Articles in Chefs w/recipe

Yellow corn soup with sautéed crab and chives. Credit: David Latt

As this best part of summer delivers a ready-to-eat bounty of fresh vegetables to the kitchen, Luigi Fineo, executive chef at West Hollywood’s RivaBella Ristorante, shows off a large bowl of Iowa yellow corn. With one taste, Fineo knew what he would do with these fat sun-ripened kernels. He would make a healthy, sweet tasting soup.

The youngest of five, Fineo grew up in southern Italy in Gioia del Colle. Like many chefs, he learned to love cooking in his mother’s kitchen. Helping to prepare the family’s meals, she taught him the basics. That early training would serve him well as he worked in demanding restaurants around the world from Francesco Berardinelli’s Shooeneck Ristorante in Falzes, Italy, to Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif..

From the outside, RivaBella has the appearance of just another upscale restaurant. Inside, the sprawling interior is set-dressed to look like an elegant version of a rustic Italian country inn. Full-sized trees and a 7-foot tall brick hearth dominate the interior. During the day when the retractable ceiling is open, the bright blue Southern California sky hangs overhead.

The current menu recalls the kitchen of Fineo’s mother and the refinements of his colleague, owner-chef Gino Angelini, who helped popularize quality Italian cooking in Los Angeles. The entrees include fine-dining versions of Italian classics: risotto with porcini mushrooms, spinach lasagna, Veal Milanese and pasta with broccolini and salmoriglio.

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A bowl of Iowa corn used to make a yellow corn soup with sautéed crab and chives, prepared by Chef Luigi Fineo in the kitchen at RivaBella Ristorante, West Hollywood, Calif. Credit: David Latt

Reflecting his time spent in Santa Monica’s La Botte where he earned a Michelin star, Fineo also enjoys using the high-tech tools that are popular in many contemporary restaurant kitchens.

For his slow-cooked lamb shoulder ragù, he adds summer flavor with peaches he dehydrates, then rehydrates in a white wine bath flavored with cinnamon, anise and bay leaves. The handmade pappardelle he serves with the ragù is made with flour, flavored with a fine pistachio powder that is first frozen in liquid nitrogen before being  ground into the fine powder.

Of the corn, by the corn and for the corn

When I first tasted the corn soup at RivaBella, it was so velvety, I asked if heavy cream or butter were used. The answer was neither.

In his kitchen for the video demonstration, Chef Fineo explained that he did not need cream or butter to create his soup. All he needed was farm-fresh Iowa corn, a little water, a pinch or two of salt and a lot of stirring.

Usually when Fineo makes soups, he begins with a sauté of shallots and aromatics. Cooking with corn, he’s inclined to roast the kernels. But with this sweet corn, he decided he didn’t need to add flavor and he didn’t need to employ any high-tech machines. To prepare his corn soup, he would return to the basics he learned from his mother.

Yellow Sweet Corn Soup

Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Because, essentially there is only one ingredient, use high quality, fresh corn to create a soup that is healthy and delicious. When picking corn, choose ears that have green, healthy husks and kernels that are plump. If the kernels are indented or the husks are brown, choose different ears. In the restaurant, the soup is served with fresh crabmeat to enhance its upscale qualities. But Fineo recommends that the soup is a treat served entirely as a vegetarian or vegan dish.

Ingredients

  • 12 ears yellow corn, shucked, washed, pat dried
  • ¾ cup water
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
  • ½ cup crab meat, preferably crab leg meat (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper (optional)

Directions

  1. Using a sharp knife, cut the raw kernels from the cobs.
  2. Working in batches, two cups at a time, place the kernels into a large blender and blend with just enough water, about one tablespoon water for each cup of kernels. To create a vortex, if needed, add more water.
  3. Blend each batch about 45 seconds.
  4. Again, working in batches, strain the resulting corn mash through a chinois or a fine meshed strainer, capturing the liquid in a large bowl. To release all the liquid, press on the corn mash gently, using the back of a large ladle or large kitchen spoon.
  5. Transfer the corn juice to a large saucepan or small stock pot and place uncovered on the stove.
  6. Using high heat, bring the liquid to a boil and then lower to medium.
  7. Using a wire whisk, gently stir the liquid 30 to 40 minutes until reaching the desired thickness. Very importantly, the liquid must be stirred constantly to prevent the corn’s sugars from sticking to the bottom and burning.
  8. As the liquid thickens, lower the heat.
  9. Taste and add sea salt as desired. Serve hot, topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of finely chopped chives.
  10. Optionally, in a non-stick pan on low heat, sauté the crab pieces in olive oil or butter until crispy on all sides, then place one or two pieces on top of each bowl of soup and garnish with chives and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Instead of crab, Chef Fineo also recommends using shrimp or scallops.
  11. Season with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Drain the crab on a paper towel. Place on top of the soup. Drizzle with olive oil and finely chopped chives.

Main photo: Yellow corn soup with sautéed crab and chives. Credit: David Latt

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Chef Drago's diet-friendly spelt panzanella salad. Credit: David Latt

Chef Giacomino Drago smiles a lot. The youngest member of a family of cooks to immigrate from Sicily, Drago, along with his brothers, has opened a dozen restaurants in Los Angeles, many in Beverly Hills, over the past four decades.

A contributor to the Beverly Hills Centennial Cookbook,” Drago declares that using the highest quality, freshest ingredients is the essence of Italian cooking. In his video he demonstrates an easy-to-prepare, classic Italian panzanella salad with diet-friendly spelt instead of bread.

Drago enjoys cooking. He smiles as he drops a handful of spaghetti into one of the half dozen pots of salted water on the stove and when he quickly renders a red onion into a mound of thin, pungent ribbons.

Come to Italy, he says, and one of the first salads you will eat is one made with vine-ripened tomatoes,  basil, red onions, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Simplicity, he says several times, is the essence of Italian cooking. Find the freshest, highest-quality ingredients and prepare them in what Drago calls the rustic way, roughly cut so the dish is not overly fussy. The result is delicious, healthy food that is easy and fun to make.

