Just before the gates opened at this year’s Jazz, Rhythm and Blues Festival, pork belly skewers were sizzling on a grill near the Cooking Studio tent.
At the grill, Kathy Perez, wife of Chef David Perez, was putting the finishing touches on her husband’s Bourbon Street Pork Belly Skewers.
Meanwhile, Chef Mary Radigan was gathering chopped fresh vegetables, chicken thighs and andouille sausage, elements of her dish of the day, Creole Fried Rice.
A few minutes later, Perez and Radigan demonstrated how to prepare their dishes to an audience of some 30 festivalgoers.
Held last Saturday, the 14th annual Mary Lou and Arthur F. Mahone Jazz, Rhythm and Blues Festival at HarborPark’s Celebration Place featured foods with a New Orleans flavor, showcasing two Kenosha chefs.
In an interview before the event, Perez shared what he likes best about New Orleans cooking. “I love New Orleans cooking because it is so diversified; it is sophisticated but not complex,” he said.
“There are influences from the Dominican Republic and the slave trade — the foods from those cultures are hearty, spicy and tangy and everything goes into one pot,” Perez said.
Depth of flavor
Perez walked a hungry and attentive audience through the steps to preparing his Bourbon Street Pork Belly Skewers. As he measured ingredients by eye and hand, he said, “The measurements are proportional, not an exact science. The intention is to create depth of flavor.”
Perez talked about pork belly, a cut of pork that comes from the same area of the pig as bacon.
Noting that while it is not a common cut of meat, Perez said it can be ordered from a grocery store meat department. “Even before I got into cooking I made sure I made friends with my butchers,” he said.
Asked by an audience member if tofu could be substituted for pork belly, Perez paused a moment before tactfully responding, “No.” He noted that chicken and beef would work well, but tofu might not be up to the challenge.
Before Radigan took to the cooking studio stage to demonstrate her Creole Fried Rice, she shared that she is a big fan of New Orleans cuisine. “The area’s history is kinda cool, it’s a melding pot; very United States.”
While already familiar with the genre, Radigan said she brushed up on her knowledge of Creole and Cajun foods for the event. She said she chose to make Creole Fried Rice for its use of common ingredients and simple technique. “If you have to buy 15 things for a recipe, you’re not going to make this at home.”
In a few short steps, Radigan chopped and sauteed veggies, added and cooked the chicken and sausage and finally her pre-cooked rice. “Green pepper, garlic and onion are the holy trinity of Creole food,” she said.
Sharing her kitchen expertise, Radigan reminded home cooks that adding salt to chopped onions sweats out the water and not to hurry the process of sauteeing onions to the translucent stage.
Taking questions from the audience, she said tofu and/or black beans could be used in place of the meats.
This year’s Cooking Studio was co-sponsored by Aurora Health Care, Gateway Technical College and Kitchen Cubes.
Kitchen Cubes, a Kenosha-based maker of kitchen cabinets and counters, custom built the Cooking Studio, which consisted of white wood cabinets, grey-green laminate countertops and two cooking burners.
Radigan noted she was impressed by the look of this year’s kitchen studio. “It looks like a real kitchen; we even got a (demonstration) mirror over the counter!”
Promoting healthy eating, Aurora’s Wellness Program staff were on hand offering a booklet of New Orleans-inspired recipes and samples of ginger ale and orange juice punch.
Samples of the chefs’ dishes were served at the end of the demonstration. The sweet tangy sauce and smoky pork belly played off of Radigan’s spicy, hearty Creole rice.
Both chefs were excited to learn that the organizers of the music festival had picked a New Orleans theme. “My style of cooking is like that — fresh with bright flavors and colors,” Perez said.