Articles in Chefs
Pseudoscience and seductive headlines worked their black magic in 2014, enticing people to follow one misguided food fad after another. However, 2015 holds more promise.
We at Oldways — our nonprofit has spent the last quarter century guiding people to good health through heritage and cultural food traditions — predict that what’s old will be rediscovered in brand new ways. We see five food trends in our kitchens and on our dinner plates for the year ahead:
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1. Whole grains become the new normal
Now that diners have discovered the nutty flavor and toothsome bite of whole grains, they are more willing to move from quinoa to more adventurous options like teff, sorghum and millet. Next up: Look for on-demand milled grains and more varieties of sprouted grains and sprouted grain flours, which will take baking to the next level.
2. African heritage cuisine goes mainstream
Thanks to chefs such as Marcus Samuelsson and Bryant Terry, as well as food historians such as Jessica B. Harris, African heritage cuisine has been elevated to new ranks. Based on whole, fresh plant foods, with a special emphasis on leafy greens, the traditional healthy eating patterns of African heritage, with roots in America, Africa, the Caribbean and South America, are making their way to more and more menus. In turn, more diners are discovering these healthy traditions of Africa. That’s also encouraging home cooks to explore and experiment with dishes like African peanut soup, Hoppin’ John and Jollof rice (also known as benachin).
3. All hail plants!
Interest in plant-based diets has reached an all time high. The trend has grown beyond just replacing meat. Today, vegetables are celebrated with innovative plant-centric plates such as zucchini baba ganoush and cauliflower steaks. In 2015, a number of less well known vegetable varieties will pop up at farmer’s markets, on more menus and on more plates. Look for tat soi and turnip greens as well as new and delicious hybrid vegetables like BrusselKale, a combination of two of America’s favorites.
We will move beyond butternut to an amazing assortment of other squash: kabocha, delicata and sweet dumpling. Root vegetables such as rutabaga, watermelon radishes, purple potatoes and parsnips, also will rule. Even the U.S. government is considering a recommendation to eat more plant foods and less meat in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.
4. Will it blend?
Home cooks looking to amp up the flavor are turning to herbs and spices with a twist. Spice blends like Berbere, Baharat, Ras el Hanout and Herbes de Provence (from Ethiopia, the Middle East, North Africa and France respectively) are adding adventure in the kitchen. Cooks are discovering the allure of blending their own spices. And they’re taking cues from top chefs like Ana Sortun of the celebrated Cambridge-based Oleana. Not only do these home blends boost flavor without adding sodium or calories, they enable personalized flavor preferences.
5. Cultural condiments
The arts of preserving and fermenting foods — popular in traditional diets around the world — were originally created simply to extend the life of foods in a world without refrigeration. Today, more home cooks are learning these techniques and padding their pantries with homemade kimchi, craft pickles, sauerkraut and preserved lemons.
Main photo: What new foods and dishes will appear on our plates in 2015? Credit: iStock
“Don’t use anything better — no brioche! no pain de mie! — in some attempt to make this ‘gourmet.’ We are not that kind of restaurant.” – Gabrielle Hamilton, in “Prune” (Random House, 2014).
It’s not every day a James Beard Award-winning chef wields the word “gourmet” as a barb, or exhorts you to use Pepperidge Farm bread instead of fancier alternatives, but Gabrielle Hamilton is not your average high-profile chef. Since 1999, when she opened Prune, her tiny restaurant in New York City’s East Village, she’s gone her own way, and the same can be said of her first cookbook, “Prune.”
By Gabrielle Hamilton, Random House, 2014, 576 pages
A companion piece to “Blood, Bones & Butter,” her critically acclaimed memoir, “Prune” deftly captures Hamilton’s personality as well as that of the restaurant, neither of which are easy to pigeonhole. She’s a self-taught chef who has a master’s degree in fiction writing, while Prune is the kind of place where a bar snack of canned sardines with Triscuits confidently holds court on the same menu as Tongue and Octopus With Salsa Verde and Mimosa’d Egg.
The cookbook was written as if Hamilton is addressing her staff. It has been designed to look like a stylized photocopy of the recipes she types up for their regular use, complete with re-creations of the handwritten notes she pens when she’s forgotten some helpful detail. “If (the braising liquid) tastes too bright,” she scribbles at the end of a lamb recipe, “heavily char — almost burn — 2 slabs of peasant bread on the grill … push the burnt toast down into the liquid to soak it. … It will add body to the braise and soften the astringency.”
In its earliest days, Prune served only dinner, so that’s where the book begins, too. Tables of contents lead into the various subsections, but there’s no general index (though one will soon be available for download). Instead of lyrical head notes about a dish’s story of origin, Hamilton dives right in to the steps, though her voice is unmistakable when she directs you to “fully enclose the butter inside the dough, as if you were hastily wrapping a Christmas present.”
When I visited her at Prune recently, she explained the thinking behind the book’s form and content. “I tried writing it the conventional way for about five minutes, and it was immediately clear that I was lying my brains out, because I don’t use that language. The imperative was to tell the truth as I live it and experience it. I knew people would get it.”
The unique structure and tone are not the only things that set the book apart. There’s also a section called “garbage,” which details how the restaurant repurposes oft-discarded items such as zucchini tops and bacon rinds. At a time when Americans throw away nearly 40% of the food they buy, this chapter seems especially appropriate.
“Prune” includes many of the restaurant’s marvelously layered dishes, like Warm Lentil Salad With Fried Chicken Livers, Poached Egg, and Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette, as well as directions for assembling the more minimalist offerings (such as a bar snack of radishes with sweet butter and salt) whose unassuming appearance belies the care that underpins them. The first time I ever interviewed Hamilton, five years ago, we discussed the reaction to these “three-ingredient recipes,” a subject we revisited during our recent chat.