A panzanella salad is the perfect dish for summer. To pursue the “current fashion,” as he puts it, he has traded spelt for bread in a signature salad at Via Alloro in Beverly Hills. He chose spelt because it has a refreshing texture and nutty quality that contrasts well with the acid of the tomato and vinegar. A heritage grain and cousin to wheat, spelt was developed hundreds of years ago as a flour in bread making. High in protein and fiber, Drago says spelt is heart-healthy because it is high in niacin. Because “panzanella” refers to a bread (“pane”) salad, it might be more accurate to call chef’s creation a speltzanella.

Chef Drago loves all his restaurants. But he designed the kitchen at Via Alloro in a special way. The area where the line cooks work is a horseshoe space with stoves in the middle and counters running along the walls. There are no dead-ends in this kitchen. Moving efficiently Drago and Executive Chef Paolo Sicuro prepare dishes with an unhurried ease, transferring their love of cooking onto the plates.

Fresh tomatoes are key to the flavor and pleasures of the salad. To protect the tomatoes’ richness of flavor, Drago insists they must never be refrigerated. That is why buying tomatoes from farmers markets is so important. Supermarket tomatoes may have been refrigerated for days, even weeks during their journey from the field to your kitchen.

Drago is precise about his cooking but flexible in terms of ingredients and seasoning. When cooking at home, he encourages that you use only ingredients you enjoy. If you do not like onions, don’t use them in the salad. The same goes for cucumbers and ground black pepper.

Diet-Friendly Spelt Panzanella Salad

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings as a salad portion, 2 servings as an entrée.

To capture all the tomato juice, chef cuts the tomatoes over the bowl. Use a variety of tomatoes for contrasts in shape, color and flavor. For the demonstration, Drago and Siruro used vine ripened, cherry and grape tomatoes. Yellow and heirloom tomatoes could also be added for contrast. To make the onion slices more “friendly,” Drago suggests double rinsing in water. This will result in a more mild flavor. Not widely available, spelt berries can be purchased in specialty markets and ordered online from purveyors such as Bob’s Red Mill. Cooked like pasta in boiling salted water, kosher salt should be used for the cleanest taste. Chef Drago uses English or hothouse cucumbers for the dish. If those are not available, Persian cucumbers would be a good substitute because they have a lower water content than garden cucumbers. The spelt may be cooked ahead and refrigerated. The other ingredients should be prepared immediately before serving to preserve their freshness.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons spelt
  • 2 medium-sized tomatoes, washed, stem removed, cut into a small dice, reserving the liquid
  • 5 cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered
  • 5 plum tomatoes, washed, quartered
  • 1 small hothouse cucumber, washed, skin on, a small dice the same size as the tomatoes (optional)
  • ¼ medium red onion, washed, root and stem removed, thin sliced (optional)
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, washed, pat dried, roughly torn or chopped
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Pinch of salt to taste
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Directions

  1. Add kosher salt to three quarts of water. Bring to a rapid boil. Add spelt. Boil uncovered 30-50 minutes or longer depending on the desired doneness. Taste at 30 minutes to determine what is al dente for you and then again at 10-minute intervals until you reach the texture you like. I prefer cooking the spelt 50 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool
  2. Using a sharp paring knife, cut the tomatoes over the salad bowl to capture all the juices.
  3. Cut the skin-on cucumber into pieces similar in size to the tomatoes and add to the bowl.
  4. Slice the red onion. Submerge in cold water, rinse, drain, submerge in fresh cold water, rinse and drain. Add to the tomatoes and cucumbers.
  5. Add the cooked spelt berries.
  6. Roughly chop the basil leaves or tear them with your hands. Add to the salad bowl.
  7. Toss the spelt, vegetables and aromatics with the extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar.
  8. Season with sea salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper, as desired.
  9. Serve as a salad or a side with grilled meats, fish and poultry.

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Chef Gavin Stephenson tends to his bees. Credit: The Fairmont Olympic Hotel

Gavin Stephenson, the former chef of London’s Savoy hotel who has overseen kitchens at The Georgian and Shuckers restaurants at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle for more than a decade, began his beekeeping program three years ago on the rooftop of this historic hotel that stands as a regal homage to a more refined and cultured past.

The ornate columns of the gold-gilded Georgian Restaurant might seem an odd counterpoint to the chef’s rooftop beekeeping program, a pursuit more commonly associated with the do-it-yourself artisan food restaurants sprinkled throughout Seattle’s quirky neighborhoods such as Queen Anne, Fremont and Ballard. But Stephenson’s honey program reflects the Fairmont hotel chain’s dedication to sustainability and commitment to sourcing locally at notable restaurants around the world, including in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Vancouver, Canada; Beijing; Singapore; London; Monte Carlo, Monaco; and Cairo.

At the Fairmont in Seattle, honey is drizzled over hot scones and homemade butter during The Georgian’s afternoon tea, bottles of Rooftop Honey are gifted to special guests, tangy local cheese is mellowed by ribbons of honey and the Pacific Northwest staple of salmon is sweetened with a glistening lacquer of it. Stephenson has even partnered with local brewery Pike Place to concoct a honey-infused beer.

Bees and beekeeping starting to catch on

The chef’s love of beekeeping has even spilled over into his own backyard, where he now keeps several hives for personal use. He says his neighbors were at first wary of getting stung by the bees but have since warmed to the idea, many now asking Stephenson for advice about keeping bees themselves. It’s a noble pursuit for a chef with a distinguished career in the kitchen and, more recently, on the rooftop.

I recently sat down with Stephenson at the Fairmont to find out more about his bees and beekeeping.

Why did you decide to start the honey program at the Fairmont Olympic and why is it important to you?

