The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

February 1, 2010

Chef Kelly Courtney

Just in case you haven’t gotten your hands on a copy of the February issue of Lake Murray Magazine, here’s a copy of the text from the article I wrote about our newest gourmand, Chef Kelly Courtney.

Hope you enjoy.

Chef Kelly Courtney and a Manageable Valentine’s Day Meal –

Keep it Simple, Pure & Exquisite

Chef Kelly Courtney’s connection to the land goes back to her childhood in Richland County and rural South Florida where hauling catfish from the water and slicing sugar cane into strips of juicy, sweet candy were her introduction to the perfection of simple local foods. That early appreciation for the pure, simple and exquisite has guided the nationally renowned chef from her Southern roots all the way to presiding over some of the country’s best restaurants, and back again to her South Carolina home. And it is what continues to drive her in her quest for making magical and meaningful meals – especially on Valentine’s Day, when passion and romance are essential ingredients on everyone’s menu.

Named by Food and Wine Magazine as 2001’s best new American chef, Chef Kelly Courtney could easily dazzle her audience with complicated combinations and impossible processes like those she oversaw as Executive Chef at Mod in Chicago or Firefly in Los Angeles. But rather than intimidate, Chef Kelly focuses on empowering her followers by focusing on simplicity.

“So many of the most pure ways of preparing foods are just more meaningful to you and who you are cooking for,” she explains. “Better yet, make the meal together. Plan the menu, shop for your ingredients, and prepare the meal together. Cooking is one of the most passionate ways a couple can spend their time.”

An advocate of sustainable farming and shopping local, Chef Kelly also recommends that cooking couples look first to seasonal produce when planning their romantic Valentine’s meal. “Go with the freshest ingredients you can find,” she encourages. Even in the chill of winter, crispy fresh greens and tasty root crops are still abundant and bursting with more flavor than out-of-season fruits and vegetables which can be stale and tasteless, not to mention shipped from miles away, leaving a carbon footprint that, these days, no one wants to claim. Saturday mornings always find Chef Kelly at the All Local Farmers Market at 701 Whaley Street where she loads up on local breads, cheeses, meats, and produce. After seeing what is fresh and available, she then plans the meals she’ll be making.

“A wonderful way to start preparations for your meal is with a little something to munch on while you’re cooking,” she advises, recommending a slice of local honey comb, dripping with gooey goodness and served on a pristine white plate. Paired with a tasty cheese, served at room temperature so the flavors are at their fullest and richest, the contrast of sweetness and nuttiness is a tempting introduction to the meal to come.

Color is another important consideration when planning a Valentine’s meal. “Most people associate Valentine’s Day with colors in the red and pink family,” she says. “Following this pattern is not only sweet, but it’s sexy, and it’s easy to do while still focusing on fresh, seasonal foods.” Chef Kelly recommends cooking with beets for a slightly atypical, but perfectly fresh and beautiful romantic dinner. “The colors are rich and gorgeous, and beets are abundant during February – it’s a natural choice,” she says.

Another fresh and colorful Chef Kelly recommended option for the day is fresh tuna from your local fish market. “Simple pairings of small plates is the key,” she says.  No one really wants to eat a heavy meal for a romantic dinner – tuna is light and flavorful, also a beautiful color, and easy to work with.”

Of course, no Valentine’s Day dinner would be complete without chocolate and Chef Kelley advises that sweethearts never skimp on quality when purchasing fine chocolates.

“Visit a local gourmet grocer and purchase just a few delicious truffles or excellent-quality chocolate candies containing varying percentages of cocoa content, from thirty to forty to seventy percent,” she says, and serve them on a beautiful plate with dried cherries or candied orange peel. Adding thin slices of a hot chili pepper to the chocolates allows for complementary tastes, as well as a double dose of endorphins – compounds produced naturally by the pituitary gland which resemble opiates and result in a general feeling of well-being.

Whether you achieve it via the food you prepare or how you prepare it, that feeling of well-being should not be underestimated as a necessary ingredient in a pleasant Valentine’s Day dinner experience, according to Chef Kelly. “Cooking with the person you care for is a wonderful way to share the intimacy of the meal and to show them you care,” she says, but it is also fun and it takes the pressure off one individual to perform for the other.

Everyone can relax; everyone can feel good; everyone can have a Happy Valentine’s Day.

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