“They’re the ones that set you up for failure,” she says, “because there’s nothing to hide behind. Only radishes and butter and salt — what could possibly go wrong? And yet. You have overgrown, cottony, spongy radishes that have soaked in too much water, and they’ve lost their flame. Or the butter is over-tempered and greasy. Or you’re using the worst, overly granulated, way-too-salty salt. But when you have the right crispy-firm, hot-on-fire radish, the cool waxy butter, which not only tempers the heat but lets the salt adhere, and the salt, which brings back the flavor that the butter has started to tame.” She smiles. “I know it’s just three things, but can you believe what goes in to simplicity?”
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There’s much to like about “Prune,” starting with Hamilton’s mouthwatering food, but what’s most appealing is the respect she shows her readers, a quality that took on paramount importance for her after she visited home kitchens during a road trip a couple of years ago. “I had lost track of who we were talking about when we use that phrase ‘for the home cook,’ and it turns out the home cook is incredibly diverse. … I think the cookbook industry in the main tends to underestimate them, and it’s time to stop.”
When she directs you to garnish a dish with a “lime cheek,” she trusts you’ll get it, and if not, you can figure it out from the photos. Even when her insider notes are not directly relevant to your kitchen reality, they often get you to reconsider some element of how you prep, cook, serve or store your food. And at their least practical, the asides to her staff (“If Health Department comes, take the serrano [ham] off the carving stand and throw in the oven.”) still offer us a peek behind the scenes, which is one of the reasons people buy chef cookbooks in the first place.
Ultimately, it’s that sense of transparency that remains at the heart of the whole endeavor. “The book is the same as Prune and me in every way,” she tells me. “We’re not to everyone’s taste — our food, our gestalt — and neither is the cookbook. We love you, and we hope you love us, too, but we’re not gonna lie about who we are.”
Farmhouse Chicken Braised in Hard Cider
[Excerpted from “Prune” by Gabrielle Hamilton. Copyright © 2014 by Gabrielle Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of Random House, A Penguin Random House Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.]
Even though it’s best to use homemade chicken stock, I opted for a high-quality, low-sodium supermarket brand, which produced good results. If you are using store-bought stock, be sure to factor in the sodium level when seasoning the dish. Since I mistakenly purchased a package of drumsticks instead of whole chicken legs, I cooked a total of eight drumsticks, two per serving.
Yield: 4 servings
4 large whole chicken legs
Extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup slivered garlic
1 cup thinly sliced shallots
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup hard cider
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Season chicken legs all over with more pepper than salt.
2. Brown chicken legs in mixed fats, more butter than oil. Brown perfectly, on both sides; don’t crowd and don’t crank it, either. Keep heat at medium-high and do a careful job. Remove chicken, pour off fat.
3. Add a good hunk of butter, the garlic and shallots to the same pan, reduce heat, and sweat.
4. Add tomato paste and stir to fully blend, melt, even toast a little.
5. Deglaze with cider vinegar and hard cider.
6. Add the honey. Simmer to cook off alcohol and reduce slightly, by no more than 1/3.
7. Stir in chicken stock.
8. Neatly nestle the chicken legs in the pan and be sure to taste the braising liquid for salt, acidity, sweetness. Adjust now or never.
9. Cover with parchment and tight-fitting lid, if you can find one that isn’t too warped. Check after 25 minutes. You want loose joints but not falling off the bone.
10. At pickup, reduce sauce per portion, to have body, but not to become viscous.
11. One leg per portion. Good bit of sauce. Shower with parsley, freshly chopped, at pass.
Main photo: Chef and “Prune” author Gabrielle Hamilton and the cover of her cookbook. Credit: Hamilton photo by Melanie Dunea
Alexander Smalls, the Harlem-based restaurateur known for his African diaspora-inspired menus, is a celebrity chef at the forefront of culture-blended cuisine.
There’s Afro/Asian/American Oxtail Dumplings With Green Apple Curry Sauce. Piri Piri Prawns With Yam Flapjacks. And Cinnamon-Scented Fried Guinea Hen.
“My ancestors left amazing food trails to follow,” said Smalls, a self-described “Southern boy” and globe-trotting former opera singer. “Our menu is a journey through Africa, India, South America, Europe, China, South Carolina, Native American villages and back, with lots of side tracks in France and England and beyond.”
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An uncommon cuisine
High-end diners who enter his restaurant know they will encounter something unique. In New York, diners have their choice of fancy places that serve them foam, gel and tweezer foods.
“Then you find a place like The Cecil,” reported Esquire magazine, “and you wake up.”
Smalls is a native of the coastal South Carolina region known as Low Country, and he honed his culinary skills with classical training in Italy and France. How would someone with that varying background approach holiday fare? On New Year’s Eve, he will start the night off with champagne and oysters and then launch into another food realm based in Low Country. Traditional is his preference.
“Back home, my father made smothered shrimp in crab gravy over grits. That dish will always be synonymous with celebration to me,” said Smalls, often referred to as the father of Southern revival cooking as author of “Grace the Table: Stories & Recipes from My Southern Revival.”
“Growing up, I lived for Sunday dinners and started thinking about it on Wednesday: Southern fried chicken, fried okra, creamed corn, gravy, pole beans cooked with ham hocks and Geechee rice,” said the restaurateur who, along with New York businessman Richard Parsons, owns both The Cecil and Minton’s on the same block in Harlem. He also was owner of the legendary, now-closed restaurants Café Beulah and Sweet Ophelia’s.