I was introduced to Corky Luster from Ballard Bee Co., who taught urban beekeeping. Colony collapse disorder is detrimental to our ecosystem, so I wanted to make a difference and do the right thing. At first it was very time consuming, but now it’s a labor of love. Not only is beekeeping beneficial to our environment and society, it’s also awesome to incorporate the honey into my menus at The Georgian and Shuckers.

Have you faced any challenges in getting the program up and running?

Absolutely. I’ve lost several hives. Urban beekeeping is a challenge on an exposed roof in the city 12 stories high. Washington beehives are sensitive to moisture and to extreme temperature changes. We had a few spring days with inclement weather that the bees could not handle. It was devastating every time I lost a hive. Mother Nature is a powerful reality.

Have you learned anything about honey production that surprised you?

You can have eight hives in a row and each hive produces honey with entirely different flavors. I learned that I cannot control the flavor of the honey. My bees travel up to 6 miles per day, and they have countless opportunities to pollinate flowers all over Seattle. The pollen and nectar that the worker bees extract can vary between the blackberries near the waterfront to the rooftop gardens throughout Pike Place Market and downtown Seattle.

Is the community of Seattle supportive of your efforts?

Absolutely! Everyone wants to know how the process works and I have had so many visitors interested in setting up their own hives. There are only a couple of entities downtown practicing beekeeping, so I look forward for others to join in on the fun and to contribute to a healthy environment.

Can you share a recipe featuring honey? What is your favorite thing about this recipe and its origin and any special tips for its preparation?

My favorite recipe is the Smoked Salmon Skewers With Rooftop Honey [recipe follows]. I enjoy the smoked flavor paired with the sweet flavors of honey.

What advice do you have for home beekeepers or other chefs who would like to produce honey?

Get ready to get stung. Buy an EpiPen [an epinephrine injection used in the case of an allergic reaction]. Don’t be alarmed when the female worker bees throw the male drone bees off your 12-story roof in the fall. No pun intended.

Smoked Salmon Skewers With Rooftop Honey

Yield: 4 servings, 12 (6-inch) skewers

Courtesy of chef Gavin Stephenson and The Georgian Restaurant

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound King salmon belly
  • 2 tablespoons Rooftop Honey or honey of choice
  • 2 tablespoons Rooftop Honey Mustard
  • Necessary equipment:
  • 12 (6-inch) bamboo skewers
  • Wood chips smoker

Directions

  1. To make cure, mix together brown sugar, lemon zest and kosher salt.
  2. Cut salmon into finger-size pieces, about 3 inches by ¾ inches.
  3. Place salmon pieces onto bamboo skewers and place on tray, then sprinkle liberally with cure.
  4. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. Move to a clean pan.
  6. Set up smoker and smoke the salmon for 5 minutes.
  7. Bake salmon at 280 F to desired degree of doneness, about 8 minutes.
  8. Drizzle with warm Rooftop Honey or serve with Rooftop Honey Mustard.

Main photo: Chef Gavin Stephenson tends to his bees. Credit: The Fairmont Olympic Hotel

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Coho salmon filet with crispy skin on a bed of parsnip puree with chanterelle mushrooms with a beurre blanc sauce in chef Taylor Boudreaux's kitchen at the Napa Valley Grille. Credit: David Latt

One of the delights of eating in a restaurant is enjoying a dish that seems difficult to create at home. Getting crispy skin on a salmon filet is right up there with making flaky pie crust or mastering an airy dessert soufflé that can survive the transfer from oven to table.

Helping bring one of those dishes to the home kitchen, executive chef Taylor Boudreaux reveals a restaurant chef’s easy-to-follow technique to create crispy skin on a salmon filet in his kitchen at the Napa Valley Grille in West Los Angeles.

Boudreaux prefers quality ingredients sourced from sustainable purveyors. He also adheres to the “less is more” approach, which he demonstrates with his preparation of Coho salmon. Easy to prepare, the dish is elegant enough to be the centerpiece of a romantic dinner for two, a dinner for friends for  New Year’s Eve or any celebration.

Children of military parents often lament having to move frequently, leaving behind friends and schools. Yet, there are those rare individuals for whom the glass-half-full becomes a golden opportunity. Because his dad was assigned to military bases around the country, Boudreaux was able to explore different parts of the United States. Regional food became his passion.

Preferring a country style of cooking instead of the rarefied gastronomic alchemy favored by many fine-dining chefs, Boudreaux likes to feature a few elements, presented as close to their original state as possible.

Leaving the chanterelles whole lends a rustic flair to the plate. Parsnips give up their native texture to become a creamy foundation for the filet of moist salmon with its contrasting crisp skin.

Some chefs use deep-frying to turn fish skin into crispy deliciousness. Boudreaux says a healthier way is to employ a sauté pan.

Chef Taylor Boudreaux in the Napa Valley Grille kitchen. Credit: David Latt

Chef Taylor Boudreaux in the Napa Valley Grille kitchen. Credit: David Latt

Pan-Seared Coho Salmon With Field Foraged Mushrooms and Parsnip Purée

The recipe is portioned for one. Multiply the ingredients by the number of servings. Depending on the size of the sauté pan, two to four filets can be cooked at the same time.

In addition to quality ingredients, Boudreaux stresses the importance of using a pan that can accept high heat. Because high heat is essential to creating crisp skin, chef uses a 20/80 mix of olive and canola oil. Canola oil can tolerate the high heat. Olive oil adds flavor to the sauté. Do not allow the hot oils to catch fire. The flames may be entertaining but they add an unpleasant flavor.

Instead of parsnips, Boudreaux sometimes uses potatoes or turnips, using the same ingredient portions and technique.

