Shaping Your Culinary Style by Kelly Sears

Every year, shortly after Santa returns to the North Pole to retire the sleigh, my husband, two dogs, and I make our pilgrimage to the north woods. We escape to where the air is crisper, the sky is clearer and the stars brighter. The dog walks are long, the fires warming; we read, watch movies, and do our best to unplug as we recharge, regroup, and recommit.

The hourglass flips, positioning full back on top, and as the first grains of sand slip through the narrow passage, I think it’s only human nature to revisit your personal T-bar, reevaluating the positive and negative in hopes of restoring balance. Somewhere between the first self-imposed question and the last is usually, “Am I happy doing what I do?”

I teach to empower others, to help you find your culinary style. My job is to ensure you have the tools, the knowledge, and the confidence to put yourself out on that plate. The litany of phrases I use in a class, “a recipe is only a guideline, taste and adjust, stir like you mean it, find the balance;” hints and tricks meant to rub two sticks together and start a spark; to help you build your plate that uses your culinary words.

Without knowing it, we tell a story through the food we create. It’s personal, it’s impassioned, and it has meaning. The food I cook reflects who I am, speaking to my entire life’s experiences. Cooking as a whole evolves slowly, influenced by every brush with a new ingredient, new experience, new cuisine, new technique. When you set a finished plate in front of someone, you’re speaking through your culinary voice.


Kelly’s Winter Pork & Chorizo Stew

My voice developed from Sundays. My mom would start early, pull out the Dutch oven, and over the rustling of the Sunday paper, the air heavy with brewed coffee and eggs fried in butter, to the soundtrack of the NFL, magic would happen in that pot. Dinner would be ladled, not plated; the vessel a big bowl, not a plate, the utensil a spoon, not a fork; the first words in the making of my culinary voice.

This year, on your positive side of the T-bar, find time to develop your culinary voice. Lift the lid on your favorite pot, add some salt from a sea-side summer vacation, a bit of sweetness from the juicy bite of a July picked peach, a bit of acid from that surprise reaction you had the first time you tried a really good wine, a splash of your past, a pinch of your present, and a dash of all things in between.

My job is to help you learn to tell your story and yes, the answer is I love doing what I do. Let yourself be influenced by that new ingredient, that new cuisine, that new technique. Along the way, your voice may shout too loud, or whisper too soft; taste and adjust, find the balance.

When you set your finished plate in front of someone, speak through your culinary voice. Tell your story. Be personal, be impassioned, give it meaning. Your culinary voice is as tasty as you make it, take big bites.

Winter Pork & Chorizo Stew
  1. 3 T. butter
  2. 1 pound pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
  3. 2 (4-oz) chorizo sausages cut into 1/2-inch slices
  4. 1 large onion, diced
  5. 1⁄2 celery root (celeriac), diced
  6. 3 parsnips, diced
  7. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  8. 1 t. ground cumin
  9. 1 t. cocoa powder
  10. 1 t. dried oregano
  11. 1⁄2 t. salt
  12. 1 t. cinnamon
  13. 3 T. flour
  14. 3 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
  15. 1 cup dark beer or tequila
  16. 1 (14 1/2-oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
  17. 1 (15-oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  18. 1 (15-oz) can white pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  19. 1 (10-oz) package frozen corn
  1. Heat butter in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat; add pork, and sear just until browned – not completely cooked through. Remove from pan.
  2. Add chorizo and onion and cook until sausage is browned, stirring often.
  3. Add garlic, cumin, cocoa, oregano, salt, & cinnamon. Add flour to pan and cook for 3-4 minutes to cook the “flour out.” Add stock, beer, and diced tomatoes collecting all brown bits from meat.
  4. Add pork back to the pan and add remaining beans and corn. Bring to a boil and then immediately reduce to a simmer. Simmer until all flavors have melded and pork is cooked through, about 20 – 30 minutes.
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