Cooking with friends adds something extra to make a meal memorable

Chef Surja demonstrates how to roll sushi.  Have you ever eaten a meal that sticks with you for days or even months?

One where you can remember the taste of each bite or the exact details of its creation?

I can recall with clarity the first dinner I ate at Genoa, swooning over the three mushroom tart at Joel Palmer House, the intoxicating — pardon the pun — sip of a daiquiri made with fresh Oregon strawberries, my Grandmother Etta’s sourdough pancakes and every bite of the dinner served at The Heathman Hotel under the supervision of Anthony Bourdain.

In all of these instances, experiencing the food eclipsed the basic element of what it provided. They are perfect examples of how food feeds the soul as well as the body.

My husband, Mark, and I shared such enlightenment recently with our friends, Chef Surja Tjahaha and Tamara Gilbert of West Linn.

Chef Surja teaches cooking classes and leads tours of Asian markets through his business, Chef2go. His wife, Tamara, is the company’s public relations manager.

The couple recently traveled to Vancouver, B.C. to explore the Asian markets and they were impressed with the quality of the local seafood. They discovered a sweet-tasting striped shrimp, brought some back and invited us to create a lunch of dishes utilizing the shrimp.

All four of us were excited at the prospect of a wonderful meal.

We arrived at 10 a.m. and the fragrances coming from the kitchen were already enticing. Simmering on the stovetop was a mushroom broth that would become a beautifully composed soup, with shiitake, daikon and shiso — an herb new to Mark and I. Surja had laid out knives and other utensils for us. He put Mark to work squeezing fresh oranges for juice while I started cutting and preparing the ingredients for the dishes I would make.

The pace of activity in my kitchen can be feverish — get that dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less. Surja, on the other hand, works just as productively, but in a more peaceful and calm manner. I liked the Zen atmosphere he created in his kitchen and slowed my motions to match his. Relax, breathe, savor I thought to myself.

Surja had offered to show us how to roll sushi and started by preparing the rice.

Mark and I had rolled sushi before with somewhat respectable results. But under Surja’s expert tutelage we can now roll beautiful sushi quickly.

It’s all about the rice, Surja said. He washes it with a gentle swish of his hand until the water runs clean and clear to remove the gluten from the rice. He also cooks a piece of nori with the rice to impart flavor.

To season his rice he makes a mixture of rice wine vinegar, water, salt and sugar — much tastier than using seasoned rice wine vinegar.

He also makes his own pickled ginger by peeling the knobs, cutting them on a mandolin and then covering the ginger with rice wine vinegar. Delicious and so very easy!

To make a long, lovely story short enough for my allotted space, we cooked and then ate an elegant feast of foods featuring the very delicious striped shrimp.

We started with a beautiful composed bowl of mushroom broth with daikon, carrot, steamed sable fish, shitake and shiso. That course was followed by a French salad of butter lettuce from Mark’s garden, apple and shrimp.

Our sushi successes were served next, filled with striped shrimp, cucumber, avocado, onion and other vegetables. We then moved our culinary focus to the Mediterranean and enjoyed the shrimp with a fresh tomato sauce and crumbled feta cheese. And to top it all off Tamara had made a crisp with berries from her garden.

By the time we got home it was 3:30 p.m. What a wonderful way to spend the day!

You don’t have to be envious of our culinary adventure — you, too, can join in the fun and make your own memorable meal.

Tamara posted the fall schedule of Chef Surja’s classes. Some are taught at the West Linn Adult Community Center and others at Milwaukie Center. You had better sign up today to ensure your seat. Here is what is planned:

n Basque Fish Soup Class — Sept. 9 from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. In this class you will learn to make this Basque fisherman’s savory soup. Cost is $25 for residents plus an $8 materials fee.

n Vietnamese Salad Roll Class — Sept. 15, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. You can learn to make these beautiful rolls, which are light and healthy and perfect for people on the go. Cost is $25 for residents plus a $3 materials fee.

n PDX Asian Food Market Tour — Sept. 22, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. These are so much fun — you simply must sign up. Surja will lead the tour of Portland’s east side to learn where to shop for an amazing variety of fish, meat, vegetables, noodles, rice, sauces and spices. I’ve been on this tour twice and even though we visited the same shops I discovered different foods each time. This tour costs $40 per person and includes lunch.

n Sushi Workshop — Oct. 20, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Success can be yours, just as it was for Mark and me! Surja will take you from the A to Z in sushi making, from selecting the raw materials, preparing fillings, cooking the flavored rice, making pickled ginger and wasabi. Come hungry! Cost is $25 for residents with a $5 materials fee.

n Duck Confit Class — Oct. 21, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Learn to make this wonderfully crispy dish. Cost is $25 for residents with an $8 materials fee.

n Thai Curry Noodle Soup — Nov. 17 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Learn to prepare this stand-alone meal using rice noodles, curry and coconut milk. Cost is $25 with a $5 materials fee.

n PDX Asian Food Market Tour — Dec. 1, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Chef will tour the west side markets on this tour. Don’t miss out. Cost is $40 per person and includes the Asian gourmet lunch. If you are short on time, you can just go for the lunch for $20.

Surja will be leading a tour of the San Francisco Asian markets and restaurants over Columbus Day Weekend, Oct. 6 through 8. If you want to go, call for details at 503-656-8910 or visit for more information.

The recipe today is for Salade de Crevettes aux Pommes, the French shrimp and apple salad we made for the luncheon. It showcased the shrimp beautifully and would be perfect for a summer dinner.

Bon Appetit! Eat something wonderful!

Salade de Crevettes aux Pommes

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds small shrimp

1/2 lemon

2 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced

2 celery ribs, diced

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

4 romaine leaves

Place the shrimp in large saucepan and add the lemon, squeezed, plus enough salted water to cover. Bring to a boil, remove the pan from the heat, cover, let stand for 1 minute, and drain in a colander. When cool enough to handle, peel and devein the shrimp and place in a mixing bowl. Add the apples and celery and toss.

In another bowl combine the egg yolk and vinegar and whisk until blended. Add the oil, salt, pepper and horseradish, whisk until well blended and pour the dressing over the shrimp mixture. Toss well and serve the salad at room temperature on top of lettuce leaves.

Adapted from The French Country Kitchen.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281 ext. 101 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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