By: Shannon Smith | Category: Restaurants | Issue: January 2020
World traveler and professional chef, Shannon Smith, owner of Beads and Basil.
My favorite class in college was Meal Management. Yes that was really a class. I learned how to set the table, plan a menu, and prepare food that was hot and ready to serve when guests (or family) sat down. I got married right out of college, and there was very little money for throwing dinner parties, but I did the best I could. Sometimes I baked potatoes and served them with different toppings. I was best known for my potato salad, and I took it to any events where I was required to take a dish.
Soon after I married, I invited a couple to our house for dinner. They lived in a big house, and I thought they were rich. They were actually very rich compared to me. I cooked one of my favorite dishes from a Chinese cookbook I had received as a wedding present. It was beef with fermented black beans and rice. I didn’t know what fermented black beans were, so I just used black beans from a can. I used every cent I had to buy the ingredients. I set the table with my wedding china and served my guests the dish I had prepared all afternoon. The husband finished his plate and asked for another helping. I told him I didn’t have any more to serve, and he looked at me like I had to be joking. I was so embarrassed. That night was when I decided I would not invite friends over for dinner until I could afford enough food for two helpings. It was a long time until that happened.
When I look back on that time in my life, it makes me sad that I felt so much pressure to present food that would impress. Since that time I have been to many countries and eaten with poor people who are so proud of their food and happy to share it with me. It is from them that I learned to be grateful for everything I have and that it’s not just about the food. It’s more about being surrounded by people who enjoy conversation and common interests. The food is only secondary. It doesn’t matter if I’m eating lentils made in the home of a woman in India, or bread made in a small skillet in Rwanda. It’s about establishing a relationship with a new friend. Or, an old friend.
It’s been many years since that night I couldn’t serve two helpings, and I’ve learned a lot more about cooking and entertaining. I can now afford to make more food, and I’m much more confident to cook for large groups. And, although I spend a lot of time planning my menus and practicing new dishes, I try to be as humble and thoughtful as I can for my guests. I know it doesn’t really matter if there’s enough food for two helpings, but I always make sure there is.
Some friends say they are intimidated to cook for me, and that makes me very uncomfortable. I never want someone to think I am judging them for the food they prepare, or how much food they have. What’s important is that someone is thoughtful enough to invite me into her home and serve from her heart. As we start a new year with new ambitions to be better individuals, I challenge you to start a tradition of inviting people into your home and sharing a meal. It doesn’t even have to be homemade, and you don’t need a class in meal management. It’s all about communing with others and sharing stories, sorrows and ambitions. I wish everyone the very best in 2020, and if you’re up to it, try my potato salad.
Chipotle Potato Salad
Chipotles are dried and smoked jalapeño chiles, and I absolutely love them! This potato salad is a crowd favorite, and I use canned chipotles in adobo sauce (a tomato-vinegar sauce). Be careful how much you add because it can get spicy, which is how I like it!
In a large pot, place potatoes and cover with cold water. Add an abundance of salt, and bring to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork (20-30 minutes, depending on size of potatoes). Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, garlic, lime juice, chipotle, about 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Stir and taste for additional salt. When potatoes are tender, drain and let cool for 30 minutes. Cut into large chunks and immediately add to the mayonnaise dressing. Stir gently and add onion, celery, bell pepper, bacon and tarragon. Taste for salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I’m Chef Shannon Smith, creator of chefshannon.com, a website where I share my travel adventures, cooking experiences, jewelry creations, life stories, world travels, recipes, cooking classes, and jewelry art. In the past ten years, I’ve traveled to 52 countries, and I hope to add at least that many more over the next ten years. In every country, I am blessed to meet interesting people, learn new cultures, and try all kinds of delicious food. I take cooking classes, join food tours, meet with chefs, and often dine with people in their homes or restaurant kitchens. I’ve lived in Tulsa for over 30 years, and I love teaching people how to cook, especially dishes learned while traveling around the world. Some of my favorite cuisines are Indian, Moroccan, Turkish, Israeli, and Italian, although Indian is the cuisine that makes me the happiest. I’ve collected numerous recipes and methods for making delicious food, and I share those recipes on beadsandbasil.com. I teach classes several times a month when my travels allow. Those classes are advertised on the website but are almost always filled within hours after posting, so I also occasionally teach cooking classes to private groups. My readers and viewers get to learn about my cooking adventures, utensils and appliances. At last count, I have eight grills, two tagines, 22 knives, and ninety-four thousand serving dishes - at least according to my husband. My refrigerators are filled with nuts, cheese, and dried fruits I’ve brought from other countries. And my spice cabinets contain a menagerie of exotic and odiferous seeds, pods, and dried herbs that I use so many ways. Jewelry art is my other favorite activity. I create jewelry from beads and trinkets collected on my travels, including amber from Russia and Estonia, glass from Murano, Italy, paper beads from Rwanda, and old Yemen prayer capsules from Israel. I have an Indian friend who has some of the most beautiful semi-precious stones that he cuts into beautiful shapes. Several times a year, I attend national bead and jewelry shows where I search for unusual items to complete my creations. Many more adventures are planned for the future, and I’m excited to share them with you in my monthly column in Values Magazine, including recipes, cooking tips, interviews with my favorite Tulsa area chefs, cookbook recommendations, travel stories, my favorite local food trucks, and ways we can give our time and talents to our fantastic community of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Connect with me on Facebook and Instagram at Chef Shannon.
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