When your last name is Pollman, people in Mobile presume you were born to bake. So, perhaps it came as no surprise to friends and family when 18-year-old identical twin brothers, Charlie and John Pollman, recently walked away with first and second place awards at a culinary competition. (After all, their cousins own the locally loved Pollman’s Bake Shops started by their great-great aunt and uncle, Corinne and Fred Pollman Sr. in 1918.) But actually, the bigger shock is probably that the boys didn’t bake at all but rather cooked up some savory fare. Both competed against culinary students from several Mobile County public schools at the Family Career and Community Leaders of America’s Beef, Pork and Peanut Cook-off for high school students. Charlie, above right, won first place in the beef category, and John won second with a soup in the peanut division.
The pair of Pollmans graduated this spring from Murphy High School where they have been part of the school’s hospitality and tourism program for the past three years. Their teacher and mentor is Chef Jeremy Weaver, who served as the chef at the former Oysterella’s before coming to the kitchen at Murphy four years ago.
“Being known for your family’s baking, you get a little tired of cakes and cupcakes and cookies, ” Charlie explains. “My brother and I were more into cooking instead of baking because it was something new for us.”
In true twin fashion, John interrupts, adding, “The second anyone hears Pollman, you get the questions like, ‘When are you bringing brownies?’”
Charlie chimes in, “We honestly don’t bake at home. If we want anything baked, we go to Pollmans.”
The talented twins’ introduction to cooking was no different than for most children. “We would help our mom and dad in the kitchen when they asked us to, ” Charlie says.
John continues, “Then we really started learning in the culinary program. For example, Chef would teach us how to hold a knife and different ways to cut something.”
After acquiring their new set of skills, the energetic duo and Chef Weaver decided they were ready to compete. “By the time these kids get to this level in the program, I know their limits and they know mine. I enjoy engaging them, challenging them and trying to get them to their very best by pushing them to that limit, ” says Weaver. He says he then allowed them complete freedom in selecting what they wanted to cook for the competition.
Charlie chose a beef Wellington while John selected a peanut and shrimp soup. Some trial and error ensued as they practiced and honed their recipes. “The first time I tried to roast the butternut squash for the soup, I burned it, ” John admits. Charlie decided to create his dish at home first but found that the reasonably priced chuck roast his mother had on hand did not substitute well for the more pricey beef tenderloin. The third attempt turned out to be the charm for both brothers, and they went on to win the accolades. Here are the winning recipes.
Charlie’s Winning Beef Wellington
This pastry-wrapped fillet is as impressive as they come. Traditionally, beef Wellington is topped with either a red wine or sherry reduction, which Charlie could not use in the high school competition due to its alcohol content. Instead, he used a pre-made demi-glace that can be found at Whole Foods or Fresh Market.
1 1/2 – 2 pound beef tenderloin, trimmed
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 – 1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 shallot clove, finely chopped
1 pound white mushrooms, stems removed, finely chopped (using a food processor is recommended)
3 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper, to taste
2/3 cups Dijon mustard
6 – 8 slices serrano ham or Parma ham
1 pound frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg
1/4 cup water
sea or coarse salt, if desired
demi-glace (Charlie uses a pre-made version, heated according to the package instructions.)
1. Season beef tenderloin with salt and pepper mixed well with olive oil. Allow the meat to marinate for 30 – 40 minutes in the refrigerator.
2. Heat a large cast-iron or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Sear meat until well browned on all surfaces, about 1 1/2 minutes on each side, including ends. Transfer tenderloin to a plate and chill until ready to assemble and beef is cold, at least 1 hour or overnight.
3. In another large skillet, heat butter over medium heat. Add onion and shallots and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and thyme sprigs. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is tender and liquid is released and evaporated, about 8 – 10 minutes. Cool at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.
4. Remove thyme sprigs, place mixture in a food processor and pulse several times to create a finer consistency.
5. Remove beef from refrigerator. Apply a coating of Dijon mustard to completely cover the meat, then wrap with the ham. Wrap ham-covered beef tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to wrap with pastry.
6. On a lightly floured surface, roll puff pastry into a rectangle 1/4-inch thick and big enough to enclose the beef. (It may be necessary to overlap 2 pieces and roll them into 1 piece.)
7. Carefully spread mushroom mixture on the top of the ham-wrapped beef and place into middle of puff pastry, mushroom-side down. Spread another layer of mushroom mixture on the top and sides of beef. Spread remaining mushrooms over top.
8. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place a baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven until hot, about 15 minutes.
9. In a small bowl, combine egg and 1/4 cup water and beat slightly to create an egg wash. Fold up long sides of dough to enclose all of the meat, brushing edges with some egg wash to seal. Trim ends if necessary, then fold up and seal. Allow to rest while oven preheats.
10. Carefully transfer beef Wellington to preheated baking sheet seam side down. Brush with egg wash. Make 2 to 3 slits in pastry for venting steam. Sprinkle with sea salt, if desired.
11. Bake approximately 35 – 50 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and beef registers 120 – 130 degrees on an instant-read thermometer for rare or 130 – 135 degrees for medium rare. Cover pastry with foil if it begins to get too brown while cooking.
12. Let rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes before slicing.
13. Ladle on warm demi-glace, as desired, before serving. Serves 4 – 5.
John’s Thai Peanut and Shrimp Soup
Peanut and shrimp make an unlikely but delightful combo. This flavorful, healthful soup also has a lovely, creamy texture yet does not contain cream.
butter or nonstick cooking spray
1 (2 1/4 – 2 1/2 pound) butternut squash, halved and seeded
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined, rinsed and patted dry
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped jalapeño (seeds removed)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons mild green curry paste
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 (14 1/2 ounce) cans no-salt-added petite diced tomatoes, undrained
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups julienned carrots
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Line a baking pan with foil and then grease with butter or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Place squash, cut sides down, in pan. Roast for 35 – 45 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Cool slightly.
3. Scoop squash pulp from shells and puree.
4. In a small bowl, combine cumin, salt, pepper, coriander, cinnamon and turmeric.
5. Place shrimp in a medium bowl and sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the spice mixture over the shrimp, then stir. Refrigerate the shrimp while you prepare the soup.
6. In a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven, heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add onion, red bell pepper, jalapeño, garlic and ginger; cook about 5 minutes or until tender. Add curry paste, soy sauce and the remaining spice mixture.
7. Stir in the pureed squash, tomatoes and peanut butter. Stir in the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, lightly coat a 12-inch nonstick, cast-iron skillet or grill pan with nonstick cooking spray. Heat over medium-high heat. Add shrimp in a single layer and cook for 5
minutes or until the shrimp are opaque, turning once.
9. In a saucepan, cook carrots in a small amount of boiling water for about 4 – 5 minutes or until just tender, then drain.
10. Divide soup into 8 serving bowls. Top with shrimp and carrots. Serves 8.
text by Sallye Irvine • photos by Elizabeth Gelineau