Food that makes you want to sing — from a singer
“I toured the world as an opera singer and learned world-class cuisine firsthand while on the road,” said Smalls, a chef to stars, including Wynton Marsalis, Spike Lee, Quincy Jones and Toni Morrison. “European food is very influenced by Africa — like American food — and only recently are we seeing recognition for our contribution to world cuisine.”
Smalls’ entire menu is a variation on the African diaspora theme. Those who love okra, yams, plantains, beans, rice and greens will be greeted with multiple choices.
His Piri Piri Prawns dish originated as a chicken stew. But he revised the flavor profile by using sautéed prawns instead. Piri-piri, a Bantu word for pepper, is a spicy dish with roots in both Africa and Portugal. It was created in Angola when Portuguese settlers arrived with chili peppers. This dish is also popular in South Africa, Smalls said.
His yassa turkey is a spin on a Senegalese dish, and his turkey stuffed with jollof rice is another example of a West African blend on an American theme.
His Southern roots remain strong
But his rolls are true Southern belles.
“I will only use White Lily flour for my rolls,” Smalls said of the powdery light flour milled from soft winter wheat produced by White Lily since 1883.
To help him achieve the global breadth of the African diaspora cuisine, Smalls enlisted the young, classically trained Chef de Cuisine Joseph “JJ” Johnson, whose first culinary instructors were his grandmother from Barbados and his Puerto Rican mother.
The expanse of their experiences appears in their holiday dishes, with recipes to some of them included below.
Said Smalls: “I’m happy to help celebrate our style of American cuisine as we ring in the New Year.”
Oxtail Dumplings With Green Apple Curry Sauce
Prep time: 1 1/2 hours
Cook time: 2 1/2 hours
Total time: 4 hours
Yield: 4 to 5 servings
For the braised oxtails:
10 (3-inch cut) oxtails
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons grape-seed oil
2 onions, rough chopped
3 carrots, rough chopped
1 bunch celery, rough chopped
4 quarts veal stock
2 quarts chicken stock
2 bay leaves
2 whole oranges, quartered
1 jalapeño with seeds
3 cinnamon sticks
6 sprigs of thyme
1/2 bunch parsley
For the oxtail dumplings:
2 tablespoons grape-seed oil
3 heads of cabbage, shredded
1 quart shallots, minced
5 to 6 Bird’s Eye chilies, finely chopped
1 cup ginger, minced
8 quarts oxtail meat, braised and shredded
4 scallions, chopped
4 tablespoons turmeric
2 tablespoons curry powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
For the green apple curry sauce:
2 pounds of butter
3 tablespoons curry powder
3 tablespoons turmeric
10 heads of garlic
3 Granny Smith apples
1 stalk lemongrass
2 large pieces of ginger, unpeeled
6 cans coconut milk
Sachet of 1 teaspoon coriander, 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 piece star anise and 1 bay leaf
3 limes, juiced
Salt, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Season oxtails with salt and pepper.
3. In a large Dutch oven, sear oxtails in grape-seed oil over medium heat until browned on both sides. Set aside.
4. Add onions, carrots and celery in the same pan and sauté vegetables for 10 minutes. Once vegetables are tender, add veal stock and chicken stock.
5. Bring to a hard simmer and add bay leaves, lemons, oranges, jalapeño, cinnamon sticks, thyme and parsley.
6. After simmering for 20 minutes, add in oxtails, making sure they are completely covered with liquid. If not, add water. Cover with aluminum foil and place into the oven and cook for 2 1/2 hours, or until tender. When fully cooked, remove braised oxtails from cooking liquid and allow to cool. When cooled, pull meat from oxtails. Skim fat off of cooking liquid, strain and set aside.
7. For the dumplings, in a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté cabbage, shallots and Bird’s eye chilies in the grape-seed oil. Add ginger, the shredded oxtail meat, scallions, turmeric and curry powder and cook for 5 minutes.
8. In a food processor, lightly pulse all ingredients until mix comes together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
9. Place wonton wrapper on a flat surface and brush the corners with egg. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of the wonton wrapper and fold edges together.
10. When ready to cook, gently place filled wonton wrapper in boiling water and cook for 3 minutes.
11. For the green apple curry sauce, sauté in the butter the curry powder, turmeric, shallots, garlic, apples, lemongrass and ginger. Cook until toasted and golden brown.
12. Add the coconut milk and the sachet. Reduce and finish with the lime juice.
13. Salt, to taste.
14. To serve, spoon warm green apple curry sauce in the bottom of a serving bowl. Place 4 dumplings on top of sauce and serve hot.
Piri Piri Prawns With Yam Flapjacks
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 1 1/2 hours
Total time: 2 1/2 hours
Yield: 8 servings
For the sautéed prawns:
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 cup blended oil (for example, 1/2 canola oil, 1/2 olive oil — not extra virgin olive oil)
3 pounds of shrimp, cleaned and deveined
For the yam flapjacks:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup packed dark palm sugar
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
For the Piri Piri Sauce:
6 Bird’s Eye Chilies
1 small piece of ginger
2 cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons canola oil
15 plum tomatoes
1 orange, zested
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. To prepare the sautéed prawns, zest one lemon in bowl.
2. Whisk together with chili flakes, chopped parsley and blended oil.
3. Add in 3 pounds of shrimp and marinate in the refrigerator for one hour.
4. Once marinated, season prawns with kosher salt.
5. Place in hot pan and cook on each side for two minutes.
6. To prepare the flapjacks, preheat oven to 350 F.
7. Roast yams in the oven for one hour. Remove and mash.
8. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together.
