Articles in Chefs
Looking ahead to hot days when meals must be light and flavorful, home cooks and restaurant chefs alike want light and flavorful dishes to put on the table. One dish perfect for the summer is tuna tartare, delicately seasoned and plated to satisfy any gourmand’s need for luxurious food, beautifully presented.
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Gabriel Kreuther, executive chef at The Modern, the fine dining restaurant at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art is a master at preparing beautifully delicious comfort food. With a dining room view of MoMA’s sculpture garden, Chef Kreuther lets his food take its cue from the art. His plates are mini-sculptures, animated with color, contrasts and meticulous detailing.
Tartare, like sashimi, is only as good as its ingredients and those must be as fresh as possible. Quality seafood purveyors are a good source of the high quality yellowfin tuna and diver scallops required for the recipe.
Adding to the quality of the seafood is the visual design. For Kreuther, the extra effort it takes to make a visually striking plate gives added pleasure to a dish.
Tartare of Yellowfin Tuna and Diver Scallops Seasoned with American Caviar
For the tartare:
12 ounces yellow fin tuna, sushi grade, medium dice (½-inch cubes)
12 ounces diver scallops (8 to 10 of the freshest, highest quality, firm), medium dice (½-inch cubes)
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces American Caviar
3 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cucumber, not too thick, preferably seedless, unpeeled
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar (or reduction of regular balsamic vinegar made by reducing 8 tablespoons over a low flame), as needed
Baby greens or arugula for garnish
For the chive oil:
Chives, leftover parts from above chopped portion
4 tablespoons grapeseed oil
To prepare the chive oil:
1. Blend the chives and oil in a blender. Strain the mixture and reserve in a squeeze bottle.
To prepare the seafood:
1. Dice the tuna into ½-inch cubes. Place into a bowl, cover and reserve in the refrigerator.
2. Dice the scallops into similarly sized ½-inch cubes. Place into a separate bowl, cover and also refrigerate.
To prepare the bed of cucumber:
1. Wash the cucumber and pat it dry. Slice it very thinly using a Japanese mandoline slicer for better precision or if unavailable, use a very sharp knife.
2. Season the slices with salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil and arrange the slices on a chilled plate in 2 overlapping columns (6 slices each, arranged like shingles on a roof) down the center of the plate. Refrigerate until ready to plate the dish.
To prepare the tartare mixture:
1. Combine the tuna and scallops in one bowl and add the chopped chives, hazelnut oil, olive oil and caviar.
2. Season with salt and pepper and mix all the ingredients together gently. On the final stir, add some lemon juice to taste.
Note: Do not use too much lemon juice, as it will overpower the dish.
To plate the dish:
1. Place several spoonfuls of the tartare mixture along the length of the 2 columns of cucumber, down the center, leaving some of the outer edge of cucumbers to be visible.
2. Season the baby greens with some of the remaining lemon juice and olive oil.
3. Spike one end of the tartare with a few leaves of the seasoned greens.
4. Finally, using the aged balsamic vinegar (or reduced balsamic vinegar) and the chive oil in 2 separate squeeze bottles, make 2 straight lines, on either side of the columns of cucumber (parallel to and approximately ½ inch away from the cucumbers.)
Top photo: Tartare of yellowfin tuna and diver scallops seasoned with American caviar. Credit: Diana DeLucia
I’ve never really understood the lure of molecular gastronomy. I’ll admit that the science behind it is fascinating, but as food it just never rocked my world. While dining on cotton candy foie gras at a restaurant known for molecular gastronomy, I ordered an Old-Fashioned. By the time I’d swallowed the chemically engineered “cherry” at the bottom of the drink, I’d had a brainstorm. This experience would be a lot more fun if the chef would simply sit beside me and explain why the seemingly solid maraschino cherry magically disappeared in my mouth. In fact, I wanted to know everything about the scientific principals that made crazy concoctions like this possible.
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Unfortunately I’d never found a way to make this happen. That is, until I attended the 2nd Annual Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Social at LA Makerspace in Los Angeles. It was really less of an ice cream social and more of a molecular gastronomy magic show. This event answered my question about the maraschino cherry, plus a few I’d never thought to ask.
The molecular gastronomist at work
The mastermind behind the event was Ariel Levi Simons. He’s a passionate amateur molecular gastronomist, as well as a physics teacher at Wildwood School in West Los Angeles and a founding member of LA Makerspace. In front of a group of about 50 people, Simons created culinary illusions, while simultaneously explaining the science behind the magic. Families with small children helped him freeze ice cream in less than 30 seconds under a cloud of bubbling liquid nitrogen. Grown-up science geeks mulled the question of which tasted better, carbonated pineapple or fizzy habañero-infused avocado.
