Chef John Shields’ Presentation to the CHoW (Culinary Historians of Washington) – A Review

On Sunday, November 8, 2020, John Shields held a cooking demonstration on Zoom for the Culinary Historians on Washington (CHoW) and he included two recipes from his new cookbook, The New Chesapeake Kitchen: Local Foods Healthy for Bay and Body.  Pixie attended this event and here is her summary:

Although John has access to a highly professional kitchen in his restaurant Gertrude’s Restaurant, John did his cooking demonstration from the intimacy of his home kitchen, which looks a lot like mine (only neater).  This, in a nutshell, captures who John is — an acclaimed chef and expert on Chesapeake-regional cooking yet someone who celebrates the home cook and the heritage of family and food.  John knows this is where the rubber hits the road – cooking at home.  John is a Maryland treasure and he shared his warmth and humility in understanding the importance of cooking at home for our loved ones.  The presentation focused on  the value of four main things:  (1) family cooking legacies, memories and traditions (John shared many tender memories of his family); (2) sharing tales and stories; (3) using quality locally-sourced ingredients (most of what John purchases is from his local Waverly Farmers Market); and (4) that well-worn kitchen pans and utensils work just fine.  One got the feeling that fancy or expensive kitchen accoutrements, while very nice, are definitely not needed to make something delicious. 

John’s demonstration covered two dishes (recipes are contained in the November CHoW newsletter):  Aunt Bessie’s Crab Pudding (a savory dish); and Beet & Carrot Soup (with an Asian influence of curry paste).  After Judith Mazza introduced John, he got to work showing us how to make these recipes.  The only thing we couldn’t experience was the aroma of what he was cooking, although we could imagine how wonderful it was (plus John told us about it).  

During his presentations John talked a lot about his food shopping preferences, one of which is once a week he goes to the Waverly Farmers Market in Baltimore.  John is there when the market opens at 7 a.m.  This market is open 52 weeks a year and is located in the Waverly neighborhood of Baltimore City.  John said he would be glad to give us a tour of the market and introduce us to his friends there, the vendors, and this is something we’d like to take him up on (and then lunch at his acclaimed restaurant)t

John provided a lot of helpful information and answered many questions about the recipes.  For example, a good replacement for the crab meat in the pudding, if it is not available, is white fish.  He described the various types of crab meat (jumbo lump, lump, backfin and claw), and his recommendation for the best way to combine the different types for balance and taste.  He covered how to ensure the pudding absorbs the flavors of the crabmeat, sauteed veggies and cream/milk, by leaving in the refrigerator for about one hour before cooking.  He discussed his preferences for types of crab, starting with Maryland blue crab and ending with avoid canned crabmeat!  John discussed how to freeze crab meat, with milk which crystalizes it and when defrosted is almost like fresh crab meat.  When asked if he is coming back to public television, John said he was in discussions with MPTA for a new cooking series but  it is on-hold due to Covid-19, but hopefully might happen in the future.

Toward the end of his presentation John talked about “Maryland beaten biscuits”.  This recipe originated on the Eastern Shore and southern part of Maryland.  These biscuits use only flour, lard (or Crisco), salt and water, and are actually beaten with a mallet.  John surmised that this  reduces the gluten in the biscuits.  

It was a wonderful presentation.  True to John’s generosity and thoughtfulness, he was going to take the Aunt Bessie’s crab pudding that he cooked in his demo to his restaurant for his staff to enjoy.  A class act.

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