We just returned from a week in the San Francisco Bay area. Our trip was primarily a baby-sitting junket, but we wound up experiencing a non-stop rush of food events. The main reason for our trip was so that our daughter and son-in-law could go to New York City to cook in a charity event in Rockefeller Center for CityMeals on Wheels, but we wound up baby-sitting while they cooked at their restaurant, Rich Table, for visiting chefs attending the Chipotle Cultivate Festival in Golden Gate Park. Then there was the NYC event itself, and while the offspring were out of town, we helped my son and his family with their annual crawfish boil in Silicon Valley, and then cooked a birthday dinner for my son. In between all of this we had a spectacular all-holds-barred dinner at Rich Table and a late lunch at the Presidio Social Club, a lovely little place on the Presidio grounds. Finally we attended the awards ceremony for San Francisco’s Rising Star Chefs held in the Giants’ AT&T Park. Sarah and Evan cooked again, and the reception was a real food blowout.
Now we have to work on losing the weight we gained during this food extravaganza.
My first report from the week is about the Chipotle Cultivate Festival, sponsored by the Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant chain. This started out as an event in Chicago’s Lincoln Park three years ago, spread to Denver’s City Park last year, and now this year moved to include San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The event was held in Hellman Hollow with nearby Lloyd Lake. The festival was free with lots of live music, so there were big crowds. Chipotle had food stands around the grounds with some of their specialties for sale. There were lots of other food vendors, but one of the highlights was a series of cooking demonstrations by well-known chefs. Amanda Freitag, perhaps best known as one of the judges on the Food Network’s Chopped, travelled from New York City. So did Douglas Quint and Bryan Petroff, co-owners of Big Gay Ice Cream Trucks, wildly popular in NYC. Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook, and Vinny Dotolo came up from Los Angeles. Michael Charello of Bottega in Napa Valley, Richard Blais from Atlanta, corporate chefs from Chipotle, and San Francisco chefs Minh Tsai, Evan Bloom, Led Beckerman, and Sarah and Evan rounded out the list of chefs who did cooking demonstrations throughout the day.
Sarah and Evan chose to prepare Sarah’s popular dessert, caramelized olive oil cake with fresh strawberry sauce and cream cheese ice cream. Oil cakes have been around for years, but recipes in cookbooks are often hard to find. Oil is used as a substitute for butter or shortening. Its liquid state at room temperature makes a moist cake, but that also means it will not support cake loft as much as solid fats. For that reason, the cake is more dependent upon incorporated air in other ingredients so it is important to beat those ingredients enough to give the cake lightness. Olive oil has only recently become a popular ingredient. The 1975 edition of the Joy of Cooking has three recipes for oil cakes but also strong advice to avoid olive oil because of its strong flavor. These days, that strong flavor has made olive oil cakes popular.
An additional step that makes Sarah’s cake special is caramelization. As she says, you can caramelize the top, the top and bottom,or all sides, depending how much time you want to spend. One way to caramelize the cake is to sprinkle it with sugar and use a salamander or torch as you might for a crême brulée, but that may be too tricky, so you can accomplish the same thing in a very hot skillet or griddle. The caramelization step can only be done when you are ready to serve the cake.
The second part of the demonstration dish was a strawberry sauce made from fresh strawberries. California strawberries fresh from the farm are totally unlike the flavorless, cardboardy kinds you get in the supermarket. The farm varieties are red, juicy, sweet, tender, and filled with the strawberry flavor of long ago. Adriana Silva, the owner of Tomatero Farms near Watsonville and the strawberry purveyor, also participated in the demonstration. She has gone from 2 to 200 acres under cultivation in just a few years, and she raises six different varieties of strawberries which come in at different times during the season. The variety used for the demonstration was “Seascape”, a red, sweet beauty.
The final part of the dish for the demonstration was a generous topping of cream cheese ice cream, churned at Rich Table that morning. It is like eating a bite of cold New York cheesecake except that it melts in your mouth.
Olive Oil Cake
8 large eggs
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1½ lemons, zested
- 1 1/8 cups whole milk
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1 1/3 cups almond flour
- ¼ cup baking powder
- 1½ cups extra virgin olive oil + more to grease the cake pan
- granulated sugar to caramelize the top
- In the bowl of a stand mixture, combine the eggs and sugar. With the mixer set on medium speed, cream the eggs and sugar together for at least five minutes to incorporate as much air into the mixture as possible. It should form a smooth, shining ribbon.
- Turn the mixer to low and add the salt and lemon zest
- Slowly drizzle in the mil with the mixer still running.
- While the eggs and sugar are mixing, sift together the flours and baking powder.
- Add the sifted flours to the mixture, continuing to beat on low.
- Drizzle in the olive oil very slowly as you would making mayonnaise.
- Prepare a half sheet cake pan ( 16 x 12 x 3 inches) by oiling liberally with the extra olive oil
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Use a spatula to make sure the batter fills the corners of the pan.
- Bake in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 325°F for 25 minutes or until the cake springs back to the touch and/or tests clean with a toothpick
- Remove from the oven. Cool on a baking rack for five minutes. Then invert onto a flat surface. Gently transfer the cake. You may need to use your fingers or a thin spatula get the cake out in one piece.
- When ready to serve, cut the cake into serving-size pieces, sprinkle with sugar, and place sugared-side down on a clean hot griddle or skillet. When the sugar is caramelized (2-3 minutes) serve caramelized side up with sauce, whipped cream, or ice cream.