Serves 1

Parsnip Purée

Ingredients

1 cup parsnips, washed, peeled, roughly chopped

1 cup heavy cream

Directions

1. Place the chopped parsnips in a saucepan and cover with heavy cream.

2. Simmer till fork tender.

3. Place parsnip in blender and purée till smooth.

4. Add more cream, if necessary, to adjust consistency.

5. Pass through fine mesh and season with salt.

6. Return to a small saucepan. Reheat when the filet has come out of the oven and is ready for plating.

Chanterelle Mushrooms

Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil

2 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, washed, pat dried

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon butter

1 sprig thyme

1 clove garlic, washed, peeled, crushed by hand

Directions

1. In a hot sauté pan add 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil and sauté mushrooms on high heat.

2. When just caramelized, season with salt and pepper and add 1 tablespoon butter, sprig thyme and 1 fresh garlic clove.

3. Remove from heat and let butter brown, being careful not to burn the butter.

4. Discard thyme and garlic.

5. Set the mushroom dish aside. Reheat just before plating the fish.

Beurre Blanc

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 ounces white wine

1 shallot, washed, peeled, fine chopped

1 thyme sprig, washed, pat dried

4 to 6 black peppercorns, whole

1 garlic clove, washed, peeled, fine chopped

4 tablespoons sweet butter

1 half lemon, seeds removed

Sea salt to taste

Directions

1. In a saucepan, reduce by two-thirds 2 ounces of white wine. Add chopped shallots, garlic, thyme sprig, and peppercorns and simmer.

2. Whisk in 4 tablespoons butter to emulsify.

3. Season with sea salt and pepper.

4. Taste and add acid with a squeeze of fresh lemon.

5. Remove peppercorns

Pan-Seared Salmon

Ingredients

1 skin-on filet of salmon (6 ounce), washed, pat dry

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

4 teaspoons canola oil

2 tablespoons sweet butter

Sea salt and pepper to taste

1 garlic clove, washed, peeled, crushed by hand

1 sprig thyme, washed, pat dried

1 tablespoon microgreens, washed and patted dried or Italian parsley, washed and finely chopped

Directions

1. Place the filet flesh side down on a cutting board. Using a sharp paring knife, in the middle of the filet, make a 4-inch incision in the skin (not the flesh).

2. Heat sauté pan until smoking.

3. Add blended olive oil and canola oil to coat pan.

4. Lightly sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground pepper on both sides of the filet.

5. When oil smokes, lay seasoned fish skin side down. Because the heat will cause the salmon to curl up on the ends, use the fish spatula to lightly press down on the filet.

6. Cook till skin is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. When the skin has crisped,  it will be easy to lift from the pan.

7. Using a fish spatula, turn filet over so flesh side is down. Place in a preheated 350 F oven 6 to 8 minutes or until a temperature thermometer reads 125 F for medium rare.

8. Remove from oven and place pan on burner.

9. On medium heat add 1 tablespoon butter, a crushed garlic clove and thyme sprig.

Using a soup spoon, baste filet with butter as butter browns. Do not over brown butter.

10. Remove from pan to plate.

Directions for plating

1. Using the back of a soup spoon, spread the parsnip purée on the bottom of the plate.

2. Place the salmon filet on the purée in the middle of the plate, crispy skin side up.

3. Scatter the chanterelles along the sides of the filet.

4. Drizzle the beurre blanc on the plate and over the filet.

5. Decorate the top of the filet with microgreens or Italian parsley.

6. Serve hot with a dry white or sparking wine.

Watch Chef Boudreaux demonstrate the dish here:

Coho salmon filet with crispy skin on a bed of parsnip purée with chanterelle mushrooms with a beurre blanc sauce in chef Taylor Boudreaux’s kitchen at the Napa Valley Grille. Credit: David Latt

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Alaskan king crab. Credit: Kathy Gunst

It’s close to 6 in the morning, and the sky is muted and streaked with pink, white and blue stripes. I am on Kachemak Bay in a bright yellow kayak, and the water is as flat as a calm lake. A family of otters — a mother and two young cubs — swims alongside. Snowcapped mountains lie ahead in the distance. This is what dawn feels like in Alaska in the summer. The only problem: Alaska is so far north that the sun never sets this time of year, so kayaking or any other activity is done after a fitful sleep spent trying to keep out the light.

The idea of sunlight 24 hours a day sounds great. But, trust me, around midnight — or 3 a.m. or close to 6 a.m. — when your body is exhausted but your mind is saying, “Let’s go for another kayak ride,” it all begins to feel like a cruel joke.

Sleeping was my biggest problem on a recent trip to Alaska. Actually it was my only problem.

I traveled to a small wilderness lodge called Tutka Bay, located at the head of a seven-mile fjord on Kachemak Bay, off the coast near Homer, Alaska. I was there to do the things I love most: write, cook, exercise and see wildlife.

I wrote each morning with the guidance of two mentors, cookbook and memoirist Molly O’Neill and poet Carolyn Forche. In the afternoon we learned to cook Alaskan specialties.

Tutka Bay Lodge’s Cooking School, located in a dry-docked converted herring boat, may be the only cooking school in the world without electricity or running water. You’d think it’s impossible to cook without those two basic elements, but using portable butane burner stove tops and a huge water cooler, matched with the talent of chef and lodge owner Kirsten Dixon, the cooking classes were flawless.

Dixon, who has lived in Alaska for more than 30 years and written several cookbooks, has become a kind of ambassador for Alaskan cuisine. She, along with her assistant Christie Maggi, taught us about the history, influences and current state of Alaskan cuisine.

Alaskan cooking school makes local ingredients shine

Yes, there is such a thing as Alaskan cuisine. And no, it’s not (just) moose stew, reindeer burgers and potatoes. We were introduced to sophisticated dishes like king crab beignets, cold smoked salmon with brown sugar brûlée, local oysters with pickled cauliflower and juniper crème fraîche topping, sourdough biscuits with house-made sweetened ricotta, and rhubarb preserves.

“Most people think we are too far off the beaten track to have a cuisine,” Dixon explains. “But there is a vibrant culinary scene here. Young chefs in Anchorage are beginning to pay attention to local foods, farmers markets and native traditions.”