I was most excited to learn about spherification, the process by which my faux-maraschino cherry was created. Simons enthusiastically described a magical elixir that could turn almost any liquid into a sphere. It’s all thanks to sodium alginate, a common food additive derived from kelp that many of us eat every day. It’s used to prevent freezer burn in ice cream and thicken McDonald’s apple pies. Simons makes a slightly more upscale concoction: synthetic caviar.
Simons loads equal amounts of a concentrated syrup, such as Torani, and sodium alginate into a syringe. Then he squeezes small drops of the mixture into a solution of food-grade calcium chloride. When the two solutions meet, the calcium ions bind to the sodium alginate, forming a skin around the liquid that magically transforms into a sphere within a few seconds.
It’s pure physics and chemistry. When you bite into these tiny spheres, the thin skin immediately bursts, unleashing the taste of tangerine or black tea inside. It’s not quite caviar, but the mystery of the faux-maraschino was solved.
The greater mystery of the event turned out to be Simons himself. I was surprised to learn that Simons’ interest in food chemistry runs deeper than the simple parlor tricks of molecular gastronomy, which he describes as “the showiest and quickest” way to talk about food chemistry.
Molecular gastronomy illuminates our food preservation traditions
Simons is passionate about traditional methods of food preservation, as I am, and we discussed real magic: the slow but startling fermentation of kimchi, the alchemy of 1,000-year-old eggs, and the mysterious transformation of black garlic. Simons is fascinated with the chemistry of even the most basic foods. He revealed the fact that corn syrup is far more chemically complex than anything he made at the ice cream social. In fact, the production of corn syrup is so complex that it is only economically feasible because the United States government subsidizes the production of corn, which makes it almost free as a raw product.
Simons thinks the complexity of our food actually may be a problem, especially because no one realizes how ubiquitous it is. “Food production has been a driving force in human history,” he said. And sadly, this driving force has largely been forgotten.
“We don’t think about food production because we don’t have to,” he said. “We’ve sort of won the game.”
But Simons recognizes that there are good reasons to understand where our food comes from and how it’s made. The point of Simons’ “magic show” at the ice cream social was to “show that it’s not actually magic. It’s a technique we developed to take food and transport it and sell it across the world.”
For me, the real thrill of molecular gastronomy is discovering the science behind the seemingly magical concoctions that I eat. I’ve tried my own food alchemy demonstrations with my kids, including making my own sugar from sugarcane. And when I next have the opportunity to taste potato foam gnocchi or dried olive soil, I won’t need the chef sitting next to me to fully enjoy the experience.
But frankly, my favorite form of molecular gastronomy involves the chemical reaction between a large bag of salt and the back leg of a pig. Country ham — now that’s magic.
Top photo: Molecular gastronomy in action. Credit: Susan Lutz
Can chefs change the way we eat? The Chefs Collaborative is taking a stab at promoting sustainability with a new cookbook of recipes gathered from America’s most notable chef-activists.
Celebrity chefs have a long tradition as tastemakers. It began with Julia Child, the French Chef who influenced Americans’ purchasing decisions about everything from pots and pans to whole chickens. More than 30 years ago another Californian, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, introduced us to mesclun. This baby lettuce mix is now available in every supermarket and served in restaurants across the nation. In today’s television food culture, celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain and David Chang tempt us with their daring and globetrotting to try foods that are ever more exotic. Meanwhile, another group of chefs in America is influencing another, less flashy but significant trend: responsible eating.
These chefs are members of Chefs Collaborative, a nonprofit devoted to creating a more sustainable food supply. Working in restaurants across the country, they lead by example: celebrating seasonal, locally produced foods on their menus and advocating for farming and fishing communities. For its 20th anniversary, the organization released its first cookbook, “The Chefs Collaborative Cookbook: Local, Sustainable, Delicious Recipes from America’s Great Chefs.” Few of the 115 chef contributors are celebrities of TV fame. Instead, they are community leaders who are drawing attention to critical food issues by what they choose to put on the plate.
‘Think like a chef’ with Chefs Collaborative Cookbook
The recipes in this seductively photographed cookbook are grouped in four categories — vegetable and fruits, meat and poultry, fish and seafood, and dairy and eggs. While I expected the recipes to be organized seasonally, this approach made page-turning like armchair-traveling through the seasons. Reading through each recipe inspired me to “think like a chef,” considering how each contributor selected ingredients and flavors together with attention to seasonality, yes, but deliciousness, too.
