Cooking School Journal: Cheesy Dates

This Sunday is my midterm. We all need to arrive with two hors d’oeurves, prepared and plated, to somehow wow and woo Chef, a woman who has seen and eaten it all. As a test, I had a small cocktail party here last Saturday. I methodically cooked all day with the amazing help of Joe, my newly recruited sous-chef. We all had a great time. We drank wine and beer and sampled each plate. I was sweating and nervous as the reviews came in. Several ‘wows’, a few nods of enjoyment and only one dish in which the feedback was less than favorable. All in all, it was a success.

The winners? Bacon-wrapped dates and Oysters Jules. The bacon-wrapped dates recipe is one from a restaurant here

AOCs Bacon-wrapped Dates

AOCs Bacon-wrapped Dates

in LA called AOC. I had them last December,  and they were so amazing I’ve thought about them ever since. There is something to them besides the date and the bacon that I couldn’t put my finger on; a salty and slightly piquant essence. I tried a little soy sauce. I also tried some brown sugar, but I could never recreate it.

One night while I was talking with Chef about AOC, she remarked that she really liked it but she wasn’t totally ‘wowed’. She qualified it by saying that she was dining with only one other person and with a place like that, where you’re ordering little dishes, you need at least six people.

I was so lucky that when we went, I had six foodies. I was in charge of ordering the wine (I made some pretty good choices). We ordered at least a dozen small plates and enjoyed them all. But the true standout was the bacon-wrapped dates. It is a dish that sounds so simple, but like most simple dishes its taste lingers long in your memory.

I needed an hors d’oeurve. I needed to get that recipe.

First stop, the AOC website. No recipes. But what I found was a contact link to the chef at AOC, Suzanne Goin, one of the most respected chefs in LA, if not the country. She is a  James Beard Award winner, and as I sat there, prepared to click on her link,I hesitated.  I thought to myself, “She’ll never reply. I know I’m going to get an auto-reply. And if I don’t get an auto-reply, some weird admin-assistant is going to reply to me. Yuck!”

But those dates were so damn good, I thought ( after a couple of glasses of chardonnay), “What the hell.”

On Jul 14, 2004, at 6:18 PM, Julianna wrote:

I’m sure you don’t give out your recipes…

I have a midterm in my culinary school where I need to bring two hors d’oeuvres.

I first tasted your bacon-wrapped dates last December, and still dream of them almost everyday.

I’ve tried to re-create your recipe in my home kitchen, but I’m missing something (I even went crazy once and tried soy sauce).

If you could point me in the right direction, I know I would get an “A”.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Jules Walters

So I sent it. “She’s never going to reply to me,” I thought. “Who the hell do I think I am?”

Chef Goin

Chef Goin

But lo and behold, when I checked my email the next morning, this sat in my inbox.

dear jules

i’m so glad you enjoyed the dates…

here is the recipe…..

definitely cook them on a roasting rack so they don’t just stew in all the fat that will render from the bacon….we cook them in the wood burning oven but a hot oven or even toaster oven works too

good luck

suzanne goin

A.O.C. restaurant

Roasted Dates with Parmesan and Bacon

Serves 4

  • 16 Dates
  • 1 Hunk of Parmesan, approx 1/4 pound
  • 16 very thin slices Apple Smoked Bacon
  • a few Parsley leaves

Preheat the oven at 500 degrees.

Cut a slit in each date lengthwise and remove the pits. Use a dull knife to chunk random hunks of parmesan (slightly larger than the size of an almond) off your block of cheese. Place the cheese inside the date. Press the date together to “close” it.

Wrap each date with a piece of bacon

Place the dates on a roasting rack on a sheetpan. Cook the dates in the oven until the bacon is crispy, about 10 minutes.

Place in a bowl and scatter with the parsley leaves.

Serve immediately but be careful… they will be hot inside!

I couldn’t believe it! I bounced off the walls for 20 minutes. Although I tried to explain to the kids why I was so happy, they just didn’t get it. I emailed Hillary and Ellen and Sara and Karen and Joe, the people who first ate those dates with me. They all shared in my excitement, amazement, and joy.  And none of us could believe that it was Parm that was perplexing me. How could I not recognize Parm, for crying out loud?!? It was a food lover’s bonding moment.

So a few nights later at class, when things were quiet for a moment, I walked up to Chef and mentioned that I had the recipe for the dates from AOC. “Oh, really?” she said. “In a cookbook?”

“No,” I said. “On-line.”

“Is it on a website?”

“No, I emailed Suzanne Goin.”

“Oh!” she said, her eyes now locked with mine. “Do you know her?”

“No,” I said.

“Have you taken a class with her?” she said, still staring straight at me.

“No, I went onto the website looking for the recipe, and there was a link for her email. She replied in just a few hours. Do you know what the secret is?”

Chef replied, “Perhaps. Is it cheese?”

“Yes. Parmesan. You stuff an almond-sized piece of Parmesan into the date, wrap it in bacon and roast it on high-heat on a rack.”

She looked at me so intently. Her eyes rolled up as she thought to herself, and then her eyes met mine again and she said, “Jules, I have a newfound respect for you.”

More later.

One thought on “Cooking School Journal: Cheesy Dates

  1. seth

    Oh my, I think I have to try these for an elegant trunk show reception I am cooking for tomorrow. I was looking for a recipe for “cheesy dates,” or rather dates baked in a crust made out of cheese nibs which is surprisingly good. These sound incredible!

    Reply

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