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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My favorite dish and discovering a new love

It was November of 1999.  We were 26 years old and we had been married only about 3 1/2 years.

1999 in Florida

In a word, we were “Babies.”

And I was thin. (Not that you could tell for the overalls. What was that about?)

And you know that prominent gray streak I have now…. yeah, you can’t even see it in this picture.

But I digress.

Mike had a training conference for work to attend that just so happened to be held at the Walt Disney World resort.  Of course, I had to work, but I made a way to swing a few days off to fly down to Florida and join him so that we could make a long weekend of it.  We did, after all, want to “do Disney World” before we had kids. 

As I always do in these situations, I began to research what to do while we were there and how to do it.  I found out that part of the resort was set aside for what they called, at that time, the Disney Institute.  If my memory serves me correctly, the Disney Institute was a place where companies could send staff and management level employees to receive specific training.  However, in addition they offered enrichment courses of study in everything from photography to the culinary arts.  What a perfect idea for the days that I would be there with Mike while he was still in his training classes and meetings.  So I registered and filled up my itinerary with photography, wine appreciation and, of course, cooking classes.

I spent two full days at the Disney Institute and on the grounds there.  It was a beautiful and very tranquil setting right on a small pond across from the Downtown Disney area.  I spent break times just sitting outside in the quiet and taking pictures of the local birds.  I ate at least one meal at the restaurant there and I remember to this day how my waitress warned me, “If you notice a bunch of staff walking past your table, it’s because I told them about your hair.”  Yeah.  That streak that doesn’t even show up in photographs was clearly visible even at age 26. 

I know that was a long lead-in, but it was in this setting that I was introduced to what has become one of my favorite dishes to both cook and eat.

One of the cooking classes that I had on my schedule was “A Taste of the World” and on this particular day, we were covering “Italia Cucina,”  But not just your ordinary pasta and such.  Northern Italian country cooking.  And that meant Osso Buco.

This was our classroom, complete with about seven student stations and a chef’s station at the front that was outfitted with overhead cameras and screens at the front so that us students could follow what the chef was doing.  It was pretty darned hi-tech for 1999.

1999 Disney Institute Studio D - Culinary

We spent our morning class time preparing our own lunch of veal Osso Buco with Risotto alla Milanese  and a dessert of strawberries with balsamic vinegar and Zabaglione.   I had never had such a delicious lunch before.  And I had made it with my own two hands.

I also took a Pastries and Confections class in this same studio that was focused on Christmas Cookies as the holidays were approaching.  Each member of the class made a different recipe of cookie under the watchful eye of our chef instructor.  As we mixed and baked we talked about each individual recipe and some of the science behind each of them.  In fact, I have talked on this blog about some of what I learned about baking cookies in that class (see this blog post).  We then were able to sample all of our handiwork at the end of class.  Rewards are sweet.

I have come to realize that it was in this very same studio, in the process of taking both of these classes, that I said, “Hello, Lover.” I said hello to the world of really cooking for the first time.  I said hello to understanding much of what food, cooking, and baking were about.  I said hello to what I believe is a passion that will also be a life-long pursuit. 

In a word (or three), it was heaven.  Bliss.  Euphoric.

I think I realized for the first time that even I could create something in the kitchen that tasted every bit as good as those things I had eaten in fine restaurants.  All it required was the “know how.”  I may never do it as efficiently or neatly as a professionally trained chef in a 5 star restaurant.  But I could do it.

Veal Osso Buco and Risotto alla Milanese

And that may be why Osso Buco is my very favorite dish to cook and eat.  I have a connection on a level that is so much deeper than just sustenance.  And the fact that it is like velvet in your mouth doesn’t hurt.  But each and every time I eat it or make it, I am taken back to that moment in time at when I realized…

I love to cook.


Recipes mentioned in this post:

Veal Osso Buco
Risotto alla Milanese
Peppered Balsamic Strawberries and Zabaglione