Steve and I recently attended a cooking demonstration by Chef Jack Baker at Cobalt in Orange Beach. Chef Baker is actually referred to as a Corporate Chef because he oversees the kitchens and culinary creations for Cobalt, Cosmo’s and Luna’s — three of the wildly-popular restaurants owned by Brian and Jodi Harseny. Baker and Brian Harseny have been friends for 22 years, and that friendship has led to some wonderful dining experiences for guests to the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Chef Baker shared that he was born and reared in Tuscaloosa, starting his kitchen career as a dishwasher at Boy Scout Camp when he was 11 years old. He migrated to the Gulf Coast in 1991, got a degree in Culinary Arts/Chef Training at James H. Faulkner State Community College and has been a Sous Chef or an Executive Chef ever since. Baker is married and has a college-age son. Cosmo’s is the oldest of the restaurants owned by the Harsenys, and Chef Baker was very involved from its inception.
He won the Best Chef of Alabama Competition in 2013 at the Wind Creek Casino and has placed near the top several times in the World Food Championships. His creation Banana Leaf Wrapped Fish made the list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama.”
According to Alabama.travel – “Jack Baker, the corporate chef for Cosmo’s, says many of the menu items are inspired by his own childhood favorites. Baker credits his mother and grandmother’s Filipino heritage and his Southern upbringing for his cooking style. Traditional Filipino cuisine can range from simple fried fish to elaborate paellas and whole-roasted pig. These traditions combined with the heartiness of Southern cuisine makes Baker’s skills in the kitchen diverse and unique.”
And, according to the Cosmo’s website — “Corporate Chef, has mastered the essence of true Southern cooking. His love of French cuisine and his passion for down home fare are evident in every dish he creates. His love of the south can be attributed to the over-abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as the bounty of fish and game that he uses in all his dishes.”
Because Mardi Gras was on everyone’s minds when we attended our class, Chef Baker taught us his tricks for preparing Blackened Catfish, Dirty Rice Base (which is mixed later with Jasmine Rice or Risotto) and Remoulade Sauce. I was happy to FINALLY learn the secrets of blackening fish: 1) A well-seasoned, hot cast iron skillet 2) Fish, chicken or meat that is dredged in melted butter and sprinkled liberally with creole spice (he prefers the one by Paul Prudhomme, famous New Orleans chef) 3) No oil in the skillet, just the butter from the fish 4) Expect a LOT of smoke from that hot skillet and the butter 5) After blackening (not burning) on both sides, you finish by placing the fish in a 375-400-degree oven for 8-10 minutes.
After talking to us (while he worked creating incredible aromas in the room), each of the attendees was served a generous portion of the dishes to rave reviews.
It is such a joy to watch someone who genuinely loves what he does and is willing to be a teacher.
As I was thinking of a Bible connection, there were plenty of women cooks who came to mind — Martha in the New Testament (Luke 10:38-42), Sarah, at the urging of Abraham, making the cakes of meal for their three angelic visitors (Genesis 18:1-15), etc. But, several men stand out, also.
Genesis 19:1-3 – Lot prepared a feast for 2 angels who came to Sodom.
Genesis 25:29-31 – Jacob prepared a stew for his brother Esau.
John 1:9-15 – Jesus Himself prepared a breakfast for His disciples, not only to feed them physically, but to strengthen their faith, to give instructions, and to restore His relationship with Peter.
Take a few minutes to enjoy these passages. Preparing food for others is a wonderful way to serve and minister.