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By Chefs Collaborative and Ellen Jackson
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Another novelty is that this chef-driven book is not cheffy at all. Certainly the glossy pages include luxury ingredients and multiple steps, but this collection is not intended to dazzle or bewilder with culinary alchemy or sleight of hand. Not one to languor on the coffee table, this chef book is enticing, instructive and very approachable.
Take the recipe for turnip soup from Dan Barber. The chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Barber is the role model of the sustainable chef. Dining at his Upstate New York destination restaurant-farm-education center was dubbed “a life-changing experience” by Food and Wine.
Turnip soup: There may be no flash to this pea-green fall soup recipe, but there is more than meets the eye. For one, the ingredient list is a carefully selected assemblage of leeks, parsnips, purple-topped turnips plus uncommon parsley root (for which Barber offers a substitution). There is also attentive cooking technique: “Be careful not to get any color on the vegetables” and a teaching note about how parsnips and turnips will be sweeter if harvested after the first frost. Though summer had not yet arrived, I yearned for fall immediately.
Helpful color-coded sections
While the recipes keep the teaching light and informal, other sections of this book offer more hard-hitting resources for study. Interspersed throughout the book, robin’s-egg blue pages called “Breaking It Down” deliver encyclopedic listings demystifying the myriad labels for beef, poultry, seafood, eggs and more, delivering essential understanding for making purchasing decisions today. Other goldenrod-colored pages offer nuts-and-bolts information on topics ranging from using every part of the vegetable to understanding grain varieties to exploring various fish-catching methods. It raises serious issues without being overbearing.
The strength of this book is the variety, including all the highly regarded chefs it introduced me to who work and cook beyond my region. In a series of moss-colored pages titled “Straight Talk,” I read many of them muse about their essential pantry items, their favorite bean varieties, and how they decide between local or organic, among other topics. These read like conversations with the chefs themselves, and I would have welcomed more of them.
As a whole, “The Chefs Collaborative Cookbook” offers insights into the complex web of decisions involved in cooking responsibly and eating mindfully. Without great fanfare, these tastemakers — the contributors and chefs in the Chefs Collaborative — are notable for leading the way to a more sustainable and exemplary way of eating.
Serves 4 to 6
If you make this soup with turnips and parsnips harvested after the first freeze, it will be noticeably sweeter. When exposed to cold weather, root vegetables convert their starches to sugars to prevent the water in their cell structure from freezing. Their survival tactic is our reward.
Parsley root, also known as Hamburg parsley, is a pungent cross between celery and parsley. If you have trouble finding it, substitute 1 cup of peeled, thinly sliced celery root and an additional 2 tablespoons of parsley leaves.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, cut into ¼-inch dice (about ½ cup)
1 small leek, white part only, finely chopped
2 medium purple-top turnips (about ¾ pound), peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and thinly sliced
1 parsley root, peeled and thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable stock (homemade or store-bought)
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
½ cup picked fresh chervil leaves
¼ cup picked pale yellow celery leaves (from the core)
1. Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and leeks, reduce the heat to low, and cook slowly without browning, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the turnips, parsnips, and parsley root and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine well with the leeks and onions, cover, and continue to cook slowly for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the vegetables become very soft. Be careful not to get any color on the vegetables.
3. Add the stock, bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then purée in a blender in batches, adding some of the parsley, chervil and celery leaves each time. Make sure each batch is very smooth, then combine and strain the soup through a fine-mesh sieve. Chill in an ice bath to preserve the soup’s bright color and fresh flavor. Reheat to serve, adjusting the seasoning as necessary.
Top photo composite: “The Chefs Collaborative Cookbook” and Dan Barber’s turnip soup. Credits: Courtesy of The Taunton Press
Maison Boulud has held its ground as one of the best-regarded high-end dining destinations in Beijing since opening a couple of months before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At its helm sits Brian Reimer, the executive chef and director of operations in Asia for Dinex, also known as the Daniel Boulud Restaurant Group. Having lived in Beijing for six years, after working for three years as executive sous chef at Restaurant Daniel in New York, I wanted to learn about how these experiences have impacted him.
Reimer and I moved to Beijing about the same time. I first met him when I was dining editor for Time Out Beijing, when the city was in a building craze and citizens waited with bated breath (and grumbling stomachs) to see which of the newly-arrived fancy restaurants would survive the test of time.
What brought you to Beijing originally?
The opportunity to continue my time with Chef Daniel Boulud was one of the driving factors. For us both the idea of having the chance to open a French restaurant in Beijing at the old American Legation was incredibly exciting. Through the continued cooperation we still have to this day with Chef Daniel (a Frenchman) and myself (an American), it simply made sense to take full advantage of this unique venture.
