What do you get when you combine botanical gardens with a classically trained chef who has a passion for local, seasonal food? You get Selby Gardens’ “Cooking with Herbs” class—an edible tour of Selby’s full-to-the-brim herb garden that culminated in a cooking demonstration/tasting.
Selby Gardens' charming bay view.
Led by Chef Maryna Frederiksen, the executive chef of Local Catering and a Sarasotan by way of Washington by way of South Africa, the class started with a lemon-ginger fizz that was the perfect antidote to the afternoon’s warm weather. Comprised of a simple syrup of sugar, water, lemongrass, lemon verbena and fresh ginger, the syrup was then strained, cooled and topped with sparkling mineral water and a sprig of lemon verbena.
Chef Maryna gets hands-on with the herbs.
Selby's herb garden boasts a large variety of mint.
A pineapple makes an appearance.
My fellow classmates and I then took a tour around what Chef Maryna has dubbed the “edible gardens,” stopping to pick the herbs that would be used in that day’s food—like spearmint, bay, fresh ginger, chervil, sorrel, Texas tarragon and parsley. Finally, we settled into our chairs at the back of Selby Mansion, where the chef had set up her cooking station, with a perfect view of the gardens and the bay behind them.
The cheeriest soup ever.
First on the menu was chilled "umami" carrot soup—a carrot soup flavored with coriander and ginger, infused with a mint tea mixture and then pureed and chilled. The vivid orange soup tasted as bright (and as good) as it looked. Umami, Chef Maryna explained, is the point when the food’s natural flavors are elevated to perfection. “That’s why I always like to cook with fresh, local, seasonal ingredients,” she said. “You can eat better.”
Fresh salmon poaching in herb-infused water.
After we’d slurped down the last dredges of our soup, we watched the chef poach salmon and prepare a buttery herb sauce. Chef Maryna first infused the water with parsley, tarragon, celery rib and a bay leaf, added some dry white wine and a pinch of salt, and then poached the salmon in the liquid for 10 minutes, until cooked through and perfectly flaky. At the same time, she also cooked shallots in butter and wine, then added the butter mixture to a blend of the herbs we’d picked—along with a ladleful of poaching liquid—and pulsed in a blender until the entire mixture transformed into a silky sauce, which topped the salmon. Delicious.
The finished product: Poached salmon in herb butter sauce.
The day’s final treat was an unusual one: cinnamon basil ice cream. Cinnamon basil, one of the varieties grown at the gardens, has a distinctive cinnamon flavor, yet still with a bit of an herby taste. Chef Maryna added it, along with a regular cinnamon stick and a tiny amount of vanilla, to a classic ice cream base, and when we tasted it, we felt like we were sampling something special. (Note that there is not a picture of the ice cream because I ate mine before I had a chance to remember to snap one.)
Selby will be offering more community cooking classes in the coming months—look for one in July focusing on tropical foods (mangoes, in particular, were mentioned by the chef at this class). For more information, go to www.selby.org.
What are your favorite herbs to cook with?