I admit it. I watch cooking shows. Too many cooking shows. I’ve been watching them since I was 12 years old. When the other guys were out playing street hockey.

It definitely wasn’t cool for a guy to watch cooking shows then. And I remember my dad telling my mom that he was “worried about the boy”. Especially when the rumor went around about Julia Child really being a man.

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These days I like the competitive cooking shows. Being asked to do a guest spot as a judge is still somewhere on my bucket list.

I’ve changed channels over the last couple of years from The Iron Chef to MasterChef. I think the contestants were just too talented on The Iron Chef. On MasterChef, they have faults and foibles that I can relate to. And last season I really got into it.

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There was this woman (seems there’s always a woman somewhere in my tales). She was saucy. She was cheeky. She was what my friend Richard would call a “wobbler” back in our single days. At first I thought she was all flash and brash with next to no dash. And that her self confidence would come crashing down in a puddle of tears. But as the weeks went on, I was totally in her corner. Rooting for the crazy chick with hair a shade of ridiculous red to be the next champion. Besides, she played for the home team. She was Mexican. Even though her Mexican had a side order of California served with it.

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The woman’s name was Claudia Sandoval and she did win Master Chef, Season Six. My face was beaming almost as much as hers when Gordon Ramsey handed her the check. She was a definite long shot. But she did it.

“I remember feeling negative and defeated in the days leading up to the MasterChef auditions. I was drumming up every single excuse I could to continue living my paycheck-to-paycheck life”, Chef Claudia said. “I was a single mom who provided a living for her daughter and was still striving to find her place in the professional world and in life. With no savings, no childcare, and little hope in my heart, I tried to convince myself that I couldn’t afford to take that kind of risk. When I think back to that time now, I see how close I was to letting fear dictate my life.”

When you win MasterChef, you are, instantly, a celebrity chef. And when you are a celebrity chef, you must have a book. Now, even though I read more food books than perhaps anyone else who walks this earth, I seldom read recipe books. Mainly because I seldom cook.

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Claudia Sandoval’s book is a recipe book. But I read it anyway. Because I knew it also contained anecdotes about Chef Claudia’s life and, especially, her time on MasterChef. And she was the kind of person I wanted to know more about.

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

Claudia Sandoval chose to quote Frida Kahlo in the introduction to Claudia’s Cocina. The life she reveals seems to have been a lot more fun than Frida’s but there were definite struggles along the way.

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Her family is all important. Her grandparents ran a seafood restaurant in Mazatlan and were what started her on her culinary journey. Her mother seems to be a vital ingredient in every single dish. And Claudia’s daughter appears to be the greatest reason why she wants to succeed.

The recipes she shares I like. Mainly because they’re simple. No forty ingredient moles. She gets down to the very basics of Mexican cuisine. In fact I can’t remember any dish that had more than ten ingredients.

Graham Elliot, the most eloquent MasterChef judge said, “The recipes included in this book scream at the top of their lungs with labor and hit nothing but high notes.”

There was one recipe in Claudia’s Cocina that I especially liked. It’s for a sauce we frequently find in San Miguel restaurants that Chef Claudia takes to a much higher level. Most people choose to make a very simple chipotle cream, combining canned chipotle chiles with either mayonnaise or sour cream or, in the case of Don Day’s Wife, both mayo and sour cream.

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Claudia Sandoval does her chipotle cream sauce (the yellow one in the photo) differently, as you’ll see from this excerpt from her book.

Chipotle Crema

One of my mom’s favourite flavours to experiment with is, by far, chipotle. She would make us the most delicious plates using this chile’s smoky and spicy flavor profile, turning a dish as simple as meatballs into something mind-blowing.

Chipotle crema has been done a great many ways. And coming up with my version of it, I incorporated everything I’ve learned about building flavour in salsa. Some of those ingredients are not common in chipotle cremas, but I assure you, each one of them will make this spectacular sauce your new staple!

Makes about 1-3/4 cups (420 ml)

1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 medium white onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 small tomato, chopped
1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
1 to 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce

Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. At the garlic and oregano and cook for an additional 30 seconds or until the garlic starts to soften. Add the tomato and sauté until softened, about two minutes. Reduce the heat to low, carefully pour in the cream and bring to a simmer. Immediately remove from the heat. Place one chile in a blender, carefully pour in the hot cream mixture and blend on medium speed for about one minute. Taste for salt and season accordingly. If the sauce is not spicy enough, add a second chile and blend again until smooth.

Some winners of MasterChef use their winnings to start up a modest venture of their own. Others use their fame to help finance other people’s ventures. I have very little idea where Claudia Sandoval will end up. But I’ll be frequently checking.

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”It is often said that dreamers are the only people who actually get to fulfill their dreams”, Claudia said. “Today, I think I’m still dreaming.”

Claudia’s Cocina was available at Amazon Mexico for $330.69 MX the last time I looked.

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