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Last September, the WGC invited people across the nation to send in photos that expressed their love of whole grains – and the response was awesome. One woman sent in a photo of herself as a six-armed goddess, each arm holding a diﬀerent whole grain product. Another entrant posed her favorite cracker on a mountain-top, during a hiking trip. We received photos of cute kids, home-made bread, pantry-raiding pets, and so much more.
In the end, though, the entry that tugged at our judges’ hearts and won the contest was a photo of Cynthia Beaumont, of North Bergen, NJ, showing her mother how to shop for whole grain products. With her winning entry, Cynthia wrote, “My Mom has diabetes and I am showing her how to look for the whole grains seal. I am always telling her how important it is to eat whole grains and how whole grains break down slower and help to regulate & stabilize her blood sugar. I do not have diabetes but it runs in the family so I am very aware of what I eat .To have a chef come in and cook for Mom, Hubby and I would be a wonderful learning experience for us all.”
Our Grand Prize – a day of cooking with award-winning chef Paul Lynch – would really make a diﬀerence here, we decided. But once the winners were chosen in late October, scheduling the cooking day got tricky, as Chef Paul was buried in holiday cooking and catering at his restaurant, the Firelake Grill House and Cocktail Bar in Minneapolis. So we planned the Big Cooking Day for Tuesday January 5th.
We arrived in New Jersey on Monday, and spent the afternoon shopping. The ﬁrst surprise, for Beaumont, was that almost all the ingredients came from her local PathMark supermarket, instead of from a high-priced health food store. “We wanted to prove that delicious, healthy restaurant-quality food can be accessible to everyone,” commented Chef Paul as we delivered our grocery bags to the Beaumonts’ apartment building Monday evening and made the family’s acquaintance.
Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. we returned ready to cook, with Chef Paul wearing his signature black chef jacket (no, they don’t all wear white!) and carrying his knife-case. Cynthia Beaumont and her mom, Mary Ippolito, had set up chairs in the narrow hallway leading to the kitchen, to give themselves a good view of the stove in Mrs. Ippolito’s compact kitchen.
Chef Paul had planned a marvelous cooking spree menu, including broiled salmon with asiago polenta cakes, beef barley soup, country style ribs with whole grain risotto, and chicken all’arrabbiata with whole grain pasta. With extra servings included in each dish, we would leave the family with a week’s worth of dinners. (Recipes and photos here.)
First on the chopping board came fennel, which Chef Paul would braise with sherry vinegar and use later in his spelt risotto. Part of the fun of the day was introducing the Beaumonts to new vegetables and herbs as well as whole grains. They chewed a small piece of fennel, surprised by its licorice ﬂavor, and sniﬀed fresh marjoram and sage as we chopped them for diﬀerent dishes. Rutabagas, turnips and (pre-soaked) lima beans joined the usual onions, celery and carrots in the beef barley soup.
While I chopped, chopped, and chopped (in my role as sous chef) and washed pots and pans (in my other role, as dish washer), Chef Paul cooked, all the while carrying on a delightful dialog about the tastes of diﬀerent ingredients and their health beneﬁts. As he popped the fennel in the oven, he explained how to make a quick salad, with thin slices of fennel, olive oil, lemon juice, oranges, and olives. As he browned the chicken thighs, he showed how to check doneness with a meat thermometer. He carried a pot over to the spectators, to show them how mushrooms weep away moisture when they cook, and stood at the sink to demonstrate the cleaning of leeks.
“My diabetes doctor sent me to a nutritionist,” said Mary Ippolito, “but what she said wasn’t really very clear to me.” Daughter Cynthia chimed in, “It makes so much more sense when you can see the food and taste it. Why don’t they all do it this way?”
About this time, Cynthia’s husband Tommy joined us. Tommy is the night custodian at the local grammar school that both he and his wife attended as children, so mornings are usually sleep time for him. “But this is a once in a lifetime thing, so I got up,” he said, accepting a bowl of savory beef barley soup. The smell of thyme and asiago cheese wafted from the pans of rich yellow polenta, cooling on the ﬁre escape just outside the kitchen window. Tommy had missed the polenta-tasting Mary and Cynthia had just enjoyed, but he’d get his later, as a polenta cake under the salmon. (We hope it wasn’t the high-pitched scream of the smoke alarm that woke him up. We were cooking up a storm, and had to remove the battery temporarily after the growing level of steam and sizzle set it oﬀ.)
By mid-afternoon, everything was nearing completion. As I ladled the soup into strong zip-lock freezer bags, Chef Paul went over instructions for storage, reheating and serving of the remaining dishes, with Cynthia. We ended the day by presenting our Grand Prize winner with a copy of Lorna Sass’s cookbook Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way, a binder ﬁlled with my favorite everyday recipes, and a gift certiﬁcate for some additional groceries, so that the family can keep on cooking healthy, delicious meals even after Chef Paul’s marvelous masterpieces no longer ﬁll their fridge and freezer.
“I hope my Mom will be with us a lot longer, because of what we’ve learned,” said Beaumont as she thanked Chef Paul.
We join Cynthia Beaumont in giving huge kudos (and hugs) to Chef Paul Lynch for volunteering his services to the Whole Grains Council. Chef Paul is a culinary master who cares deeply about nutrition and health and we can’t thank him enough for his contributions. Thank you once more, also, to our other prize donors who made this exciting contest possible. You can see all the winning entries from our “I Love My Whole Grains” contest, and a description of all the wonderful prizes received by our 48 winners, on the WGC website. (Cindy)