Using ingredients such as seafood (Alaskan salmon, cod and halibut being the most obvious) and foraged foods such as sea asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, seaweed, mushrooms and wild berries, the food you find in much of Alaska is no longer frozen and flown in from the lower 48, but now focuses on local ingredients.

The state of Alaska even offers subsidies to chefs who use local ingredients. “This subsidy helps promote the use of locally grown Alaskan food,” Dixon notes, “and really encourages Alaskan chefs to shop in-state.”

Eating local, shopping local and growing your own food is something Alaskans feel passionate about. During the summer months, many try to grow, preserve and freeze enough fresh food to last them through the long winter.

“The thing about Alaskans is that we have this homesteading mentality,” Dixon says. “We are a can-do people. There is a degree of self-sufficiency and a joy about living close to the land. Alaskans pride themselves in surviving without a Whole Foods.”

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A sign at the Tutka Bay lodge. Credit: Kathy Gunst

With the longest coastline in the U.S. (33,000 miles), the seafood that comes from Alaskan waters is superb. The extreme cold temperature of the water produces some of the best oysters I’ve ever tasted. But it’s salmon that’s king. There are five distinct types of salmon that come from the Pacific Ocean off the Alaskan coast: Chinook, or King, is highly prized and the largest species (weighing in at up to 150 pounds). Coho, or Silver, salmon is smaller with a fine texture. Sockeye is famous for its deep red color and mild flavor. There’s also Chum and Pink salmon.

Virtually every day I was in Alaska I ate salmon — fresh, smoked, pickled, grilled, barbecued and sautéed — and never grew tired of it. Eating fresh Alaskan salmon was like tasting salmon for the first time. It has such a buttery texture and fresh, explosive flavor that it’s nearly unrecognizable.

Alaskan-born Chef Rob Kinnan of Crush Bistro in Anchorage says when he came to the East Coast and tasted farm-raised salmon for the first time he couldn’t believe the fish was related to the salmon he grew up eating in Alaska. “It was like someone leeched all the flavor, texture and nutritional value out of the fish,” he explained. “Cold water means more fat in the fish, which equals more flavor. The fish create fat to insulate themselves in these very cold Alaskan waters.”

Benefits of an all-daylight growing cycle

Although I had a hard time with the 24-hour a day sunlight, it has its advantages for farmers in Alaska. The growing season is short (a mere 100 days) but intense. Crops can soak in the sun all night and day, which means Alaska grows incredible produce: broccoli and cauliflower the size of watermelons; berries and oversized root vegetables; winter-hearty vegetables like kale, rutabagas and potatoes. Because the state was once dominated by glaciers, much of the underlying subsurface is glacial till, silt and sand. This is rich soil.

With such a short season and the cost of shipping food from other places prohibitively expensive, the cooks at Tutka Bay do a lot of canning and preserving. In my few days there I sampled pickled cherries, fennel and cauliflower, not to mention a gorgeous selection of jams, jellies and preserves from local berries and fruit.

“Putting up” seasonal foods dictates a lot of what goes on during an Alaskan summer. Dixon talks about the troubles she has during berry season. It’s not just the bears that want a piece of the action. “There’s this ritual in Alaska that when the berries are ripe — blueberries, raspberries, huckleberries — women go out and pick for days, camping and make a ritual of it. It’s hard to get people to come to work when there’s berries to be picked.”

Dixon laughs at her own story. She points to a group from her kitchen that has just gotten back from a hike around the lodge foraging for fresh herbs and seaweed for the evening’s menu. Tonight we will eat roast Alaskan duck, a salad with foraged herbs and smoked salmon, and an assortment of pickles. After dinner, while it’s still perfectly light, we will walk along the bay, look for seals and otters and watch the brightly lit night sky. And then I will try to get some sleep.

Kachemak Bay. Credit: Mandy Lindeberg / National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Photo Library

Kachemak Bay. Credit: Mandy Lindeberg / National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration

Quick Pickled Cauliflower

Makes 4 to 6 accompaniment servings, depending on the size of the cauliflower head

At Tutka Bay, Chef Kirsten Dixon serves these pickles on top of fresh-shucked raw local oysters and tops them with crème fraîche seasoned with juniper berries.

Ingredients 

2 cups cider vinegar

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon whole allspice

1 teaspoon cardamom seeds

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 cloves garlic

1 head of cauliflower, shaved into thin slices

Directions 

1. Mix all ingredients except cauliflower in a non-reactive pot and bring to a boil over high heat.

2. Place cauliflower in a bowl and pour hot liquid on top. Allow mixture to steep for at least an hour. The mixture can then be used, refrigerated for up to a month or canned.

Top photo: Alaskan king crab. Credit: Kathy Gunst

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Even an unrepentant meat eater like myself takes pause before the gory spectacle of tauromachia, the so-called art of bullfighting. Not that I’ve attended an actual Spanish corrida de toros, but I’ve recently seen Francesco Rosi’s painfully graphic 1965 film, “The Moment of Truth.” The “truth” of Spain’s traditional blood sport doesn’t get any more in your face than in Rosi’s classic tale of an aspiring young matador filmed on location at a huge bullring in Barcelona with a 300mm zoom lens used for soccer matches.

Animal rights advocates must have thrilled to the news in 2010 that bullfighting was being outlawed in Catalonia. From their perspective, a slaughterhouse bullet to an unsuspecting bovine brain is far more palatable than a matador’s sword “artistically” delivered between the shoulder blades to the heart of a charging one-ton toro.

After seeing Rosi’s film, I wished I could ask a bull: Would he prefer a painless but oblivious exit to one with suffering and style, or as bullfighting aficionados might say, con arte (with art)? As for me, I’d want to go con arte.

