As a budget-minded culinary student, truffles just don’t typically make it onto my weekly shopping list. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to think of a time I’ve ever cooked with even truffle butter or oil. So when Chef Instructor Maxine Borcherding asked for student volunteers to help at the Oregon Truffle Festival, I jumped on board.
This is why I love volunteering for events through Oregon Culinary Institute. It’s great exposure to ingredients that I might not otherwise work with. Not only that, it’s a fantastic way to assimilate oneself with the Portland culinary scene. You get to work with amazing chefs, make connections, learn new techniques and ideas, and you almost always get fed!
The Oregon Truffle Festival lasts an entire weekend of January, with many events, workshops, lectures, and meals. We were to assist with a cooking class and luncheon out in Monroe, Oregon. The luncheon was prepared by Chef Dustin Clark of Wildwood Restaurant. He was just hands-down amazing. Chef Clark took the time to show us proper technique, explained the reason for his ingredient choices, encouraged us to taste and dissect his food, and made sure we left well fed. He even offered us his spare truffles to take home. My favorite dish was his Roasted Sunchoke Veloute with White Truffle. He meticulously layered the use of truffle through out his soup, so the aroma was deep and complex.
This was my first exposure to a truffle shaver. Since even the smallest morsel of a truffle is something to savor, this device is used to yield paper-thin slices. It looks like a cross between a cheese slicer and a mandolin, with a gage to adjust thickness. I began to think of what else this simple could be used for around my kitchen. Shaved shallots? Garlic? Parmesan? Chocolate?
While half of my classmates helped Chef Clark in the kitchen, the rest of us delivered plates of food to a very eager audience of diners. It was such a pleasure to see faces light up when we dropped off a plate of beautifully composed food. As we made the rounds to clear tables in between courses, many of the guests were resistant to give us their dishes. They were determined to scrape every last morsel of truffle goodness off of their plates!
The icing on the cake was getting to meet a test kitchen director of a well-known food magazine. Working in a test kitchen is my dream job, and with the encouragement of Chef Maxine, I mustered up the courage to go and speak with her. After gushing in the director’s general direction for several minutes, she warmly encouraged me to apply for her internship. I wrote to her the next day. Now, just a week later, I’m shopping for plane tickets for my big interview in New York City. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed. Even if nothing comes of my interview, I just can’t believe the exposure and opportunity volunteering has afforded me.
Sarah Ruth Maier is a culinary management student, currently in her second term in the kitchen. After receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Theater, she took a job at a small family deli to make ends meet. Working with food swiftly became a passion, leading to work as a cheesemonger. She found out about Oregon Culinary Institute online, and made her dream a reality when she began classes in July of 2012. Her interest is in recipe testing, food writing, and catering.