Early Exposure

If you've read any of my previous posts on this site, you probably already know that I'm an instructor in the culinary department at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago. I love food. I love cooking food. I love eating food. That wasn't always the case, though. As a child, I had what could be called limited exposure to the astounding diversity of cuisines available in this great city. For my family, going out for Chinese was about as daring as it got. For that reason, I try hard to instill a sense of cultural and cuisine related adventure and curiosity in my students; the more they taste and experience, the more knowledgeable and appreciative they'll be, and the better their cooking will become. For that reason, I created and continue to mentor a student club at the school called the LCB Ethnic Lunch Club. Once a month or so, I take a group of students to one of Chicago's authentic ethnic restaurants to expose them to a new cuisine and food culture. It's always a lot of fun, and usually very delicious.

My wife and I try to take a similar approach to how we raise and feed our children. Our five year old daughter, Delilah, is a great eater, already a veteran of such delicacies as caviar, foie gras, gravlax, sushi, curries, and smoky barbecue. Our 18 month old son, Jake, is a work in progress, and tends to drift in and out of various likes and dislikes according to how much pain the teething process is causing him that day. Today was apparently a good, pain free day for Jake; at least I think it was judging from the success of the cuisine exposure adventure I subjected him to.

After dropping his sister off at school, Jake and I saddled up and headed to a Mexican market on the north side of town called Supermercado Morelia. I had some inside info from a past student that I would be able to find fresh blue corn masa there, so the hunt was on. Morelia is pretty much a quaint little Mexican market not unlike the hundreds of others scattered around Chicago, but they did have a few cool things you might not see elsewhere. First of all, they did have blue corn masa, vacuum packed and refrigerated. Grabbed a bag of that. They also had jars of beautifully chunky, inky huitlacoche; a mushroom like fungus that grows from the kernels on an ear of corn and goes by the alternate names of corn truffle or corn smut, depending on who you ask. Took a jar of that. Then Jake and I noticed their hot, prepared food area, and ended up grabbing a pound each of amazingly tender and porky carnitas (big chunks of pork gently deep fried in lard until it's almost ready to fall apart) and chicharones (crispy fried pig skin) simmered in a spicy tomato salsa. A bunch of cilantro, a couple limes, and a wedge of good Mexican melting cheese rounded out our cart, and it was time to get back to the homestead to make lunch.

Needless to say, the blue corn masa quesadillas filled with huitlacoche and topped with carnitas, chicharones en salsa roja, cilantro, and lime were incredibly delicious. Whether or not Jake was able to appreciate the authentic flavors of one of the world's greatest cuisines, who knows. But he did sit relatively still for at least ten minutes, asking for "Mo' pees" (more, please) after each and every bite, and that's pretty good for a kid his age.