9. Heat a non-stick pan on stove and spoon in mix to form medium-sized flapjacks.
10. Cook the flapjacks until they are golden brown on both sides.
11. For the Piri Piri Sauce, roughly chop onions, chilies, ginger and garlic.
12. Sweat the mixture over low heat in the canola oil.
13. Add roughly chopped tomatoes and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the tomatoes are cooked down. Add orange zest and blend together, adding oil slowly to emulsify. After emulsified, season with salt and pepper to taste.
14. To serve, place a medium-size flapjack on the plate. Add four prawns and a tablespoon of the Piri Piri Sauce. Top it off with Apple Ginger Salad (recipe below).
Apple Ginger Salad
1/2 cup black currants
1/4 cup bourbon plus 2 tablespoons water
1/2 piece of fresh ginger, julienned
2 green apples, julienned
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 bunch cilantro
1. In a small bowl, soak black currants in bourbon and water until plump.
2. In a medium bowl, toss all remaining ingredients together, except for cilantro, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Adjust sesame oil to your liking.
4. Place on top of prawns and garnish with cilantro leaves.
Main photo: Alexander Smalls, the owner and executive chef at Harlem’s The Cecil. Credit: Daniel Krieger
Noelia Garcia grew up helping her mother make and sell tamales — those golden packages of cornmeal and spices steamed in cornhusks and tied like little presents. In Mexico, tamales are always made fresh, but Garcia figured her neighbors in her adopted state of Minnesota could use these steaming packages any time they wanted. And that is her gift to Minnesota: frozen tamales with the authentic taste of Mexico.
Today, her Minneapolis tamale business, La Loma Tamales, produces Oaxaqueno tamales with spicy red sauce inside; tamales with a mole sauce of chilies, nuts and chocolate; and a dessert tamale filled with pineapple and raisins. That’s not to mention her signature chicken tamales with a green sauce of serrano chili peppers, onions, garlic and tomatillos. All are the flavors of Garcia’s childhood.
Growing up in Mexico
It’s a childhood Garcia remembers lovingly, even though it’s been 17 years since she last saw Quebrantadero, the tiny village where she grew up buying gorditas in the plaza, preparing for fiestas and sleeping in her family’s dirt-floor adobe house.
“We slept three or four kids in one bed, everybody in the same house, seven brothers and sisters, my mom, my dad, my grandma and grandpa,” says Garcia, 40. She and her friends loved to play on a little hill, la loma in Spanish, and that’s what she named her company.
“When you’re a child, you don’t care that you don’t have shoes. You’re just innocent and happy,” she says. “For me, it’s transporting myself to a place and bringing something from where I grew up to this place.”
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Quebrantadero was her entire world until, at age 16, she met Enrique Garcia, age 17, and fell in love. What they did next surprises even Noelia. “We got married on Friday and we came to the United States on Sunday,” she says. “In a small village, there is nothing else to do.”
The Garcias long to revisit Quebrantadero, which they left nearly two decades ago. They can’t go back across the border until they resolve their immigration status, which they are working hard to do. In the intervening years, Enrique has lost his mother, grandmother and an uncle. He has had to miss all three funerals.
Shortly after coming to Minnesota, Enrique heard that a bakery in Minneapolis needed workers, so that’s where they headed. It was 30 below zero the day they arrived. “I remember we went to the bus and we kind of showed our hands with the coins, because we don’t know the value of the coins,” Noelia says.
Neither spoke English, but they got jobs and worked long hours. In the evenings, Noelia started cooking tamales to sell at a Mexican restaurant. Those tamales, based on her mother’s recipes, caused a sensation. Eventually, the demand proved too much for the small kitchen in the couple’s home.
Selling tamales … and coffee
In 1999, the Garcias quit their jobs and opened a tiny restaurant in Minneapolis’ busy Mercado Central marketplace. The landlord had one requirement for the renters of the 80-square-foot kitchen: They had to sell coffee. Although neither Noelia nor Enrique knew how, they agreed. “We bought a coffee machine and people trained us on how to use it,” Noelia says.
Largely thanks to the Garcias, Minnesotans’ taste for tamales has expanded like luminarias on a winter sidewalk. The couple’s wholesale business sells frozen, handmade La Loma tamales to grocery stores and restaurants throughout Minnesota. It took a year to get the license for the tamale factory. The reason? “The health inspector didn’t know what a tamale is,” Noelia explains.
In recent years, the couple added downtown locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul and a seasonal stand at TCF Bank Stadium. This past summer they debuted at three local farmers markets.
Noelia loved math as a child, but her parents didn’t have the money to send her beyond eighth grade. Once La Loma was established, she earned her GED and went to college to study business. Now she has started a scholarship fund so her employees’ children can attend college, too. For Noelia, La Loma is not just a business — it’s a community of family and friends who take care of one another, much like in the Mexican village of her childhood.
“This country has given us a lot, but we also suffer a lot,” Noelia says. “For 17 years, I didn’t see my mom, and I don’t know if someone can pay that. But my kids grew up here, we’ve got a really successful business, and I got to go to school. It’s kind of a balance. You cannot have everything.”
Although she has been separated from her mother for years, Noelia feels close to her in the kitchen. She based La Loma’s signature chicken tamales in green sauce on her mother’s recipe. It’s a taste of what her fans can get at her Twin Cities restaurants, wholesale store and the St. Paul Farmers’ Market.