What kept you in Beijing all these years?
As you grow in this craft of cooking and hospitality, you focus more on the larger picture. Of course the cuisine and aspects of service continue to be the most important factors.
The ability to see a space such as ours filled with such history and to now add our small mark on its importance it’s priceless. Coupled with the ability to see our staff grow as individuals and as a team — it’s the most wonderful feeling to be a part of this.
What challenges has Maison Boulud faced serving foreign food to a Chinese clientele?
We have of course run into a few occasions where the guests do not fully understand some of the cuisine. But the education of the guests with the experience of traveling abroad is fantastic.
What changes have you seen amongst your clientele over the years?
Even within just these past six years the knowledge of our guests at Maison Boulud continues to coincide with the growth of the city. It is being brought to the point where the product and supplies now available here are on par with other top cities in Asia.
What trends are you noticing in fine dining in Beijing?
The attention to detail of so many of the restaurants in Beijing and their offering a wide selection of cuisines. It is the diversity that makes Beijing, well, Beijing.
What makes the kitchen culture at Maison Boulud unique, given you have a mixed foreign-local team?
When interviewing new staff we search for them to have a predispostion to serve. It’s what makes our staff stand out in the market. We want to be able to read the guest and anticipate what they will require before they have to ask for it.
Name a culinary lesson you learned working in China?
Coach Your Team. We use the acronym CYT. It means to have to continue to instill what we are trying to serve our guests and reiterate this point time and time again.
What is the best-selling dish at Maison Boulud?
Our menus here at Maison Boulud are very seasonally focused. It’s a cornerstone of everything Daniel Boulud stands for. In the spring time, we have white asparagus from France on the menu and morel mushrooms from Yunnan with hand-rolled potato gnocchi. Our chilled tomato soup comes in the summer. Squash soup is served in the autumn which turns into a celery-chestnut soup in the winter time. We have people who look forward to the harbingers of the upcoming season. Of course we always look forward to welcoming in the bounty of each changing season.
To photo: Brian Reimer. Credit: Courtesy of Mason Boulud
The number of food stands at the Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival in May at the Orange County Fairground in Costa Mesa, Calif., was a bit daunting because all the food looked wonderful and smelled even better. One of the longest lines was for the katmer, a baked flaky pastry stuffed with clotted cream, sugar, and pistachios. It was the line we got on.
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The festival is a celebration of all the cultures of Anatolia — Turkish, Kurdish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish — all of which enjoy more or less the same food. There were historical displays, concerts and handicrafts. For me, though, the primary draw was the food court with its stunning display of foods, some of which I haven’t seen since I was last in Turkey and some I had never seen or tasted.
I was beginning to get impatient with the wait and the crowds around me when another couple waiting suggested that under no circumstances should I even consider quitting the line before I had the chance to eat katmer.
The chance to eat katmer is so rare, especially since this katmer was being made by the master katmer maker himself, Mehmet Özsimitci, of the Katmerci Zekeriya Usta in the eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep. Özsimitci had flown in with pounds upon pounds of the best Antep pistachios, the best in the world they say. Mine line mates said they didn’t know of anyone in the United States who was making or even could make katmer, so it was truly a special food.
As our interminable line got closer and closer to the katmer, I began to marvel at the mastery and artistry of Özsimitci’s skill. My first thought, which was confirmed by my newfound Turkish interlocutors, was that this is really tricky to do. He flattened a ball of dough on a greased marble slab and then rolled it out until thin. Then, as if it weren’t thin enough, which it wasn’t, he lifted and flipped and spun the dough repeatedly until it was ultra-thin before letting it land on the slab again to receive its stuffing.
He stretched the dough further and secured its sides to the slab by patting them down and then with his hands sprinkled the clotted cream on top and spooned sugar and ground pistachios on top of that. Then, carefully, he folded the sides of the pastry inward to cover the stuffing, forming a square pastry that he then picked up in one deft motion and placed on the baking tray, which his assistant then placed in the oven.
Katmer is usually eaten as a breakfast item, and it will give one enough energy until dinnertime. They say it is best when eaten hot, and it was. We devoured it while realizing we would have to wait for the next Anatolian Food Festival in two years time before having another one.
Top photo: Mehmet Özsimitci making katmer. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
Is it possible that an exotic date-filled confection offers insights into the secret origins of Christianity? Well, while it remains a fringe theory, researchers have suggested that during Jesus Christ’s so-called “Lost Years” — between the ages of 12 and 30 — he may have traveled east along the Silk Road, studying Zoroastrianism in Persia and then immersing himself in Buddhism and Hinduism in India. These spiritual practices would become the bedrock of his teachings upon his return to Israel.
