The Kale Project has brought interesting people into my life. Some just through the social networking world, some just through email and then some in person as well. Right before the Thanksgiving holiday, Orianne from Up Chef Creek in Brooklyn, contacted me with an email subject of ‘Kale Cooks Unite’! I felt honored because she is a proper chef and I am not – I just happen to feel passionate about kale and am learning to love cooking as I get older.
Orianne emailed me discussing her love for kale, about her experience with world-class chefs, in catering and teaching everyone about food and cooking and that she stumbled upon the Project… and how she’s been trying to explain kale to her French friends for years… Plus she is a proper chef discussing her love for kale on a personal and professional level – which is a perspective this series has not yet had.
As someone who frequently travels to Paris and many other places, Orianne likes to incorporate some type of cooking project into her travels, and felt that The Kale Project might be the perfect opportunity. Unfortunately her time in Paris was during the holiday when I was in London for Thanksgiving so we were not able to coordinate.
What I do know is that Orianne will be back in Paris soon and after reading through her scrumptious recipes on Up Chef Creek, that I can’t wait to collaborate with her on her next visit to Paris.
Describe what kale tastes like in one sentence.
Nutty, briny grass growing in cabbage patch.
When was the first time you tried kale? How did you try it? How was it prepared?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure I remember the exact first time, I’m pretty sure I ate it as a kid since my parents were no strangers to the most healthy and unpopular foods they could find. I do remember clearly in my earliest days of cheffing one of my tasks was to stem and wash crates and crates of kale. I think at that time it was most often served simply sautéed and it was delicious (as usual). It seems as kale’s popularity grows steadily over the years so does its variety of creative preparations.
What is your favorite way to eat and prepare kale?
I love to throw big handfuls of kale into soups. It goes great with so many other ingredients and really boosts up the heartiness of a dish. I put it in chicken noodle, white bean, Italian wedding soup, fish stew or lentil…and all you have to do it wash it, chop it up, stir it into the soup of choice and simmer until tender.
If you were serving kale to a kale-virgin, what would you do and why?
If I were trying to win over a kale-virgin, I might make a dish I call “creamed kale.” It is a very non-complicated version of the classic creamed spinach. Chopped kale is sautéed with some diced onions and garlic in butter and finished with a touch of cream and some parmesan cheese. I find that a little of bit familiar paired with something that is unfamiliar often leads to success. My favorite first time kale eater is my one and a half year old daughter. I finely chopped cooked kale and mix it into grain salads, soup or pasta sauce and she loves it!
As someone who is involved with the chef/cooking world in the States, why do you think kale has become such a trend?
I think it has become so very popular because it is delicious, healthy and extremely versatile. It is also very satisfying.
If you think about it, spinach was the former go-to ‘leafy-green’ side dish… but spinach is a wimp! It wilts down so much when cooked and turns kind of slimy in liquid whereas kale holds its great body and texture in any form. You can cook it in so many ways… fry, bake, steam, grill, etc. So as chefs continue their quest to balance out a plate, kale proves it is a strong player. Also, as trends have moved to incorporate healthy eating in a big way, kale is the perfect ingredient for that too. I think kale is still even a little bit mysterious, so to some home cooks in a restaurant it is usually well-received.
And how do you like to prepare it when cooking professionally?
I used to cook for an Irish diplomat in NYC and I learned a great dish from Ireland called ‘Colcannon,’ which incorporates cooked kale and mashed potatoes. I made it often! My take on it was to caramelize the onions before sautéing with the kale and to wilt the kale with a splash of beer. Once it cooks down (and has great flavor), it gets chopped well and stirred into your favorite mashed potato recipe. Always a hit. I also love to garnish dishes with crispy baked kale chips… but be careful… they are addictive!
For any special cooking or catering needs, don’t forget about Ori from Up Chef Creek!