La Loma’s Mexican Chicken Tamales in Green Sauce
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 2 hours
Total time: 3 hours
Yield: 30 servings
Chicken and green sauce preparation
Yield: About 36 ounces
3 pounds chicken, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 pounds tomatillos
8 serrano chili peppers
4 cloves garlic
4 cups of water
Chicken bouillon to taste
1. Add the chicken and salt to water and simmer for 30 minutes. Once the chicken is cooked, shred and set aside.
2. Boil the tomatillos, serrano peppers, onion and garlic in water. Once the sauce ingredients are cooked, discard the water and process the sauce ingredients in a blender with the chicken bouillon until smooth.
3. Add 12 ounces of the sauce to the shredded chicken, and reserve the remaining sauce (about 24 ounces) to use in the dough mixture.
Yield: About 30 portions
1 ½ pounds cornhusks for tamales
5 pounds tamale dough
About 24 ounces green sauce
1 pound lard or vegetable oil
1. Soak the cornhusks in water for 10 minutes. Wash the cornhusks and allow them to drain.
2. Mix the dough, green sauce and lard or oil together. Knead the dough until it obtains a uniform texture.
3. Press a small, 4-ounce ball of dough and spread evenly onto the cornhusk.
4. Add the desired amount of meat and sauce on top of the dough and wrap with the corn husk.
5. Once you have finished assembling the tamales, place them in a tamale steamer and steam for 2 hours.
6. Serve immediately.
Main photo: The La Loma tamale is made from scratch out of corn dough and filled with chicken, serrano chile peppers, tomatillos, onions and garlic. Credit: Ben Bartenstein
Ben Bartenstein, based in St. Paul, Minn., reported this story for Round Earth Media.
Portions of this story first appeared in Mpls. St.Paul Magazine.
A life-sized sculpture of a cow and a sign reading “Dine on our Swine” should have stopped me in my tracks, because I don’t eat beef or ham.
But one look at Industrial Eats’ menu, handwritten on large sheets of butcher paper hung from the walls, revealed I was in the right place.
Industrial Eats, a 1-year-old eatery in Buellton, Calif., has become a must-stop on my visits to the Santa Ynez wine region on California’s Central Coast. The cavernous restaurant furnished with family-style dining tables prides itself on its butchery skills. But for diners like me, there’s plenty of fish, fowl and local produce. The food is simple, straightforward and utterly delicious.
Pizzas are topped with such ingredients as smoked salmon, burrata, mascarpone, Calabrian chile, kabocha and chestnut. The Not Pizza section of the menu contains items such as wild mushrooms; black kale and black truffles; fall veggies with dates and brown sugar; Swiss chard and spinach in Vadouvan curry; and other poetically named dishes.
Simple cooking yields delicious meals at Industrial Eats
Everything at Industrial Eats gets cooked in the igloo-style wood-burning pizza ovens, and local wines as well as sandwiches and an array of cheeses are also served.
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“Cooking is way too fussy and food is too over-handled in most restaurants,” said chef/owner Jeff Olsson.
He describes his cooking style simply: “Ingredients go in a sauté pan with olive oil and spices, in the wood-burning oven and on the plate. It’s honest taste infused in our food.”
But is it really as simple as that?
It could be if we did all our cooking in wood-burning ovens. At Industrial Eats, that’s the mantra. You won’t find gas burners or pricey induction ranges here. Instead, ingredients are placed in an iron skillet that goes inside the pizza oven. Cooked in this simple, traditional style, the food tastes divine.
Olsson and his wife, Janet, met in New York 22 years ago. “I was washing dishes,” said Jeff, who moved up the ladder and worked as a chef in Washington, D.C., restaurants such as Red Sage and Nora, where Janet served as a manager.
Fifteen years ago, the Olssons opened New West catering, which they continue to operate in Buellton along with Industrial Eats.
A two-hour drive north of Los Angeles, Buellton is just off U.S. Highway101 near Solvang. The small town is best known for its ostrich farm, a string of auto dealers and Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn. The local barbecue hangout The Hitching Post II became a tourist haven after it was spotlighted in the award-winning 2004 film “Sideways.”
Although the film pumped up wine tourism in the region, Buellton remained a pass-through town for visitors. It lacked the wine-country charm of neighboring hamlets such as Los Olivos or Santa Ynez.
But not for long.
“Buellton has become gentrified in the last 15 years,” Olsson said. Prohibitive real estate prices and saturation in Los Olivos and Solvang drove people — including the Olssons — to rediscover Buellton. In the past few years, industrial spaces have morphed into cafes, eateries and wine-tasting centers. A distillery is soon to open near Industrial Eats, and the noted Alma Rosa Winery’s tasting room is also nearby.
Industrial Eats, though, is known for its butchery. “We do whole animals from Central Coast and Santa Ynez Valley,” said Jeff, who also offers hog-butchering classes at the restaurant. Fresh preserves, patès and handmade bacon are some of the specialties.
“I stay local as much as I can,” he said, noting, though, that meats such as wild boar and antelope are sourced from Broken Arrow Ranch in southwest Texas.
Next time you’re driving Highway 101, stop in downtown Buellton to savor the local flavors at my all-time favorite spot. Meanwhile, you can re-create these wintry Industrial Eats recipes at home during the holiday season.
Crispy Confit of Duck With du Puy Lentils
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus overnight for marinating
Cook time: 5 1/2 hours
Total time: About 6 hours, plus marinating time for the duck.
