Meet Tina Marie Wilcox! Just looking at her you can see how passionate she is about herbs and cooking. Tina Marie is the resident world-renowned herbalist at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas. She was probably my most favorite part of the weekend I spent in Mountain View at the Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged (#AWBU) Conference!
Tina Marie spoke to the bloggers who attended the Foodie Friday add-on of #AWBU with such passion that I believe she got every person in the room excited about the use of herbs in cooking. Obviously, I ( just take a look at the name of my blog) am a firm believer in the use of herbs in cooking. Unfortunately, this is a concept that has been slow to catch on with many southern cooks. Having tried (unsuccessfully) to sell herbs and educate people at my local farmers market about the wonderful flavor and health benefits of cooking with fresh herbs, I understand the battle that Tina Marie is fighting. We live in an area of the world where spice typically comes from salt, pepper and jalapenos. But this is changing and possibly in part to the efforts of Tina Marie to educate visitors to the Ozark Folk Center about the use of herbs in cooking.
Besides being a staple on the grounds of the Folk Center, answering questions and entertaining visitors with her contagious excitement, Tina Marie leads workshops, cooking demonstrations and weekend long festivals related to various herbs and styles of cooking that influenced the heritage of the Ozarks. (You can find out more about her upcoming workshops and activities here.) Additionally, she has authored a host of books and other materials to aid the home gardener and herbalist. Her books are available in the Folk Center gift shop and online.
At the #AWBU Foodie Friday event Tina Marie was charged with providing a session that would teach about the uses of culinary herbs, would get all those food bloggers cooking and would ultimately provide finger foods for the rest of the #AWBU attendees that would be arriving later that night. And, since Tina Marie does everything with passion and excitement, such was her session which I now refer to as Iron Chef #AWBU!
Iron Chef is a great show on the Food Network. The premise is that chefs are given a “secret ingredient” which they must then use to prepare a 5 course meal in under an hour. The premise for Iron Chef #AWBU was similar. Participants were divided up into 4 groups. Each group was given some basic cooking utensils which included a cutting board, a few knives, some Ziploc containers, towels and a mortar and pestle.
Each group was then invited to peruse the “pantry” which was a long table of basic food items that was available for everyone to take from. The only rule about the pantry was that only one group member could gather items and bring them back to the groups table. (We’ll pretend that the fact that all the rules went out the window about 2 minutes into the competition didn’t happen!)
Finally each group was presented with their Secret Ingedient – an herb from Tina Marie’s garden – which they were required to use in the construction of their appetizers.
1. Winter Savory – Picture courtesy of Lyndi Fultz of NWAFoodie
The amazing part happened next! All of a sudden the bloggers were collaborating and inventing a wide range of unique dishes that would be served to our guests. Smoke permeated the room as sausages were roasted, toast points were toasted and burre blancs were whisked to perfection, all in under 45 minutes. The room was literally buzzing with excitement and the smells of herbal goodness.
Food was flying, knives were chopping and laughter ricoceted off the walls of the Ozark Folk Center lobby as the bloggers prepared a spread fit for a queen. Although I was not part of a group, I couldn’t resist getting in on the action and prepared a tray full of earthy and cheesy stuffed mushrooms. The dishes that “came out of the kitchen” were as beautiful as they were tasty. The experience was a great culmination of the Foodie Friday add on and was also a great foreshadowing of the great things that were to come the rest of the weekend.