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French Twist on Vegetables for Tokyo Locavore

We're still hopping about at home with family and friends, so here's another post from Greenz, another blog where my writing appears, about some interesting food happenings in Tokyo. Delphine's February class is most likely just finishing up at this moment (international date line and all), but there's still time to sign up for March or to check out her CSA offerings that now include fruit! And here's a more recent article I wrote about Delphine, too!)

This post first appeared at Greenz on August 31, 2010.

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A small group of people focus intently on one woman stirring a mixture of flour and water. At first glance she appears to be speaking to the bowl of front of her as she gives instruction on making pasta by hand, but her devotees hang on every word and motion. These locavores in training are getting a dose of DIY: the art of French cooking with Japanese vegetables.

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Delphine Cheng began offering these hands-on learning experiences earlier this year to not only showcase the tasty organic produce offered by her CSA - Le Panier de Piu - but to bring people together to share her joy of cooking. Perfect for the beginner or the experienced cook, the classes combine French techniques with Japanese vegetables to produce some tantalizing delights. (My mouth still waters at the memory of finely chopped shiso leaves in cream drizzled over steamed spaghetti squash.)

Perhaps most importantly Delphine also teaches students how to use what's at hand and in season to advantage. The July class centered around zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes. The September classes will feature some of the summer vegetables again - eggplants, cucumbers, and tomatoes - as well as some of the early fall harvest - komatsuna and leeks. All the vegetables are organic and are sourced from the farm she partners with in Ibaraki-ken or other local growers. The remaining ingredients are organic whenever possible, which lets students know about organic grocers in Tokyo, too.

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Watching Delphine trouble-shoot challenging moments in the kitchen was undoubtedly invaluable, too. Our initial pasta dough turned out a bit too wet for the machine. As she kneaded in additional flour Delphine commented with reassuring nonchalance, "Of course, you could eat it..." her words fading into the dough in front of her. Feeling the final product and seeing the noodles smoothly emerge gave us a tactile as well as a visual understanding of workable dough we won't soon forget.

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The shared adventure of cooking turned strangers into culinary friends when it came time for the group meal at the end. (Quite simply, one cannot slice eggplant together without forging some kind of bond.) Sipping a specially selected organic French wine as we savored new tastes of seasonal favorites our conversation turned on farming, travel, family traditions, and a few favorite recipes of our own. As we dried the last dish, snapped the last group photo, and put our aprons away, we left with satisfied appetites and a few new friends to boot.

Ready to don an apron and get cooking?
Visit Delphine's website to learn how to get your hands on those scrumptious organic vegetables from Ibaraki. While there check out the class information and sign up for the next one. Remember, only eight participants per class so get busy!

Classes last about two to three hours and teach recipes for an appetizer, a main course, and dessert with a side dish or two thrown in for good measure. Class size is limited to eight ensuring everyone gets an opportunity to dice, slice, steam, and wash. Instruction is given in French, English, and Japanese with a bilingual summary including full recipes and tips in full emailed within a day.

Joan Lambert Bailey writes about her food, farming, and gardening adventures at Popcorn Homestead and Everyday Gardens. Check out her other nifty greenz posts, too!

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