Yield: 6 servings
For the confit of duck:
6 duck legs (you can, in a pinch, use chicken as well)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
4 shallots, peeled and sliced
2 sticks Mexican canella
4 ounces dried cherries, roughly chopped
4 sprigs sage
Zest of one orange
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 pounds duck fat (available at fine grocers or Hudson Valley Foie Gras)
For the lentils:
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced small
1 bulb fennel, diced small
1 knob butter
2 cups duck stock
2 cups du Puy lentils
For the confit of duck:
1. Place the duck legs into a large ziplock bag with garlic, shallot, canella, cherries, sage, zest, salt and pepper. Let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
2. The next day, preheat the oven to 225 F. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the duck fat over medium heat.
3. Carefully empty contents of ziplock bag into that fat, ensuring the duck legs are fully submerged.
4. Cook in the oven for 3 to 5 hours, until meat is tender and falling from the bone.
5. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
6. Carefully remove duck legs from fat and allow to drain.
7. Preheat 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Place duck legs, two at a time, in the skillet and fry until crisp and brown, about 4 minutes per side.
For the lentils:
1. Sauté the shallot, garlic, carrot and fennel in butter till slightly caramelized.
2. Add the stock and lentils and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes
Note: Serve the duck legs atop the lentils.
Fall Veggies With Dates and Ginger
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
2 celery roots, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces
1 kabocha squash, not peeled, but seeded and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 pound baby Japanese sweet potatoes, not peeled, cut into bite-size pieces
4 shallots, julienned
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
1 cup Medjool dates
1 piece of ginger, peeled and julienned as finely as you can
1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
2. In a large bowl, toss the vegetables with the olive oil and season with salt to taste.
3. Spread the vegetables in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until soft and golden brown.
4. Remove from oven and toss with dates and ginger.
5. Place back in oven for 5 more minutes.
Note: This can be served as a side dish with Crispy Confit of Duck With du Puy Lentils.
Main photo: Crispy Confit of Duck With du Puy Lentils from Industrial Eats. Credit: Mira Honeycutt
Because I’m a chef and food writer, I’m often asked, “What’s your favorite food?” The answer is visceral, born of my childhood instead of my professional training or the international food experiences I’ve been lucky to have.
My favorite food is the cuisine of my mother’s native Iran — an overlooked area of the culinary world because of Iran’s 35 years of tense relations with the United States.
Persian food has typically been at the end of anyone’s list of favorites, but that’s starting to change. Driven by the recent foodie interest in the region at large — the Middle East and Indian — Persian food is having its day, and nothing could thrill me more.
By Sabrina Ghayour, Interlink Books, 2014, 240 pages
Those who know about this cuisine already know it is one of delicately nuanced flavors, rich varieties of meats and, in particular, produce, and deft technique that melds sweet and sour in an elegant way. Like Indian cuisine, basmati rice is a staple ingredient, but where much Indian food makes use of pepper, Persian cuisine prodigiously uses warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric. Saffron and rose petals add flavor that is actually more based in delicate aroma than pure taste.
Lamb and, traditionally, game birds are used in stews and grilled meat dishes and baked into rice dishes, but in Western adaptations, beef and chicken have become standard substitutes. As in Arab-Middle Eastern cuisine, a variety of salads and dipping sauces — most often made with yogurt and herbs — is the norm. Two hallmarks that make Iranian food particularly different are the vast array of pickles made from vegetables, spices, herbs and even fruit as well as the habit of consuming fresh herbs, onions and radishes as a condiment eaten out of hand or with bread. You’ll see this on most dinner tables.
I often describe Persian food as “north Indian cuisine without the heat,” and there’s a good reason for that description. The Mughal emperors of Northern India brought the food of the Iran they admired into their own region in the 16th century and mastered the layered rice dishes, fragrant stews and delicate fruit-based desserts. Today, that cooking sensibility remains the hallmark of most Indian restaurant cuisine and is still in evidence in many of the dishes’ Persian names. (Persian was the official language of the Mughal Empire.)
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One of the best new entrees into the world of Persian cooking is Sabrina Ghayour’s cookbook “Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond” (Interlink Books, 2014). In it, Ghayour, a London-based chef of Iranian descent, features both classic Persian dishes such as jujeh kebab, grilled boneless game hen marinated in a saffron yogurt sauce; morassa pollow, or “jeweled rice,” which is made with barberries, mixed nuts and orange peel; and fesenjan, a stew made of ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup that is often served on holidays and special occasions.
Perhaps more compelling, for me at least, is the manner in which Ghayour melds Middle Eastern flavors that are not strictly Persian but are familiar to Western readers into a more Iranian food sensibility. She uses these flavors to add intricacy to the cuisine’s elegant techniques and presentations, such as with her Fig & Green Bean Salad with Date Molasses & Toasted Almonds or Baked Eggs with Feta, Harissa, Tomato Sauce and Cilantro.
In the past few years, we’ve seen a growing number of blogs and cookbooks about Persian cooking, including the blogs My Persian Kitchen and Turmeric & Saffron as well as Louisa Shaifa’s “The New Persian Cooking” (Ten Speed Press, 2013), all adding diverse voices to the multi-decade stand-alone canon “Food of Life” (Mage Publishers) by Persian cooking doyenne Najmieh Batmanglij. Ghayour’s “Persiana,” however, stands out for its creativity and clean design and the sheer delectability of the dishes.
Newcomers to Persian cooking as well as those already in love with the cuisine will find many reasons to return to the pages of “Persiana” over and over again, as you will see when you give her recipe for fesenjan a try.
Chicken, Walnut & Pomegranate Stew (Khoresh-e-Fesenjan)
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings
This recipe appears in “Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond” by Sabrina Ghayour.
