If you have attended a tasting event held by the Greenmarket, Edible Manhattan/Brooklyn or Just Food, chances are you’ve seen Jacques Gautier. He’s the guy flipping fresh masa tacos before the longest line of people waiting for a bite. Jacques also does this (as well as preparing a hearty menu of fresh, seasonally-inspired Latin cuisine) at his Park Slope restaurant, Palo Santo. As the chef/owner/rooftop gardener of the restaurant, he has a lot on his hands everyday. Yet he still finds time to engage in community events and cooking classes, such as a recent class at Ger-Nis Culinary & Herb Center in Gowanus.
When I heard the name of this particular class, “Pre-Colombian Cuisine: Indigenous Foods of Americas,” and its instructor, I knew I had to finally check this place out. Nissa Pierson has extended her range of services in fresh, sustainable food to include a variety of fun, interactive classes for people of any level of cooking expertise, in a cozy classroom kitchen. Still a distributor of food products, Ger-Nis now has a full calendar of events and classes, often featuring local chefs and artisans like Jacques.
Ger-Nis founder Nissa Pierson introduces the class
When I walked into class, the place already smelled like roasted tomatillos and poblano peppers. I found my friend Noah in the kitchen, peeling the skins of said peppers and placing the slippery flesh into a blender. This would be for Chef Jacques’ green mole sauce. Mole, he explained, can be any number of sauces, even though we tend to think of it as a thick red, earthy-flavored one. For instance, “guacamole,” made from fresh avocadoes, is one. This green mole would accompany a delicious braise of turkey legs that Jacques was just getting started on.
fresh, prickly cactus
As the class went on, Jacques filled us in on how many foods native to the Americas have been embraced around the world — chile peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, etc. With the dozen or so students in the class, we kept up a fluid conversation about these “New World” foods, including those ones that haven’t become so popular afar, like cactus, which we were slicing up for one dish. We split up into groups to prepare the four recipes Jacques was teaching us for the night, and reconvened once it was time to make the tortillas.
Using whole blue corn kernels that had been nixtamalized, soaked and cooked in water for about an hour, we ground up rustic masa dough using a traditional metate y mano, basically, a stone rolling pin and surface. It was pretty arduous work, but after everyone had given it their try a few times, we had enough workable masa for everyone to press a tortilla out of. Jacques doesn’t actually use a metate y mano to grind up his corn every day, but he does make all his tortillas from fresh masa at his restaurant. And over the past year or so, I’ve had the chance to try these as finished tacos with fish, pulled pork, and numerous other things at the many festivals that Palo Santo has participated in. It was humbling to discover how much effort is put into just this step.
By the end of the class, we all had the chance to sit down and dine together. Altogether, we had a rich and spicy slow braise of venison, a bright and bubbling dish of turkey legs with green mole sauce, a corn, squash and lima bean succotash with clams, fresh tortillas and guacamole. It was a vibrant feast, and I’ll have to finally check out Palo Santo sometime to have more.
In the meantime, though, I was able to wrangle a recipe out of Jacques, as well as a little Q&A below. Dig in! (And for more info on cooking classes in the city, check out Reason #37.)
You’re like, everywhere in the city it seems. Any time there’s an event focused on local food, you’re serving up the best small bite. Why do you think it’s important to participate in these community food events?
Here’s a great recipe for that!
(from Jacques Gautier, chef of Palo Santo)
Chef’s note: A good summertime recipe for all types of grilled meat and game. This recipe makes enough for 12 large steaks. It is something that keeps well in a jar in the fridge for at least a few weeks.
1 bunch parsley
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/4 bunch oregano
1/4 bunch thyme
1/4 bunch rosemary
1/4 bunch chives
4 cloves garlic
1 red jalapeno
100ml extra virgin olive oil
100ml red wine vinegar
10g kosher salt
2g ground black pepper
Wash, de-stem and chop all herbs. Chop chives. Peel and chop garlic and shallot. Remove seeds and chop chile. Combine everything.
Grill meat. Rest meat. Slice meat. Spoon chimichurri over meat
Cost Calculator, Health Factor and Green Factor ratings respectfully omitted for guest recipes.