Chef du Jour: Adventurous cook teaches world cuisines to others
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Thomas Craner considers meal time an adventure.
Growing up, Craner recalls, his dad traveled a lot for work and would describe for the family the foods he had eaten while he was away. Then, his mom would try to duplicate the dish.
"So it came as no surprise that when I was in grad school, with a limited budget, I would experiment with all types of food and dishes," said Craner, of Antioch. "I found trying new foods and cuisines quite the adventure, and I never refuse to try a new food." Now this self-trained chef also encourages others to be adventurous with food via his alter ego "Tom Wasabi" and his in-home cooking class.
What is your earliest food memory? Surprise Pancakes, of course. My mother was a great cook. however, when I was young I resisted eating her pancakes. To encourage me to eat pancakes, she would put a "surprise" in them. This was mostly fruit -- bananas or berries of any kind. Since they were "surprise" pancakes I would eat them. Even into my adulthood, when my mother would ask if I wanted pancakes, my response would be "will they be surprise pancakes?" To this day, Sunday morning breakfasts include surprise pancakes.
What is your culinary background? I worked in my college cafeteria doing all sorts of jobs in the kitchen, line work, serving and running the student snack bar -- I even made the doughnuts. I have also worked preparing meals for banquets.
What is your mission through your Tom Wasabi In-home Cooking School? My goal is for my students to have a good time, eat some really good food, learn a new skill and most of all feel the pride and satisfaction of knowing they could prepare a great meal. I want to leave them with the experience knowing more about the process as well as the culture around the food that they just prepared.
What skills and recipes do you enjoy teaching? I specialize in sushi, pasta preparation and knife skills. I have prepared various types of menus; some examples include an International Dinner with each course selected from a different country, a Tuscan menu, and even a kosher sushi party. I also take into consideration any special dietary needs.
Can you share a memorable experience? The most memorable and touching class was a few years ago. One of the guests had recently lost her son to suicide. Shortly after the party, the hostess sent me a thank-you note expressing her gratitude. She wrote, "We have not seen her laugh and smile so much in a long time." Reading this made that evening special to me, and I realized how people can be touched through food experiences.
What tips would you offer to home cooks? Find a good reference cookbook. I still refer to my battered copy of "Joy of Cooking," which has everything you need to know about food preparation, meat cuts, measurements -- you name it. Most of all, be willing to experiment, experiment and experiment some more. Try food that you have never tasted or prepared. You might discover something about the taste and about yourself. So often I find when a person says, "I do not like something" they probably haven't tried it or maybe it was prepared poorly. I hear many times from people how they dislike sushi and then find out they haven't tried it. My wife had sushi for the first time on our second date and has been hooked ever since. Discovering she liked sushi opened her mind and palate to become adventurous with trying new dishes.
What ingredients and tools are always in your kitchen? The most important tool in the kitchen is a good sharp knife. You can get by with any pots, pans and other utensils, but a sharp knife is a necessity for efficiency and safety. If I only had two knives, I would have an 8-inch French knife and a 3-inch paring knife. When it comes to ingredients, fresh is always better. If not fresh, choose whole spices, vegetables and protein. Ingredients closer to their natural state last longer and retain their flavor. On the flip side, I keep dried spices and mushrooms in the pantry at all times. Good whole black pepper is always a must.
What was the last meal you cooked at home? We have a lot of sushi at home but my last meal was a little bit out of the box. Steak sous vide, which is cooking a steak in a vacuum pouch and then finishing the sear with a blow torch. What can I say, I am a man, and men like to cook with fire.
Tell us about this recipe: Portobello Ravioli. This recipe has been popular in my pasta classes. It is one that is tasty and a meatless alternative.
Try this at home or in a cooking class with Tom Wasabi, (847) 395-5768 or tomwasabi.com.
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