Khoresh is the Persian word for stew. Fesenjan is a rich, glossy stew of ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup, usually made with chicken, duck or delicate little lamb meatballs. The flavor is deep and rich, with a nutty texture and a wonderfully gentle acidity that cuts right through the richness of the dish. Fesenjan is a popular dish in Iran, and its sweet yet tart character has made it one of the most revered stews in Iranian cooks’ repertoires. Like most stews, it is best made the day before you need to serve it.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, diced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 pound, 5 ounces (600 grams) walnuts, finely ground in a food processor
8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
5 cups (scant 1¼ liters) cold water
3 tablespoons superfine sugar [38 grams]
3 tablespoons (45 milliliters) pomegranate molasses
Seeds from 1 pomegranate, for serving
1. Preheat two large saucepans over medium heat and pour 3 tablespoons vegetable oil into one. Fry the onions in the oil until translucent and lightly browned.
2. In the other pan, toast the flour until it turns pale beige. Add the ground walnuts and cook the mixture through.
3. Once the onions are browned, season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and add them to the pan containing the onions. Increase the temperature and stir well to ensure you seal the thighs on both sides. Once they are gently browned, turn off the heat and set aside.
4. Add the water to the walnut pan, stir well, and bring the mixture to a slow boil, then cover with a lid and allow to cook for 1 hour over low-medium heat. This will cook the walnuts and soften their texture; once you see the natural oils of the walnuts rise to the surface, the mixture is cooked.
5. Add the sugar and pomegranate molasses to the walnuts and stir well for about 1 minute. Take your time to stir the pomegranate molasses well — it takes awhile to fully dissolve into the stew because of its thick consistency.
6. Add the chicken and onions to the walnut-pomegranate mixture, cover and cook for about 2 hours, stirring thoroughly every 30 minutes to ensure you lift the walnuts from the bottom of the pan so they don’t burn. Once cooked, what initially looked beige will have turned into a rich, dark almost chocolaty-looking color.
7. Serve sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and enjoy with a generous mound of basmati rice.
Note: Fesenjan is served with chelo (Persian steamed rice).
Main photo: Fesenjan, a walnut and pomegranate stew, is one of the more traditional recipes in “Persiana.” It melds traditional Iranian technique with a diverse ingredient sensibility. Credit: Liz and Max Haarala Hamilton
Kunrath Lam remembers the delightful punch of spicy-creamy-sweet in her mother’s cooking while growing up in Cambodia. The key was a blend of lemongrass, turmeric, galangal (a relative of ginger), kaffir lime leaf and roasted peanut sauce. Today that inimitable infusion features prominently on the menu of her St. Paul, Minn., restaurant Cheng Heng.
One dish — Lam’s childhood favorite — is called chha kroeng; chha means stir-fry and kroeng means put together. Local food critics call it a showstopper. One diner wrote on Yelp, “Don’t ask … just order this.”
Will Matsuda is a senior at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. Majoring in geography and educational studies, he plans to pursue photojournalism after graduation. He spent the spring semester of his junior year in Morocco, working on a project about underage brides. Find more of his work at williammatsuda.com
Chha kroeng is popular across Cambodia, with each city serving up a distinctive recipe. Lam’s version comes from Kampong Cham, her mother’s hometown, where the emphasis is on lemongrass. Beyond its light citrus flavor, lemongrass has a soothing effect, says Lam, 42.
“For us, it’s like a medicine,” she says. “It helps with circulation, and after you eat it, your body feels good. When you feel sick, you drink lemongrass and then you feel better.”
Her family grows lemongrass all summer and buys more, for freezing, from the local farmers market — enough to supply her restaurant during the long Minnesota winter.
As intimately as Lam’s customers know her Cambodian cooking, however, few know how close they came to never tasting the secrets of her kitchen. The family’s nightmare began in April 1975, when soldiers forced them to leave their home in Phnom Penh. “They said to take whatever is necessary for three days and then you’ll be back,” Lam says.
Three days turned into four years. During that time, Pol Pot and his Communist-influenced Khmer Rouge soldiers killed an estimated 2 million Cambodians, almost a fourth of the country’s population and much of its educated elite.
Lam and her family were sent to the jungle, where they endured long, hot days of physical labor with never enough food. Her father was put in charge of more than a hundred buffalo: Lam remembers him counting them again and again because he’d be killed if he lost even one. At age 5, she was sent to the rice fields, though she was much too young for the backbreaking work. Lam’s scarred legs remind her of the beatings she took for being slow at her job.
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Her parents were in constant danger because they had university degrees, and the Khmer Rouge targeted people with an education. “It’s lucky my mom and dad didn’t wear glasses, because anyone who wore glasses would be killed,” she says. “When they asked my father to read something, he held the book upside down.”
It isn’t clear how Lam’s family was spared when almost everyone around them was being killed. Lam thinks a Khmer Rouge official, a man her mother had befriended in Phnom Penh, protected them. “He looked ugly and everyone made fun of him,” Lam says, “but my mom always gave him money to buy food and then he became very powerful (under the Khmer Rouge). He found my mom and protected her.”
When the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge out and occupied Cambodia in 1979, Lam’s family fled into the mountains. One night when Lam was 9, her family got separated as they crossed the border into Thailand. After they crawled under a series of three barbed wire fences, Thai soldiers chased after them. Lam hid in a well to avoid detection and found her family in the morning. Eventually, the Lam family ended up in a Thai refugee camp. Then, more luck: A St. Paul church offered to sponsor them. They arrived on a snowy November day in 1983. Lam was almost 11.
“I take nothing for granted,” says Lam, who opened Cheng Heng in 1997. Cheng is the middle name of Lam’s husband, Kevin Cheng Lam. Heng means lucky. Like so many immigrants, Lam wants to share her luck. Over the years she collected the restaurant’s tip money and has used it to build two schools in Cambodia — one just for girls.
