Striking out in the kitchen? 'Cooking Coach' can help

Whole Foods Market recently opened its second location in Wexford. Bright and shiny, it has cool innovations, new-store smell and a new service -- a cooking coach.

A what?

"When a customer sees something but isn't sure what to do with it and doesn't have a recipe, I am there to help. I will coach her through it," says Seth Morrison.

He also will teach classes on topics from organic foods to kid-friendly meals. Look to the coach as the go-to guy for all the answers to your cooking questions.

He has the experience and the chops. For eight years, he was a seafood buyer at the East Liberty store, has taught seafood classes and has cooked for store demonstrations and for staff events. His easy-going personality convinced the brass that he'd be a good fit.

The cooking coach program is only a year old, and only a handful of Whole Food Market stores have it.

Find Mr. Morrison roving the aisles or at his Coach Desk, a beautiful, hand-hewn table in the bulk food department.

How can this young husband, dad and full-time worker field all questions all day and still be on the money? Rubbing my hands together, I thought it just might be fun to play "Stump the Coach." We set up a meeting. Mr. Morrison, tall and lanky with a ready laugh, was up for the challenge.

Picking up the weirdest thing I could find in the produce section, I asked, "Seth, this is really big and ugly. What is it, why would I want it and what does it taste like?"

"That's a celery root, the root of the Pascal celery plant," he said. "Use a sharp knife to peel away the knots and furls until you have an all-white surface. It will look something like a peeled potato. Then slice or dice and put it in soup or salad. It tastes like celery. But no strings attached. Next question?"

Standing next to an impressive selection of olive oils from around the world, I said, "This is crazy-making. How do I know what to look for in an olive oil? How do I winnow the choices? And what if I don't like it?"

"I'm glad to let customers sample any product," Coach said. "Now, do you want a cooking oil and a topping oil? Some are grassy and fresh, others are heavier and better suited to cooking. Each one has a unique flavor profile."

When I spied containers with some 48 kinds of dried beans, I knew I could stump him. There were Christmas lima beans, skinned fava beans and even Tarbais beans, the French ones used in a traditional cassoulet. I said, "Whoa! That's a mess of beans. How do you know which ones are good for what?"

"Funny you should ask," he said. "We are planning a Legume-a-Palooza. I'll be cooking 32 beans, all heirloom, in 32 days. There will be samples and recipes, too. We'll use all in-store product, so when I want to make baked beans with ham, say, I'll wait until the deli has a nice hambone for me."

Then he went on to talk about the container wall of dried mushrooms and varieties of sprouted foods.

OK, I thought, one last question, then I give up. "I want my family to eat more whole grains, but I can't remember which is which or how they taste. How can you help me?"

"You mean quinoa, wheat berries, kamut, brown rice, buckwheat and barley? Right over here. We have recipes, and I can talk you through them. But if you want to taste something first, you'll find most of these grains cooked and ready for take-out over in the salad bar area. Buy a container and add, maybe, salad dressing and fresh herbs, or heat up with butter and sauteed onions."

"But, Seth," I said, "What if you have a day off? Where does the customer get answers?"

"Come on back to the desk," he said. "We have an iPad with a connection to 'Food Pickle,' the online food community arm of Food52, a foodie site by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. You type in your question and within minutes, you'll have an answer."

A fail-safe system.

Picnic Mung Bean and Cucumber Salad

Seth Morrison likes to make this big salad for potluck or picnic suppers. I would substitute sunflower seeds, and because I don't use liquid aminos, I'd add a little more Champagne vinegar. And smoked sea salt might be fun, but if I can't have it, I'll just fiddle with salt until the mixture tastes good.

-- Marlene Parrish

  • 1/2 pound dry mung beans
  • 3 cups diced cucumber
  • 1 cup diced yellow bell pepper
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup hulled hemp seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon smoked sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons liquid aminos
  • 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • Juice of 4 lemons
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Simmer the beans in salted water for 30 minutes. Drain and chill. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked beans with all remaining ingredients. Toss well. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Makes 10 servings.

-- Seth Morrison

Marlene Parrish can be reached at or 412-481-1620.


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