ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
And today we continue with our How Low Can You Go supper challenge. We've posed a challenge to some of the best chefs in America this week. They must come up with a great-tasting meal for four people, and the cost of the ingredients must add up to no more than $10.
Taking up our challenge today is the Armed Forces chef of the year, Culinary Specialist First Class Michael Edwards. CS1 Edwards is an enlisted aide to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. He cooks for the admiral and for the dignitaries who visit with him; and food is CS1 Edwards' passion.
Culinary Specialist First Class MICHAEL EDWARDS (U.S. Navy): You know, I joined the Navy actually because I was going to join the Army, and one of the Navy recruiters came up to me and said the Navy food is better. And I was like, okay, I'm joining the Navy.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NORRIS: Michael Edwards joined the military shortly after 9/11. Before that, he ran a vegetarian catering company. Fine dining is now Edwards' specialty, but his military career didn't start with amuse-bouche or vichyssoise. He cooks for thousands of sailors aboard the aircraft carrier the USS John C. Stennis.
CS1 EDWARDS: I started out working in S2, which is basically the galley for the enlisted people. It's the largest volume of people that you're cooking for. And we cooked in these huge, these large coppers. They call them coppers. They're massive steam kettles where you can cook all your food, and you have a row of them, so that the person who's good at that has a metal paddle, and they call him the copper king. And that's what they do. They just put out an enormous amount of food four times a day because you know, on an aircraft carrier, it's like a floating city, so you have people awake 24 hours a day.
NORRIS: I just want to go back and ask you about working in the large galley and standing there with that big copper.
CS1 EDWARDS: Yeah.
NORRIS: What's it like to cook with that many people?
CS1 EDWARDS: Yeah. I never made it to copper king. I was a copper king apprentice.
NORRIS: Ah, okay.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CS1 EDWARDS: No, but it's very impressive how much food they put out, and what they're capable of doing, out to sea. So we have these UNREPs, which are underway replenishments, and a ship will pull up, and you'll actually download all the cargo onto your carrier, onto the ship. And so, in the middle of your time out to sea, you'll actually get these stores brought to you by other ships, and sometimes they'll helo all the food in. It's amazing.
NORRIS: And, you know, I wonder if you pick up those specific skills, if you learn how to be creative and somewhat improvisational because before the helo delivery, you have to basically deal with what you've got in the gallery.
CS1 EDWARDS: Yeah, yeah. And for the most part, creativity lies in making outstanding food with very simple ingredients. I learned so much just working on the ship. You have 300 people, you know, that are cooks, but everyone brings all this diversity of culture.
Some people are from the South. Some people are from the Philippines. Some people are from Latin America. So you really get introduced to a lot.
NORRIS: When we presented our challenge to CS1 Edwards, he surprised us with a multiple-course meal.
CS1 EDWARDS: For today, I brought in a sauteed skate meuniere with potato gnocchi as my main course.
NORRIS: Sounds delicious. Where do we start?
CS1 EDWARDS: Well, the first thing I would do is I'd start on the potato gnocchi.
NORRIS: Gnocchi is a pasta made from potatoes.
CS1 EDWARDS: So what you need to do is you need to cook potatoes. Take out the pulp. You know, take out the meat of the potato, and I would run it through a ricer.
NORRIS: And if you don't have that, I guess, you just would have to mash it very finely?
CS1 EDWARDS: You could take a colander and just push it down through the colander, and it will fall through. And basically, what you're going to do is you're going to take the potato and add your four tablespoons of parmesan cheese, and then you add your salt and your nutmeg and your pepper to it, and you want to slowly incorporate the flour.
You don't want to develop too much gluten from the flour or else it becomes kind of hard. So you work it until it's smooth by cutting it with a dough knife and sprinkling the flour on until there's no flour left, and it should be soft and smooth at the end. And it's almost like making biscuits. Like, you don't want to touch it too much or work with it too much.
NORRIS: Now, don't worry about trying to remember all the details. The recipe is at our Web site, npr.org.
After the gnocchi is made, you cut the dough into small pieces and drop them in boiling water until they float to the surface. You can leave those gnocchi on the side as we move onto the next part of the meal, the skate. And if skate sounds more like a verb than a fish, here's a quick description.
It's a flakey, white fish, and it's very affordable. But if you can't find it where you live, CS1 Edwards suggests using flounder, which is similar in texture and in taste.
For the preparation, dredge the skate in a little flour and then pan-fry it with butter. And for the simple sauce, save that cooked butter and add a little lemon and some chopped parsley. In no time, you've got dinner.
CS1 EDWARDS: Put your skate on top of the gnocchi, and put a little bit more butter on top of that, and it's a classic preparation, and you've done it with a very cheap ingredient that is delicious. I mean, skate is the most tender, succulent fish there is, I believe. I mean, I love it. We've used it in meals, and people are just blown away by it.
NORRIS: Classic, but how cheap? CS1 Edwards spent $9.75 on his meal, under our $10 limit. And though we didn't mention it here, that total includes another course, a cream of asparagus soup. You can find the recipe for that soup, along with the recipe for skate meuniere and potato gnocchi at npr.org.
And while you're there, you can participate in the How Low Can You Go challenge by submitting your recipe for meals that cost $10 or less. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Michael Edwards, who has won the title Armed Forces Chef of the Year, took NPR's "How Low Can You Go" family supper challenge and cooked up a sauteed skate meuniere with potato gnocchi and cream of asparagus soup. He says he learned how to cook simple foods on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
For NPR's "How Low Can You Go" family supper challenge, some of the nation's best cooks have each agreed to come up with a budget-conscious, delicious meal for a family of four. The hitch? The meal must cost less than $10 — and the cheaper the better.
Navy chef Michael Edwards, who has won the title Armed Forces Chef of the Year, cooked a sauteed skate meuniere with potato gnocchi and cream of asparagus soup for his meal.
Edwards, a culinary specialist first class, says skate is "the most tender, succulent fish there is."
"We used it in meals, and people are just blown away by it," Edwards says.
Edwards says he spent $9.75 on his meal.
An enlisted aide to Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Edwards not only cooks for the admiral, but also for the dignitaries who visit with him.
Edwards joined the Navy shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, because a recruiter told him the food in the Navy was better than Army food. Before that, he ran a vegetarian catering company.
Fine dining is now Edwards' specialty, but his military career didn't start with amuse-bouche or vichyssoise. He cooked for thousands of sailors aboard the aircraft carrier the USS John C. Stennis. Edwards says the cooks use massive steam kettles — also called large coppers.
"You have a row of them, so that the person who's good at that has a metal paddle, and they call them the copper king," Edwards says. "They just put out enormous food four times a day. ... I never made it to copper king; I was a copper king apprentice. It's very impressive how much food they put out and what they're capable of doing."
"Creativity lies in making outstanding food with very simple ingredients," Edwards says.