(names have been changed to protect the innocent)
Shwendy walked back into the corporate janitor’s kitchen that we were catering out of with an empty platter and a few remaining cocktail napkins fanned for service.
“A lady out there just said the strangest thing to me.”
I pulled the next tray of appetizers, flat iron steak satays with a ginger soy dip, from the mini convection oven and turned to hear what Shwendy, one of my prized servers, had to report. We had just begun catering a corporate cocktail party for 75 guests so it was early in the night for a story.
Shmelinda, another member of my team, paused to listen before taking her appetizer to the floor; spring rolls in one hand, cocktail napkins in the other.
Shdana walked back into the kitchen with a few stray potato samosas and a demolished bowl of mango chutney dip. With the corner of a wet towel she began to wipe the bowl down and said, “What’s up?”
Walking to the side table to pick up the freshly plated shrimp skewers with red pepper rouille, Shwendy replied, “That was my first pass tonight. I was carrying the platter of cheese puffs and offering them to guests. I walked over to a group of ladies, extended the platter, and one of them said, “Can I eat that?”
“As if you were just showing people food, but not allowing them to eat it?” I responded, taking Shdana’s empty platter and handing her a full one.
Shdana and Shmelinda both chuckled.
We began to mime holding out a tray and then smacking people’s hands away from the food.
“NOT FOR YOU!”
“You can’t eat that!!!”
“This is for everyone but you!”
We exploded with laughter and then quickly quieted so the stream of guests arriving through the hall outside couldn’t hear our squeals.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought at first and I just stared at her for a minute, but then I realized she must be implying that she has some sort of dietary restriction, and I said, ‘Are you a…” she paused for effect and bent down like someone addressing the queen. “vegetarian perhaps?’ and the lady’s eyes lit up like I had discovered gold.”
Shwendy is an excellent server. There’s a big reason I don’t work front of the house. I could never be that smooth. People confound me.
Tossing her blonde curls back, Shwendy said the woman was thrilled that she had deciphered her code.
“She doesn’t eat gluten either.”
“Of course she doesn’t!!!” We all shouted in unison, and out my three servers went to continue the pass.
This is very common, of course. There’s the gluten-free contingent, the no-nut posse, the dairy-free brigade, the pescatarians, the vegetarians, and of course, the vegans. I’m too well acquainted with all the combinations of sensitivities to be throwing shade on any of those groups. I try to rise to the challenge by having a menu which can accommodates any variation of those issues every time I cook. But to assume that the server knows your affliction… sorry… I mean, to assume that a server knows your preference before you tell her is going a little far.
Shwendy continued, “So I said, ‘Well then none of these for you, ma’am!”
We laughed again. These bacon and corn cheese puffs (also called gougeres) are one of my most popular items and they contain everything – flour, bacon, cheese, butter, veggies. They are for the adventurous. And they’re so worth it.
Bacon and Corn Cheese Puffs
Makes about 50 puffs
- 8 slices of bacon
- 2 cups corn (I use frozen white corn when corn isn’t in season)
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 cup water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 5 large eggs
- 2 cups grated white cheddar cheese
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- In a skillet, cook the bacon until very crispy, saving 1 tablespoon of bacon fat in the skillet after you’re done frying the bacon. Finely chop the bacon.
- Saute the corn in the tablespoon of reserved bacon fat, sprinkling with a little salt after a couple of minutes. Saute for 5 minutes total. Place bacon and corn in a large bowl.
- In a medium saucepan, bring the water and butter and salt to a boil. When the butter has melted, turn the heat to low and whisk in the flour all at once. Switch to a heavy spoon and stir for two minutes, until the batter pulls away from the side of the saucepan.
- Remove from heat and let sit for 2 minutes.
- Add eggs, one at a time, until the mixture becomes glossy and smooth.
- Pour batter into bowl with corn and bacon. Add the cheese, pepper, and thyme.
- Using a cookie scoop, a tablespoon, or a pastry bag (a pastry bag is the traditional method, but I prefer a cookie scoop), place scoops of dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet without crowding the cheese puffs.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and puffy.
*These can be baked early and reheated in a 375 degree oven for 5-7 minutes.
I had the opportunity to make these on KATU’s show Afternoon Live. We had a blast!