A day in the life of Ransom Everglades senior David Lanster is full of typical teenage stuff: school; baseball practice; homework. And then he starts cooking.
“Some nights I’m up until 1 a.m. making paté,” he says. “Or even later if we’re braising beef for agnoletti.”
For the past year, Lanster and Kelly Moran — his classmate, pastry chef and girlfriend — have been hosting elaborate, multicourse, tasting-menu dinner parties at Lanster’s parents’ Kendall-area home.
Their meals climb to 17 courses and include avant-garde techniques (they turn barbecue sauce into a cube of gel as part of a deconstructed pulled-pork sandwich) and more than a touch of whimsy (green eggs and ham Benedict is a signature dish).
Their grateful guests, mostly his parents’ friends, used to shower Lanster and Moran with thank-you gifts, until the couple decided to make their culinary endeavors charitable.
“We got some really great Heat tickets, a nice watch, a ton of cutting boards and kitchen gadgets,” Lanster says. “But we wanted to make this something positive for people other than us.”
Lanster and Moran turned their focus to Common Threads, a Chicago-based nonprofit with a strong presence in Miami that’s aimed at teaching kids in low-income communities to cook and make healthy eating choices.
The young cooks invite their dinner-party guests to donate however much they want as payment for their meals. It all goes to Common Threads, since Lanster’s parents cover their food costs. After their last 12-person event, Lanster and Moran cut a check for $1,600 to the charity.
Now they’re taking their show out of Lanster’s parents’ kitchen and on the road. Lanster and Moran have started to book private catering gigs in a similar model: The host pays for ingredients, and the guests make a donation to a charity of their choice.
And they have an open invitation to be guest chefs at Trattoria Luna, an Italian restaurant that Lanster’s family has frequented since he was a boy.
“When he was little, he would want me to show him the kitchen when he came in with his parents,” Trattoria Luna owner Daniele Mastagni says. “I let him prepare a bruschetta once. Some kids like that, but you could tell he was fascinated. Like he was thinking on a whole different level.”
With no formal training (Lanster attended a two-day cooking class for kids at the Biltmore when he was 8), Lanster traces his culinary interest to helping his mom in the kitchen. The turning point came from sibling rivalry, after his older sister received kudos for macaroni and cheese that she made.
“All she did was read a recipe, and she’s getting all these compliments,” he recalls. “That’s when I started reading cookbooks on my own and cooking for my family.”
He now draws his heady inspiration from chefs like Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago and Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in Napa Valley and Per Se in New York. Those chefs also influenced Flynn McGarry, a Los Angeles teen who has received coverage in the food world for the high-end supper club he started from his mom’s house.
Lanster, who considers dining out his research and development, says he enjoys eating at Sugarcane, The Federal, MC Kitchen, Palme d’Or at the Biltmore and Coolinary Café in Jupiter.
Lanster acknowledges that he sometimes puts his culinary homework before his school work.
“That’s all I do in class — try to think up new dishes, new menu progressions, new ingredient combinations,” he says.
Lanster and Moran, both 18, spend countless hours together, prepping food and testing recipes. She focuses mainly on breads, pasta doughs and sweets, while he works on savory items.
They try to perfect dishes before presenting them to guests, but sometimes a course doesn’t go as planned. Lanster mentions a lamb chop served tableside with a pot of flaming cherry liqueur — “We almost lit her on fire,” he says of Moran.
Outside the kitchen, the two are busy prepping their college applications, due Nov. 1. Neither is sure what careers the future holds for them, but they’ve promised their parents they’ll put professional cooking on the back burner until they finish school.
“I think they’d like me to be a dentist like my dad,” Lanster says.
Adds Moran: “They’re scared he’s going to grow up and be a chef.”
Evan S. Benn is food editor of the Miami Herald and restaurants editor of Miami.com. Follow him on Twitter: @EvanBenn.
To contact David Lanster and Kelly Moran with cooking inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cold Cherry Soup
A summertime go-to for David Lanster and Kelly Moran, who make extra batches when cherries are in season and freeze enough to have through the winter.
2 pounds fresh sour cherries, pitted (reserve the pits)
6-8 whole cloves
2 sticks cinnamon, crushed
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups Champagne
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 orange
Wrap the cherry pits in cheesecloth and whack them with a pestle or hammer to break them. Combine crushed cinnamon stick and cloves to pits, secure the bag with kitchen twine, and put in a saucepan with the cherries, water, Champagne and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes, when the cherries will be very soft.
Remove the cheesecloth bag and purée the soup. Return soup to the pot with the cheesecloth bag, orange juice, lemon juice and grated orange zest. Reheat on low, removing from heat when soup thickens. Cool, remove cheesecloth bag and refrigerate until chilled and ready to serve.
Lanster and Moran garnish their soup with Champagne foam, salted orange meringues, creme fraiche and fresh mint.