I am an uncomplicated man raised by down-to-earth parents in a humble country home. Meals at our house all ample were breakfast, dinner and supper. Lunch was something served at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Then there was a snack before bedtime.
Though I can handle myself quite well in the more complex world, I am most happy in my simple domain. In my world a good meal includes meat, potatoes and vegetables and a great meal includes a big slice of fruit pie with lots of ice cream. All eaten with just one fork.
I'm also happy with casseroles and bacon cheeseburgers. Don't even need a fork with a cheeseburger.
You can imagine, then, that I was operating on foreign turf recently when my Rotary Club had a party at the Iowa Culinary Institute at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny. The party was a gourmet meal prepared and served by the Institute's students.
Once seated we were told we were about to enjoy a seven-course meal three courses before we got to the real food.
The first course was labeled "Amuse." I was amused when I read that this course was heirloom tomato and Feta cheese on watermelon but it was delicious. Then I heard that the watermelon had been marinated overnight in wine. Amusing.
The second course was the "Appetizer." This was Brie and oyster mushrooms served on polenta toasts. Polenta is an Italian cornmeal, I learned, and makes a great toast. This appetizer was even better than spray cheese and deer sausage on a Ritz cracker.
Course number three: fennel, blood orange salad with Frisian Farms Gouda. No lettuce or Dorothy Lynch dressing in this salad, but scrumptious nonetheless. The Gouda was good and it was from Iowa's Frisian Farms, a dairy farm located between Pella and Oskaloosa.
The servings were appropriately modest so when the fish course came around, I was ready. We enjoyed Parmesan seared sea scallops with apple crme fraiche. I love scallops and these were the best I've eaten. When I learned that crme fraiche is a soured cream I was apprehensive but it was delicious too.
The "Intermezzo" course was next. Intermezzo means interlude in Italian and in the culinary world it refers to something prepared to cleanse the pallet for the next course. Our intermezzo was a wild berry and Chevre sorbet. I had never dreamed that goat cheese would be so appealing.
Then we were served the main entre: roast duck breast with a passion fruit glaze and St. Agur cheese. We have a lot of Mallard ducks around town and I was wondering No, they wouldn't do that. The St. Agur blue cheese was a tasty touch.
I was ready for dessert, but in this gourmet meal a Cheese course followed the main entre. We enjoyed a Ricotta and Mascarpone mousse with champagne grapes and whole grain Corstini. Ricotta and Mascarpone are Italian cheeses and Costini is Italian for "little toasts." As they say in Italy, "Delizioso!"
Dessert finally. Dessert was bittersweet chocolate cheesecake. If fruit pie ala mode ever becomes illegal this could be my favorite dessert every bite sinfully delicious. Calories? What calories? You measure dessert by the number of taste buds delighted; not by calories.
Our gastronomic gala took three hours start to finish. The food was magnificent. The service was impeccable. We started out with three forks and more were delivered as needed. I'm glad I didn't have to help wash dishes.
The Iowa Culinary Institute serves these gourmet meals regularly throughout the year in an elegant dining room on the DMACC campus in Ankeny.
The students introduced themselves after the meal. While most are from Iowa, others represent several states and Mexico. There is a two-year waiting list to enroll in the program.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed what 50 years ago I would have called "high falutin' eatin'." Though I still love bacon cheeseburgers, I have to admit that old dogs can learn new tricks.