Remember ambrosia salad? Canned fruit cup, mini-marshmallows, maraschino cherries, sour cream ... just the idea makes me gag! So it was a little disconcerting to pop into a culinary demonstration at the show with Chef Edward Lee, of the restaurant 610 Magnolia in Louisville, KY, and hear him announce hat he was doing something "a little bit tropical, a little bit Southern ..." You guessed it! An updated ambrosia salad!
"It's not heavy. It's delicate," he insisted, calling the traditional version "pretty hideous." I stuck around, and was charmed by his presentation, which was so different from my grandmother's version as to be unidentifiable. This ambrosia salad I would eat and even make.
"It's not a bad salad. You just have to use fresh ingredients," Chef Lee said, as he prepared fresh orange and grapefruit sections, peeled and chopped a mango, cut up a jalapeno (he likes a little heat), and got his fresh (unsweetened) coconut, cardamom, almonds, coconut milk, sour cream, and white wine vinegar ready. He also uses raw ahi tuna in his ambrosia with a blue cheese dressing. The blue cheese announcement caused gasps and some groaning in the audience, but the chef urged the audience to reserve judgment. As a fan of blue cheese anything, I didn't need convincing.
(Excuse the horrible photo - lights were bad.)
A few tips from the maestro: If you can't get fresh fruit, jars are better than frozen any day. To determine a mango's freshness, smell (nice and sweet) and feel (you should just be able to press into it) matter more than color. Ninety percent of what you need in terms of knives in your kitchen can be done with a cutting knife and a paring knife. As for tuna, make sure it's "super, super fresh" and has a delicate smell. "If something smells delicate and nice, it probably is," Chef Lee said. And forget all the new gizmos that peel mangoes for you and such; they take up valuable space and often don't work as well as doing the task yourself.
Unfortunately, after all that, I was hoping to get a sample of this heavenly creation. Chef Lee, who serves this in his restaurant in a champagne flute, promised it would create a party in my mouth and I was sure up for one. But health department regulations preclude samplings. There would've been a stampede anyway, despite the blue cheese groans, 'cause that salad - with apologies to my grandmother and every other cook in her generation - looked mighty fine.
Culinary demos continue through the week in Room 204C.