Lamb loin with freekeh, mint-cilantro chutney, ginger butter and spiced cauliflower. A dish every home cook whips up for Tuesday dinner . . . right?
Well, it is if you are trying to impress famed chefs Anthony Bourdain, Ludo Lefebvre, Brian Malarkey and Nigella Lawson.
It is the one perfectly composed spoonful that earned former Westford Apple Blossom Queen and Westford Academy Valedictorian (class of 2004) Mia Morgenstern, 26, one of four coveted spots on Bourdain’s team in the new cooking competition The Taste, which premiered Tuesday night on ABC.
Think of the show as The Voice for foodies. The four coaches/judges taste one spoonful without seeing or speaking to the chef who created it, relying only on their palate and instinct to decide whether they want the chef or home cook who prepared it on their team for the rest of the competition. Each coach will lead a team of four contestants throughout the season. The last contestant standing wins $100,000 and a 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid.
Millions tuned in Tuesday night at 8 p.m. for the show’s premiere, including one in Westford who was admittedly “so nervous that my stomach hurt” – Mia’s mom, Lowell High School ESL and history teacher Miriam Morgenstern.
With her husband out of town, Miriam invited a friend over to watch the show; she also was receiving texts and Facebook messages from her Lowell High friends and colleagues throughout the night.
“My friend and I ate popcorn and hot chocolate, although I felt guilty I hadn’t made something edgier,” she said.
Following her 2004 graduation from Westford Academy, Mia went to Harvard and then took a job as an associate consultant at Bain and Company. Realizing the corporate world was not her cup of bubble tea, she quit and headed to San Francisco where she has been teaching yoga and dabbling in different food-related gigs, like working on photo shoots for “Food and Wine” magazine.
“We are a family of foodies! We always enjoyed eating out and experimenting with different ethnic cuisine,” said Miriam. “I love to make Indian food, and all of us enjoy spicy food. We also did quite a bit of baking, nothing fancy, but always homemade.”
Mia and her sister Emma benefitted from Miriam’s work as an English as a Second Language teacher, by being exposed to a variety of cultures and cuisines. One of Miriam’s former students, Ken Lu, who has since graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and works as a professional chef in Texas, would make “perfectly prepared” Vietnamese egg rolls for the Morgenstern family.
When other kids were watching cartoons, Mia was watching Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Martin Yan, Ina Garten and Lidia Bastianich.
“My earliest food memories include my mom’s yellow rice and daal, a prized birthday cake decorated like Minnie Mouse, an insatiable desire for authentic, New England clam shack-style chowder, molasses cookies baked fresh from the Silver Palate Cookbook recipe, and endless Saturdays spent watching “Baking with Julia” on television,” Mia wrote on her website www.miamorgenstern.com
“I have a deep love for the authentic and the obscure, which is manifest in my overflowing collections of spices and cookbooks, and in my tendency to mix and match flavors, cuisines, and ingredients in new and novel combinations,” she added. “More than anything, though, I love the act of cooking: the physicality of chopping and mixing, the meditative effects of repetition, the satisfaction of preparing a meal that stirs something deep inside of me that then gets passed along to my guests, family, and friends. For me, cooking is what reminds me, again and again, of the joys of being alive and of being human.”
Miriam said when Mia was visiting home last month they headed to the Bangkok Market on Chelmsford Street where Mia picked up some lemon grass, Thai basil, coriander and rau ram.
“She used coconut milk, pumpkin, chicken, fish sauce and the fresh herbs to make a curry served over purple rice,” recalled Miriam. “She also made a salad of chayote and carrot. The meal was delicious, healthy and fresh.”
She may be slightly (okay, incredibly) biased, but Miriam Morgenstern is confident her daughter has what it takes to be crowed the winner of The Taste.
“Mia is quick on her feet and she has good hands. She played piano for years and I credit this for her excellent knife skills (we think she should have been a surgeon!) – she has a lot of confidence and she’s smart,” she said. “Of course we hope she wins it all, but we know there are a lot of talented chefs out there and just the experience itself is thrilling for her and our whole family. It is so much fun!”
Join the Morgensterns in cheering Mia on. The Taste airs at 8 p.m. on Tuesday nights on ABC (Channel 5). The pilot episode, as well as Mia’s successful lamb recipe can be found at beta.abc.go.com/shows/the-taste