How do you preserve a memory? Are yours sparked by pictures? Can you inhale a certain aroma and be taken back in time? Maybe there is a particular sound that uploads a hard drive in your mind? It is possible that a simple touch unlocks a vault of significant events.
As I look back at my special moments at The Chopping Block located in the Merchandise Mart, I would have to say all those special times are brought to the forefront with a simple taste from a little spoon.
During my first class at the Mart, we were directed to a petite crock of plastic tasting spoons. Their tiny handles and their arched bowls were really nothing of particular greatness, but we would soon learn that these little vessels of memory makers would be one of our greatest kitchen tools next to a good knife.
This particular class was on Thai cooking. Many of the ingredients were new to my palate. Our chef thoughtfully led us through each unique element by having us place them on tasting spoons. Everything from the fragrant ginger to the uniquely textured lemongrass were scooped up and examined. The heat of the nam prik pao and power of fish sauce were discovered on those spoons.
What I didn’t know at this time was how this small exercise would expand my food knowledge database. With each class I took at The Chopping Block, the spoons taught me as much as the chefs.
The little spoon allowed me to taste the seasoning (shari-zu) for the rice in my first hands on sushi class with an understanding that there was a magic balance of rice vinegar, sugar and sea salt. It was also in that class where we played around with flavor and textural differences between sesame seeds and sesame oil in a spicy tuna roll.
The spoons continued to come in handy for every soup class I ever took as I tasted each pot as the soup would evolve. The little spoons were essential during the Flavor Dynamics class where we learned to distinguish how we tasted with our mouths but learned flavors through our nose.
The big memory makers were in classes like The Sauce Odyssey (one of the best named classes ever). Spoon after spoon we would examine each of the Mother sauces and look for the variety of color, texture and tastes within the different categories.
And when I had to develop a chili recipe for the big Chopping Block Chili cook off, I used a plethora of spoons to come up with a tinga chili. Every time I make it and take that first taste, I am reminded of that joyful moment of winning and taking a victory lap around the countertops.
The last class I took at the Merchandise Mart before the pandemic was the Pie and Tart Boot Camp. I remember taking a small spoon out of the crock to taste the apples that filled our little Dutch Apple pies. The tinge of sweetness amongst the sour reminded me how lucky I have been to take so many classes and how cooking was something I could do no matter what was happening in the world.
So, as The Chopping Block at the Mart shuts the doors this week, I’m reminding myself that I have binders of recipes to prompt me to keep up my personal journey, but it is those experiences with the spoon that will ignite each nuance in my mind.
Come on in this Saturday, April 30 to The Chopping Block at The Merchandise Mart to enjoy free cooking demonstrations and say goodbye to the kitchens. Remember while you are there to ask about the classes continuing at Lincoln Square so you can go create some new memories in-person.
And if you can’t make it to the city, a reminder that virtual classes are a fabulous option to learn from home with your favorite spooning partner!
What Kind of Spoon to Use
- I love demitasse spoons. (The little spoons that you get at nice coffee houses with your cappuccino.) You can buy a set or two of those and they are perfect for dipping. (And are reusable, after they are washed, obviously!)
- Tasting spoons can be found at restaurant supply stores and some party stores.
- Random collections of mismatched teaspoons are also great.
- One of those long-iced teaspoons also come in handy for deeper pots.
How to Store Them
- Jelly jars, candle holders, coffee mugs, crocks.
- I like handle up so you aren’t touching the part that goes in your mouth.
- Don’t forget to wash your container every now and then.
How to Use a Tasting Spoon
- Hold by handle and use all your senses. Look at the color of your dish. Smell it. Feel it in your mouth. Smush it around to get all the feels (is that a culinary term?) Listen to your heart; if you need to add something more or cook longer.
- They are also great for dipping into a sugar bowl or a salt cellar.
- This should be elementary but use a clean spoon after each taste.
- Take a couple of notes on your recipe to remind yourself of the distinctions you may have had to adjust.