Improv Cooking with Chef Adam Pagan
(click the photo above to view audio slideshow story)
The scent of sweet apples and cinnamon fills the air of the George Sherman Union at Boston University. A small crowd of people huddles around the table in front of the City Convenience store. Students eagerly whisper among themselves in anticipation as they wait for the demonstration to begin. Today is the BU Farmer’s Market Improv Cooking Class hosted by Chef Adam Pagan.
On the table filled with bright, red tomatoes, fresh zucchini and sweet peppers, Chef Pagan chop a bright orange summer squash. He has bushy black eyebrows, and wears a cleanly pressed chef coat as he preps the Bunsen burner for his live cooking demonstration.
“After today, everyone’s going to want to take a box home and cook these dishes,” said Pagan.
Pagan, the executive chef of BU Dining Services, has offered the cooking class three times in the past two years. Pagan used ingredients from community-shared agriculture (CSA) boxes provided by the BU Farmer’s Market. CSA members pay a fee (either annually or per box) and get around twenty-five ingredients in each box every week.
Sherbrooke Farms is one of the oldest and well-known regional New England Farms that has a CSA program. Andrew Thornhill is the Regional Greenhouse Manager of Sherbrooke Farms. According to Thornhill, signing up for a annual CSA box program can save you a lot of money in the end.
“When you buy local you’re supporting local businesses and local people in the area,” said Thornhill.
Many students and faculty purchase and pick up these boxes from the farmer’s market at BU’s Marsh Plaza each week. Some students find that purchasing them is convenient and saves them a trip to Shaw’s or Trader Joe’s. However, despite the convenience, there are some challenges that arise when purchasing the box.
Jeremy Gaerlan, a junior studying biomedical engineering, picks up a CSA box every other week at the farmer’s market. He found that there have been several occasions in which he has purchased the box and there were always a couple ingredients that he was unsure of how to prepare.
He said, “It’s great that BU has the farmer’s market where we can buy local produce, but there’s always some oddball ingredient, or too much of something that I have no idea what to do with… A couple of weeks ago, I got 5 sweet peppers and 2 hot chilies. What am I supposed to do with that many peppers?”
Pagan is hoping his class will help people with same problems as Gaerlan. With a live demonstration and casual Q&A, his goal to show students how simple it is to cook a meal with a handful of ingredients within a time-span of thirty minutes. Pagan also answered any questions students had regarding the ingredients of the box.
This past Thursday, Pagan made dishes using the ingredients in this week’s boxes. This week’s box contained a variety of ingredients from potatoes and tomatoes to arugula and eggplant. With the apples and winter squash in the box, Chef Pagan made a spiced apple and squash soup. The soup was a light burnt orange color with strong notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. The soup was accompanied with a roasted corn and apple cider reduction.
The dish that Chef Pagan featured was an eggplant caponata. This warm vegetable medley is a mélange of sautéed eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes cooked in a red vinegar. In less than 20 minutes, Chef Pagan was able to whip up enough of the dish to serve the entire crowd. The dish has strong tart notes of vinegar and the thickly chopped eggplant and potatoes give it a nice texture. However, the dish was received with mixed reviews. The dominant flavor of vinegar did not play to everybody’s palate.
But despite the dish’s reception, the event itself seemed well-received judging by the strong participation of curious audience members and good reviews of the other dishes prepared by Chef Pagan. Students like Rebecca Birkholz thought the class was really helpful and hopes that there will be more events like this in the future.
“It’s great that we’re in an area that has so much local produce and it’s good to take advantage of that. He [Chef Pagan] did a great job showing us just how much stuff we can do it.”