March has been a busy month for Lavish Cuisine chefs. In addition to keeping our local weekly clients’ refrigerators filled, cooking for dinner parties and doing demos at Whole Foods, we’ve been doing some traveling by road and air to cook for clients.
A few months ago I was asked by one of my corporate clients, H&N Foods International, to prepare New Zealand Whole Cooked Greenshell Mussels at Seafood Expo North America (SENA) in Boston. I have had the opportunity to prepare samples of shrimp, tilapia, and wild Alaskan cod for H&N at two local HEB Meat and Seafood Shows. Nicole and I traveled to Houston to prepare samples of Pangasius (Swai) for H&N at the US FOODS’ Food Fanatics Live Show in Houston this past year. Every experience I’ve had working with H&N has been educational and fun, so when the Executive Vice President of the company, Christine Ngo, called and asked if I’d like to travel to Boston to work for them, I didn’t even hesitate before saying, “YES!” She said I’d need to bring Nicole along. Nicole eagerly agreed to accompany me on this adventure.
Christine sent me 6 pounds of the New Zealand Greenshell Mussels so I could taste them and play around with recipes.
You can eat these mussels straight out of the bag. The texture is perfect. The meat is plump and moist. My mission was to create a sauce that complemented the mussels, but allowed the mussels to be the star of the show.
The mussels are inspected, cold de-bearded and placed into these thick plastic pouches. Some fresh water is added to the pouch and the pouch is vacuum packed before being cooked under pressure at high temperature in a steam retort (industrial pressure cooker). The natural flavors are captured and retained through this process, while food safety and product shelf life are enhanced.
I invited 4 opinionated friends with distinguished palates over to my house and we sampled the mussels in 7 different sauces. Here are a few pictures from that evening. While all the sauces I developed were great on their own, several over-powered the mussels. In the end, I decided to go with a fennel, sake, orange, dill sauce.
I pitched my sauce idea to the company, got it approved, and booked 2 airline tickets to Boston. Christine sent me three promotional videos to “introduce” me to Chris Redwood, owner of the mussel farm in New Zealand who supplies the mussels to H&N, and provide me with background information on Chris’ company Omega Seafood. After watching this first video I was ready to hop on a flight to New Zealand! (I won’t jump ahead too much, but Nicole and I had dinner with Chris our first night in Boston and then got to spend 3 days getting to know him during the Expo.)
Friday evening we were treated to an incredible dinner in Chinatown with the H&N family. Mr. Hua Ngo, founder and president of H&N ordered a feast of fresh seafood dishes for everyone to enjoy.
Saturday morning we set out to grocery shop at Star Market, across the street from our hotel, and cleaned them out of fennel, dill, and my favorite brand of vegetable stock. We loaded up a suitcase and many shopping bags with groceries and set out by Uber to the Convention Center to prep the sauce we’d use for the next few days.
The show officially opened at 10 a.m. on Sunday and we immediately had a mass of eager samplers at our booth. The fast-paced repetition of opening and tasting mussels continued throughout the 3 days of the Expo.
Guests who visited our booth enjoyed the mussels straight out of the bag and warmed in the sauce, and were eager to place orders with H&N to get their hands on this relatively new product.
Chris Redwood, the “Mussel Farmer” was at our booth to answer questions about the mussels. Our knowledge of mussels, mussel farming, and New Zealand grew exponentially over the 3 days of the show.
Nicole and I returned to San Antonio on Wednesday evening. We decided to stay in Boston Tuesday evening to try to do a little bit of sightseeing and get some rest before resuming our hectic San Antonio chef schedule.
Attending SENA as a chef for H&N was an incredible experience. Nicole and I were honored to be part of the process of introducing people to these Whole Cooked Greenshell Mussels from New Zealand.