Bottom line, in either scenario the bull will be killed, butchered, cooked and eaten. Frankly, I’ve never considered bullfighting from a gastronomic perspective. I can now see, however, that the matador’s art form represents, in some sense at least, the first stage of an ancient life cycle ritual that ends, one way or another, at the dinner table.

A Spanish butcher in Berkeley

For all I knew, before Anzonini del Puerto arrived on the Berkeley scene in the late 1970s, the bloodied hulks dragged from bullrings were buried with cultural, if not military, honors. Anzonini, a legendary flamenco performer, butcher and cook from Andalusia (one of his nicknames was “butcher of bulls”) disabused me of my naïve disconnect.

As a young man, Anzonini, born Manuel Bermúdez Junquera in 1917, worked at his family’s carnicería (butcher shop) in Puerto de Santa María, near Jerez in southern Spain. Among his tasks was to help cart bulls from the ring and prepare the meat for sale. The family shop was located near the town’s majestic Plaza de Toros. Legend has it that Anzonini could break down an entire bull and be back at the bullring in time to see the next fight.

When Anzonini arrived in Berkeley to visit a group of young flamenco students who had seen him sing and dance in southern Spain, they were ecstatic. These would-be performers worshipped Anzonini not only for his magnetic arte on stage, but also for his gifts in the kitchen. All of which were on full display the night I met Anzonini at a small fiesta held in his honor.

The evening was special for everyone involved: Anzonini’s fans and those, like myself, who were witnessing and tasting his special talents for the first time. As for Anzonini that night, well, he fell in love. The object of his coup de coeur (I know no Spanish language equivalent) was my fellow Cheese Board co-worker and founder of the now legendary Swallow Café at the University of California Berkeley Art Museum, the late Patricia Darrow.

Anzonini’s favorite matador

Moving into Darrow’s small Gourmet Ghetto bungalow, Anzonini was soon presiding over local fiestas; performing, cooking and sharing stories about Spain with his adoring minions. I became one of Anzonini’s minions, and he bestowed upon me my flamenco name: Juan Ajo.

One story, recorded in Darrow’s unfinished manuscript about Anzonini and his food,  expressed his deep connection to the Spanish corrida, not merely its beefy spoils. His favorite matador was Curro Romero who was, according to Anzonini, usually terrible, unintentionally comedic and often cowardly. But on some occasions Curro surpassed himself and his fellow toreros with technical and stylistic genius.

Darrow quotes one of Anzonini’s quips about Curro’s unique presence in the ring:

Running away [from the bull] Curro has more arte than all the rest … That’s how I dance; twenty times badly and one time with arte.

Anzonini obviously saw himself in Curro, at least in terms of performance. But in the kitchen there was never any doubt about Anzonini’s brilliance, and the dishes we tasted over the years were invariably delicioso.

Cocina con arte

Anzonini’s tasty contributions to Berkeley’s gastronomic gestalt in the late 1970s and early ’80s are seldom referenced today. That his sausages, especially his chorizo, inspired important California chefs such as sausage king Bruce Aidells (see the scene in Les Blank’s 1980 film “Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers” where they make chorizo together), and were a popular item for sale at Chef Victoria Wise’s legendary Gourmet Ghetto charcuterie, Pig-by-the-Tail, is passed over in most published accounts of Berkeley’s revolutionary food scene.

Nevertheless, Anzonini and his cooking live on in the memories and stomachs of those who shared those exciting years with him in Berkeley. The aroma coming off his beefy Puchero, a classic Spanish soup simmering on my stove as I write this, is a ticket back to those delicious days when Anzonini del Puerto, butcher of bulls, served his inimitable cocina con arte.

Anzonini’s Puchero

Serves 10 to 12

One of Anzonini’s most celebrated dishes is a delicately seasoned soup/stew prepared with a variety of fatty meats; in this version, oxtails, short ribs and shank. He kept containers of the broth frozen in the refrigerator and would bring it to friends when they were sick. The dish can be served separately as a Sopa de Picadillo with chopped egg, ham and mint followed by a meat course accompanied by small potatoes cooked in the broth.

Ingredients

Anzonini's Puchero served as two courses: a soup, then meat and potatoes. Credit: L. John Harris

Anzonini’s Puchero served as two courses: a soup, then meat and potatoes. Credit: L. John Harris

For the broth:

6 to 8 quarts cold water

6 to 8 pounds beef (oxtails, short ribs, shank)

¾ pound salt pork

2 large tomatoes, quartered

2 large onions, quartered

1 large green bell pepper, sliced

2 to 4 bay leaves

8 to 10 black peppercorns

Salt to taste

Also:

2 dozen small boiling potatoes

3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

1 cup diced ham, preferably Spanish

Fresh mint leaves

Bread brushed with olive oil and toasted

lemon slices (optional)

Directions

1. The day before serving, bring all ingredients for the broth to a boil and skim off impurities. Continue cooking at a slow boil for 2 to 3 hours, until meat falls off the bones. Refrigerate overnight.

2. The next day, remove the fat layer that has solidified on top of the broth. Then heat the meat and broth and correct for salt. Remove the meats from the broth and discard the loose bones. Keep meat warm.

3. Boil potatoes in the broth until soft. Keep warm.

4. To serve, place a few teaspoons of chopped egg and diced ham in shallow soup bowls. Pour in the hot broth. Garnish with a mint leaf and serve with toasted bread. (Anzonini would fry the bread in olive oil.)

5. For the meat course, place meat back in remaining broth to heat through — a few minutes in simmering broth should do. Then serve the meat on plates with the potatoes. Hot broth can be placed on the table in gravy boats.

Note: Anzonini also served this broth in glasses with a slice of lemon and a mint leaf.

