a wine or sake (all donated by Gotham Wine). I made one Thai dish: stir fried straw mushrooms and prawns with shrimp paste; and one Japanese: miso soup.
Clare made two Vietnamese dishes: fresh spring rolls (served with a peanut sauce) and grilled pork chops.
Clare also helped Chef Mamie with the pizzas, which were delicious.
Chef Mamie made two dishes as well, they were my favorites: Japanese vegetable sushi rice and green tea cookies.
It was a fun night, and I learned some new recipes, which is always good.
My dinner plate from last night.
* I linked to the Wikipedia entry on umami for those who want to read more on its definition, but wanted to note that I found a glaring error on the page (which I corrected) so beware of false information.