Celebrity Chefs Bring Unhealthy-Looking Crowd, and Unexpected Inspiration

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Sitting at an art fair with my husband in early November, keeping him company while he offered his raku ceramics for sale, was a decidedly un-country way to spend time, I thought.

We spent three days in a convention center at the Cleveland airport, under unflattering artificial light, watching herds of overweight Americans head toward the food show held adjacent to the fair.

The air rumbled with muffled rock music, undecipherable enthusiastic introductions, and roars of applause as celebrity chefs took the stage at the show next door. The doughy attendees looked like they spent a lot of time sitting on the couch ogling Giada (cue the roar!) rather than cooking fine food themselves.

I took a little time and wandered around the part of the show that I could enter for free (nowhere near the celebrities, of course), and, although it was heartening to see a crowd around the booth for organic goat cheese, I found the bulk of the experience beautifully summed up in a giant cake on display:

Yes, that was a cake. Really.

Ultimately, though, three days in a windowless environment proved to be an unexpected source of inspiration. The window on humanity–and myself–was eye-opening. If Cleveland is any representation of the country at large, we are quite the unhealthy bunch. Watching the crowds the first day made us shun the convention center fare for sale–hot dogs, nachos, and the like–and sent us searching for a grocery store to stock up on cheese, grapes, carrots, herring, and other healthy foods for the remainder of the show.

And since we’ve been home, vegetables have been making a much more regular appearance in my lunch and on the table.

Last night I put on my own cooking show–my husband and three friends sat at the dining room table and watched me cook a dinner that, while not drawing the roar of a crowd, did get appreciative murmurs. While far from low-fat, the flavors were close to heaven. OK, that’s a total exaggeration, but everything, although not homegrown (except the rosemary for the potatoes, harvested from tiny potted garden) was homemade, reasonably healthy, and really good.

On the menu:

  • Delightfully (not too) Decadent Potato Gratin (find the recipe in the latest issue of Stop and Smell the Butter!)
  • shredded cabbage and caraway seeds sautéed in a little butter, applesauce, and a splash of chicken broth (the cabbage was short of silky, which I was aiming for, but close; needed to cook it longer)
  • salad greens in vinaigrette with blue cheese and chunks of hard Italian salami (my husband made the salad–delicious!)
  • the star of the show, Shrimp Cakes (I just ate a leftover one this morning, and man, it was good.)

One thing I learned sitting at the art fair: Artists have a way of creating community wherever they go. They help each other, look out for one another, commiserate, and above all, they share–ideas, knowledge, experience, expertise. So while the setting was decidedly un-country, the camaraderie was about as countrified as it gets.

In that spirit, I’m sharing my recipe for Shrimp Cakes–which really needs a better name. Scrumptious Shrimp Cakes? You decide:

Scrumptious Shrimp Cakes

Adapted from a crab cake recipe in Karri Ann Allrich’s Cooking By Moonlight


2 lbs shrimp, shelled, deveined, and roughly chopped

2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs (Italian seasonings preferred)

Salt (I prefer freshly ground sea salt) and freshly ground pepper

A dash to ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (to taste)

4 eggs (could get away with 3, I think)

2/3 cup mayonnaise

4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1/4 to 1/3 cup finely chopped onions (preferably scallions)

3 tablespoons to ¼ cup oil (I used a mix of vegetable oil and olive oil), depending on size if pan–use just enough to fry bottoms of cakes, not so much that it cakes are swimming in it

  • Combine shrimp and breadcrumbs in a mixing bowl, tossing to coat shrimp pieces. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste.
  • In separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and onion. Add to shrimp and breadcrumbs, stirring until mixture is evenly moistened.
  • Lay out wax paper. Scoop up ball of shrimp mixture and flatten into cake about 3 to 4  inches in diameter and ½ inch thick. Place on wax paper. Mixture should make about 18 shrimp cakes, depending on size
  • Heat oil over moderate heat in heavy-bottomed skillet. Fry cakes until they are golden brown and shrimp pieces are pink, about 4-5 minutes each side. Drain briefly on paper towel and keep warm in oven until all are ready to serve.

I served the cakes with a roasted red pepper mayonnaise that I made by mixing mayo with roasted red peppers and a little Worcestershire sauce in a food processor. I think they’d be really good with a lime mayonnaise with cilantro. I’ll try that next time.