by Joe Payton and Leslie Hall
Recently we got to attend Hudson’s on the Bend’s Cooking school at the home of Jeff Blank, owner of Hudson’s on the Bend. As you enter Jeff’s home, you immediately descended in the pool area overlooking Lake Travis. Attentive waiters kept wine and appetizers flowing freely. I anticipated an evening of slicing, chopping, and grilling, and came prepared to have my sleeves rolled up to my elbows.
After the chefs had prepped and we had sampled scrumptious appetizers all while taking in an amazing view of Lake Travis, we were ushered into stadium style seating that perched us in front of two witting, entertaining, and knowledgeable chefs. The two creative geniuses that made us both laugh and gasp were Robert Rhoades and Jeff Blank. The menu included: “deep sautéed” hot-n-crunchy shrimp; a glazed quail, prepared in a stovetop Cameron smoker (I want one!) over hickory chips, and served over a tossed baby spinach salad; and an herb butter grilled lobster tail sitting on grilled tenderloin of beef with a spicy cilantro and jalapeno hollandaise sauce.
Robert and Jeff treated us to an education in good tasting food – lots of butter, Jeff’s garden grown herbs, local farmers’ honey, and grass fed beef. Interesting tidbits revealed during the evening including:
· Quail does not have salmonella like chicken or beef, so a touch of pink on the quail is not cause for concern: don’t over cook this delicate bird;
· One hive of bees can produce 100 lbs of honey in a season, and if you ingest local honey pollinated by local bees, your system builds a resistance, reducing suffering from allergies; and
· Grass feed beef has as many omega 3 fatty acids as salmon, however, most beef consumed is corn fed, and since cows are allergic to corn, they are injected with antibiotics and steroids to calm the allergies, which results in the omega 3 fatty acids disappearing from the cow’s system.
Other cooking trivia and facts imparted by these culinary masters included: the banana is easily sectioned into three pieces, ripping the stems from the cilantro is the easiest was to get the leafy tops you want, meat will continue to cook up to 10 degrees warmer after removed from its heat source, and you can determine the preparation of a steak by feeling different places on your face (cheek – rare, point of chin – medium rare, nose – medium, forehead – medium well, and bottom of your shoe – well done). Each summer, Robert and Jeff take a group to Alaska solely for food purposes – fishing and cooking, and Robert admitted that when you don’t have corn flakes for creating hot-n-crunchy, Captain Crunch can work. We learned that Robert is the master politician when it comes to answering questions about where besides Hudson’s on the Bend he enjoys eating, while Jeff quickly proclaimed “Uchi.” Robert did finally admit he enjoys Austin Pizza, and Mangia Pizza.
The skies were overcast, and someone questioned if it had ever rained during this class, and Jeff replied “Only one time.” There really was no alternative plan, and it seemed the answer to rain would have been to scurry into the open doors of Jeff’s southwestern-style home. The décor included dark cement floors, brightly painted hand carved trinkets and animals, and approximately 50 pounds of dried chilies strung and hanging next to his oven. Fortunately, the rain didn’t intrude on our evening of education, laughter, and astonishment.
As if there wasn’t enough decadence already, the menu concluded with flambéed banana slices served atop vanilla ice cream. The collective gasps that started earlier in the evening when pounds of butter were dropped into the pans continued as another several pounds melted, accompanied by a generous helping of brown and white sugar along with a full bottle of rum, and later half a bottle of Tuaca. An EO member questioned Jeff’s concern with healthy eating, and Robert honestly replied, “We are about great tasting food at Hudson’s.”
With our tastes piqued by samples presented during the demonstration, we headed to the Hudson’s on the Bend restaurant. After maneuvering into the crammed full parking lot, and negotiating a cobblestone path into the restaurant, we were seated into two adjacent rooms near the back, where we dined on all the creations we previewed earlier. My guest for the evening has had the privilege to dine all over the country, and proudly declared that the steak was the best she’d ever had. “The beef just melted in my mouth and I didn’t even want to swallow.”