Cheng Heng’s Cambodian Chha Kroeng
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
2 stalks of lemongrass, chopped
2 pieces of kaffir lime leaves
1 tablespoon turmeric powder
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon galangal, chopped
3 ounces sliced eye round beef
2 tablespoons soybean oil for wok
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped or shredded
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped or shredded
Couple pieces of broccoli, chopped or shredded
1/4 of a jumbo onion, chopped or shredded
Handful of chopped peanuts
4 to 5 pea pods, chopped or shredded
Roasted peanuts, to garnish
1. Using a food processor, combine the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, garlic, shallots and galangal until a fine texture is achieved. This is the kroeng.
2. Set two tablespoons of the kroeng aside. Rub the rest of this mixture into the beef to infuse the flavor into the meat. Set this aside for 10 minutes.
3. Place soybean oil in wok, add the reserved kroeng and let it cook at medium heat for 5 minutes, until a pleasant aroma is released. Add the beef, oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt and sugar. Stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Add the remaining ingredients and stir-fry for 3 minutes or until the vegetables are still slightly crunchy.
5. Season with more salt or sugar to taste. Garnish with roasted peanuts and serve with white rice.
Main photo: Chha kroeng is popular across Cambodia, with each city serving up a distinctive recipe. Credit: Will Matsuda
(Portions of this article first appeared in Mpls. St.Paul Magazine.)
During a hosted visit to explore the city of Napa, I stayed at the Inn on Randolph in a leafy neighborhood within walking distance of downtown. Waiting to meet chef Paul Fields, I was offered a golden brown chocolate chip cookie, a good litmus test of a baker’s skill.
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All too often chocolate chip cookies are overly sweet or undercooked. In either case, that puts one’s teeth on edge. When chef Fields joined me, I complimented him on the cookies. With pride he explained they were gluten-free.
The Inn on Randolph is one of the few gluten-free upscale inns in the country. Fields was challenged by owner Karen Lynch to create flavorful, quality dishes that gastronomic visitors to Napa Valley would enjoy.
Fields makes virtually everything he serves from scratch using local ingredients. Many ingredients come from the inn’s gardens and fruit trees. He doesn’t make wheat-based breads and pastries. So to satisfy the need for morning carbohydrates, the day I stayed at the inn, he served a hot plate of Beluga lentils, a poached egg, roasted carrots and squash, with maple chicken sausages.
Anyone who bakes knows how well wheat flour mixed with a liquid and a fat creates elastic dough and batters. Many supermarkets and health food stores carry gluten-free flours made from a variety of plants: chickpeas, corn, chia, buckwheat, rice bran, barley, arrowroot, amaranth, nuts, potato, millet, quinoa and tapioca. But these flours have flavors and binding properties different from wheat.
Chocolate chip cookies are part of my childhood sense memory. They evoke my mother’s kitchen, where my sister and I vied to eat the first cookie warm from the oven.
Fields’ cookies passed my-mother-used-to-make-these-cookies test. They had the right amount of chewiness and sweetness with a lovely melted chocolate flavor. They were delicious.
Inn on Randolph Chocolate Chip Cookies
Fields suggests making a good supply of the gluten-free flour blend. The flour recipe below will make 6 dozen cookies. With the holidays coming up, the flour will not go to waste. Store the blend in an airtight container in a cool, dark pantry or in the refrigerator.
Having a good supply of pre-shaped frozen cookie dough is a great help for spur of the moment holiday celebrations.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Freezer time: 10 to 12 minutes or overnight
Cooking time: 10 to 15 minutes
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature soft
2 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract without alcohol
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 3/4 cups Inn on Randolph flour blend (see below)
8 ounces chocolate chips of your choice: milk, dark or a blend of the two
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine softened butter and brown sugar. Mix to combine and break up any lumps. Stir until smooth.
3. Add egg and vanilla. Mix until fully incorporated into the butter and sugar. In a separate bowl, mix baking powder with gluten-free flour blend.
4. Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and mix well until most of the flour is incorporated. Leave some of the flour unblended.
5. Add chocolate chips. Fold together the unblended flour and the chocolate chips to prevent the chips from sticking to one another. Then mix together with the batter until no flour can be seen. Scoop out the cookies with a 1-ounce scoop or with a large spoon. Prepare a nonstick baking sheet or a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a Silpat sheet. Place the balls of dough next to each other.
6. Freeze a minimum of 10 to 12 minutes or overnight. If the cookies are going to be baked on another day, transfer the frozen balls to an airtight container and return to the freezer.
Just before baking, remove from the freezer. Place the balls on a nonstick baking sheet or a baking sheet covered with a Silpat sheet or a piece of parchment paper. Remembering that as the cookies bake, they will expand, leave 4 inches of space between each ball of dough and the sides of the baking sheet.
7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes to desired doneness. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
Inn on Randolph Flour Blend
Weight is more accurate, but you may use cup measures. Store the blend in an airtight container in a cool, dark pantry or in the refrigerator.
Prep time: 10 minutes
1 1/2 cups or 167 grams sorghum flour, superfine
3/4 cup or 101 grams cornstarch
1/2 cup or 82 grams potato flour, finely ground
3/4 cup or 117 grams potato starch, unmodified
1/2 cup or 56 grams tapioca flour
Measure out each dry ingredient.
Mix together. Stir well.
Store in an airtight container.
Main photo: Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies made by chef Paul Fields for guests at the Inn on Randolph, Napa, Calif. Credit: David Latt
In the video, Fields shows how to freeze the cookie dough in individual portions.