Top graphic: Gastro-graphical ISO street sign #4. Credit: L. John Harris

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Anchovy-stuffed olives wreathed in caramel hang from a bonsai tree. Credit: Nicole Quessenberry

It was my 75th birthday, and I had no idea what to expect. My family insisted it be a surprise. We edged our way through a busy commercial street in Girona, Catalonia, and an open doorway beckoned us into the peaceful, sunlit courtyard of El Celler de Can Roca. “A glass of Cava perhaps?” smiles our server, and so begins five hours of unparalleled feasting. El Celler de Can Roca opened 27 years ago and is run by three brothers: Joan at the kitchen range, Jordì the pastry chef and Josep the sommelier. The three have created a gourmet destination that combines past and future with extraordinary brilliance. This March it was named best restaurant in the world on a website sponsored by San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna.

Within the restaurant, the surroundings are strongly linked to the earth, with trees, pebbles and wood-paneled walls enclosing views on a miniature forest of birch trees, giving a feeling of the outdoors. In any restaurant, what’s on the plate should tell you where you are, and with our drinks arrives a tiny bonsai olive tree, instantly setting the scene. We crunch the hanging olives and our mouths burst with salty sweetness — the anchovy-stuffed fruits have been veiled in a whisp of caramel. What could be more symbolic of the ancient city of Girona in the mountains of northern Catalonia, flanked by olive groves running down to the Mediterranean Sea.

The olives lead into a tour of the world in tiny bites: a tomato and coriander guacamole from Mexico, an explosive ball of ceviche broth representing Peru, and pickled vegetables with plum cream as an echo of China. Visit on a different day and the world tour will be different we are told.

Elegant essences

Eager to explore, we opt for the menu of the day, which leads to some 25 eye-catching, palate-teasing tastings, several of them among the most intriguing I’ve encountered anywhere. Just a small spoonful of zarzuela, pungent and concentrated, sums up the essence of the rustic Catalonian fish soup. A single prawn from the nearby port of Palamos provides astonishingly intensive tastes of raw tail, dried feelers, toasted liver meat, and jus from the shell — I would never have thought such a barrage of varied flavors could be extracted from one small beast.

A classic brunoise of baby peas, mango and pear awaits its bath of hot vegetable broth. Credit: Simon Cherniavsky

A classic brunoise of baby peas, mango and pear awaits its bath of hot vegetable broth. Credit: Simon Cherniavsky

Old and new cuisine combine in the two or three mouthfuls of crisp baby pig belly moistened with a Riesling jus, and the pigeon in a classic salmis blood, and liver sauce spiked with nuggets of candied walnut, a mastery of richness and intensity. Though the tastings are tiny, the ingredients are not treated as playthings (one of the great drawbacks of today’s Modernist cuisine). As the meal progresses, it’s clear that Chef Joan is focusing on regional ingredients — fish such as red mullet and bream, are typical of the Mediterranean, the green and black olives are local, pork comes from Iberian pigs, and game from the foothills of the mountains. Some seasonings hark back to the Arabs — rose water, honey, ras el hanout, saffron and orange.

Contemporary tradition

The cooking at Can Roca has roots, but no way could it have been achieved without an ultra-modern kitchen. On arrival, we had been welcomed backstage to see the banks of buttons, stainless steel and gadgetry. The restaurant has lots of staff, too: 35 cooks in the kitchen and a couple dozen servers for perhaps 50 guests. The staff is as international as the diners, John from Philadelphia had just completed seven months at the stove, and Rocio, our server and guide, was from Valencia in southern Spain.

The brothers Roca, from left to right, Jordì, Joan, and Josep. Credit: El Celler de Can

The brothers Roca, from left to right, Jordì, Joan, and Josep. Credit: El Celler de Can

Among the abundance of dishes, the astonishing truffle soufflé stands out, a 2-inch round of feather-light hot truffle mousse enclosed in discs of fresh black truffle, set on a round of warm bone marrow and served under a glass bell which, when lifted, pervades the air with a hint of BBQ smoke. I like to think of myself as a soufflé expert, but I cannot imagine how this tour de force could be carried from the kitchen to diner after diner with never a hint of collapse.

Are the Roca brothers a successor to their former neighbor, Ferran Adrià at el Bullì? The two restaurants share the same Catalonian spice-perfumed air, the freshest of fish, the olive oil and garlic and warm registers of cardamom, cinnamon and cumin that date back to medieval times, backed up the rust red of paprika brought from the New World.

But Adrià, who creates imaginary images and flavors, the Roca brothers focus on real food on the plate. What distinguishes them from other Modernist chefs is their use of modern techniques against a background of tradition. If this is where the gastronomic future lies, let’s pursue it with gusto!

Salty-Sweet Olives

Guests exclaim in surprise when tasting these salty olives dipped in caramel. They will hold up an hour or two, perfect with a glass of cava sparkling white wine, or a very dry martini.

Makes about 30 to 40  olives

Salty-sweet olives on foil. Credit: Courtesy of Anne Willan

Salty-sweet olives on foil. Credit: Courtesy of Anne Willan

Ingredients

1 cup (about 5 ounces) anchovy-stuffed olives in brine

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Long toothpicks

Directions

1. Drain the olives and dry them very thoroughly on paper towels, squeezing slightly to extract as much brine as possible. This helps the caramel remain crisp. Spear each olive on a toothpick. Set them on a tray lined with paper towels and chill them, uncovered. Prepare a large bowl of hot water, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

2. Mix the sugar and water in a small, deep saucepan. (You will have leftover syrup, but this amount is needed for dipping.) Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, stirring once or twice. Bring the syrup to a boil and boil without stirring to the hard crack, 294 F/146 C on a sugar thermometer. The syrup should be just starting to color. Take at once from the heat and plunge base of the pan into the bowl of hot water to stop cooking.

3. Holding an olive with the toothpick, dip it into the syrup (the syrup sets quicker on cold olives). Lift out, twirl so the olive is lightly coated, let cool a few seconds so the syrup solidifies, and set the olive on the parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining olives. The syrup may start to set, and if so reheat it until liquid and keep going.

4. Transfer the olives to a platter for serving. Serve them at room temperature.

Top photo: Anchovy-stuffed olives wreathed in caramel hang from a bonsai tree. Credit: Nicole Quessenberry

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Kaeng Massaman Pae, or goat curry. Credit: Christopher Cina

A few years ago, the national food media began having a field day with goat meat as the next big thing among chefs in major markets.

Though it’s a truism that contemporary American culinary trends move from coastal cities inland — largely as a matter of demographics, whereby more diverse populations are quicker to import traditions and ingredients from other countries — heartlanders in this case had a bit of a leg up. After all, this is ranch country; just as you tend to see more locally raised lamb and buffalo on menus in Colorado than you will elsewhere, I was spotting goat at Denver’s upscale restaurants before I was reading about it in, say, the New York Times.

While working on an upcoming cookbook, “Denver & Boulder Chef’s Table” (Globe Pequot, August 2013), I had the pleasure of collaborating with chef-restaurateur Mark Fischer, who first rose to statewide acclaim with the now-shuttered six89 in Carbondale and has since gone on to open several restaurants, including The Pullman in Glenwood Springs, Town in Carbondale and Harman’s Eat & Drink in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood. Fischer has been at the forefront of local, seasonal sourcing in these parts — and remains so even at his Southeast Asian-inspired establishment, Phat Thai (also in Carbondale). The goat curry he serves there exemplifies his ability to keep one foot in Colorado, one foot far beyond.

This recipe is admittedly labor-intensive, requiring most of a day to complete — but it’s well worth the trouble. Fischer highly recommends ordering the goat meat directly from a butcher and cooking it all, though you’ll have plenty extra; it will keep frozen, carefully wrapped first in plastic and then in foil, for about a month. Many other ingredients should be available at your local Asian market.

Kaeng Massaman Pae (Goat Curry)

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the goat:

10 pounds goat legs, chopped into pieces with a cleaver

Kosher salt and black pepper

¼ cup olive oil, plus extra as needed

12 garlic cloves, smashed

8 shallots, sliced

4 dried New Mexico chilies, roasted in a dry frying pan until fragrant, soaked in warm water, de-stemmed and de-seeded

2 stalks lemongrass, peeled, trimmed and sliced thinly

1 (2-inch) piece galangal, peeled and sliced thinly

2 cinnamon sticks, crushed

5 cardamom seeds, 5 cloves and 1 tablespoon cumin seed, all dry-roasted in a frying pan and ground in a spice grinder or coffee mill

8 cups coconut milk

2 cups chicken stock, plus extra as necessary

For the massaman curry paste:

12 garlic cloves, smashed

8 shallots, thinly sliced

4 dried New Mexico chilies, soaked in enough warm water to provide 1 reserved cup liquid, de-stemmed and de-seeded

2 stalks lemongrass, peeled, trimmed and sliced thin

1 tablespoon shrimp paste, wrapped in foil and set in a dry pan over high heat until fragrant

1 (2-inch) piece galangal, peeled and sliced thin

20 cardamom seeds, 10 cloves and 1 tablespoon cumin seed, all dry-roasted in a frying pan and ground in a spice grinder or coffee mill

2 cinnamon sticks, crushed

1 piece nutmeg, grated

1 bunch cilantro

For the curry base:

2 tablespoons blended oil

4 tablespoons minced jalapeño

4 tablespoons minced shallots

4 tablespoons minced garlic

¼ cup palm sugar

4 cups peeled, diced sweet potato, blanched in salted boiling water

4 cups gai lan (Chinese broccoli), trimmed, de-stemmed, cut into 1-inch pieces and blanched in salted boiling water

4 cups coconut milk

Good-quality fish sauce to taste

For serving:

4 tablespoons roasted, chopped peanuts

4 tablespoons coconut cream

4 tablespoons green onion, chopped

4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

1 cup jasmine rice, cooked according to package instructions to yield about 3 cups

Special equipment:

Two large roasting pans

A large wok

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 275 F.

2. Season the goat pieces generously with salt and pepper. In a very large skillet, heat olive oil over a burner on high. Sear and brown the pieces a few minutes on all sides, working in batches (adding more oil as needed) and removing the pieces to large roasting pans as you go.

3. Discard all but a film of oil from the skillet. Add remaining dry ingredients and cook over medium-high heat, stirring until well integrated (a couple of minutes); then add the coconut milk and stock and bring to a simmer.

4. Divide the contents among the roasting pans. The meat should be completely submerged; if not, add more stock to cover. Cover the pans with foil and braise in the oven for about 8 hours, or until the meat is falling from the bone.

5. Remove the meat from the pans and strain the braising liquid into a separate container; let cool.

6. When the meat is ready to handle, pull from the bone and shred by hand.

7. Transfer shredded meat and braising liquid into a large pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

8. Adjust seasoning to taste, remove from heat and set aside.

9. Meanwhile, begin the curry. To make the paste, mix to incorporate all ingredients in a bowl. Transfer to a food processor and grind, adding just enough of the reserved chili-soaking liquid to make a smooth paste.

10. Reserve ½ cup to complete the recipe; the remainder will keep refrigerated for a couple of weeks (or frozen for months).

11. In a wok, heat blended oil over a medium-high burner until it shimmers. Add the jalapeño, shallot and garlic and toss until aromatic.

12. Add the reserved curry paste; stir to incorporate. Once aromatic, add the palm sugar and stir.

13. Add 4 cups reserved shredded goat meat, sweet potato and gai lan; toss to incorporate. (You can freeze the extra meat as instructed in the headnote.)

14. Finally, add the coconut milk, stir, and bring to a simmer. Season with fish sauce to taste.

15. Ladle curry into four large bowls; garnish each with a tablespoon of peanuts, coconut cream, chopped scallion, and cilantro.

16. Serve with jasmine rice on the side; Fischer also recommends a simple cucumber salad as an accompaniment.

Top photo: Kaeng Massaman Pae, or goat curry. Credit: Christopher Cina

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