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Implausible, you say? Perhaps. But if you’re looking for clues, you’re less likely to find them in decaying documents or a secret trove of relics than in a delicious Iranian pastry known as koloocheh, the round, doughy delicacy that I discovered while browsing the aisles of my favorite Iranian market in Irvine, Calif. Like a cross between the Fig Newton and the German Jewish Purim pastry hamantaschen, koloocheh have the distinctly Eastern twist of sugary dates, perfumed rose water and cardamom. Intrigued, I decided to re-create them for my Persian cookbook.
Cookie as Cultural Connector
Little did I know when I started to research koloocheh that they would reveal a bridge between diverse peoples and vast distances stretching back millennia. As it turns out, similar filled round cakes form a part of the holiday traditions of virtually all cultures whose paths have crossed the ancient Silk Road trade routes. In India, fried gujia pastries with coconut, dried fruit, and nuts, are eaten during Holi, the Hindu festival of colors that marks the start of spring. Further east, in China, the mid-autumn harvest festival ushers in the season of moon cakes, pastries pressed in elaborate molds and stuffed with fillings both sweet and savory. Heading west, in Eastern Europe, the yeasted buns known as kolachy or kalacs hold jam, poppy seeds and walnut fillings, and are meticulously prepared at Easter. Round, stuffed sweets are also an iconic part of Slavic cooking, where the name kolache is derived from the Old Slavonic word kolo, for “circle” or “wheel.”
To the south of Iran, in the Arabic world, ma’amoul are formed in intricately patterned wooden molds, then stuffed with dates and walnuts. Ma’amoul are eaten by Muslims at Eid, Christians at Easter, and Lebanese and Egyptian Jews at Purim, while their fried, honey-soaked counterparts, known as makroud in Tunisia, are a part of North African Eid celebrations. There is evidence of similar filled confections as far back as Sumer, now modern-day Iraq, one of the ancient world’s most sophisticated civilizations.
Silk Road Influence
If Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims all celebrate holy days with similar foods, it hardly seems outrageous to suggest that their spiritual rituals might also share a common foundation. Indeed, this is why koloocheh goes to the very heart of what my book, “The New Persian Kitchen,” is all about: how the Silk Road’s rich synthesis of ideas formed the unique culinary treasure that is Iranian food. It became crucial to me that a recipe for koloocheh, such an emblematic sweet, be a standout among the book’s recipes.
After several different approaches, I finally created a cookie that was simple to make and beautiful to behold. The key lay in making a buttery dough rendered flexible with the addition of an egg. Formed into disks, the dough is topped with a spoonful of date-walnut filling, then pinched closed and molded into a puck shape. A sprinkling of walnuts serves as decoration, and any imperfections are covered by a snowy layer of powdered sugar. The cookies are flaky and moist, not too sweet, and ideal with a cup of hot tea, which is how they would typically be served in Iran.
My cookie conundrum served as a lesson about the role recipes play in human evolution. They are mobile nuggets of knowledge reshaped by their adopted cultures and eras, living documents of history. I don’t know if koloocheh came to Iran via the east or the west, and I don’t know if Jesus took Buddhist ideas back with him from India to Israel. But it’s clear that the diverse societies along the Silk Road strongly influenced one another, and I need only look as far as koloocheh to see — and taste — the truth of that theory. Just think: Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East have been reimagining and integrating each other’s ideas since before the time of either Buddhism or Christianity. The ancient conversation continues as recipes evolve in the New World.
Top photo: Louisa Shafia (in front of a monitor also featuring her). Credit: James Rotondi
Roy Choi is having a moment eating fiery Soondubu, on CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” appearing live with Anthony Bourdain at the Pantages Theatre, releasing the cover of his upcoming memoir, “L.A. Son.” He’s already beloved by Angelenos for his Kogi BBQ truck, and the restaurants Chego, A-Frame, and Sunny Spot.
So a new chef enters the machinery of fame. Maybe he’ll succumb to its poison allure. But maybe, just maybe, he’ll sail through. It’s not just his rough roots, his street smarts, his attitude, his culinary eclecticism, his populism, his Dadaist tweets, his skills, and not even his way through and around flavors, that inspires hope. It’s the way he’s using food to think and feel in new ways about culture, high and low.
Good food with a bad boy image
Full disclosure: I was introduced to Choi because I was asked to write a bio of him for speaking engagements at ZPZ Live. But we talked about many things that don’t fit into a bio. It was oddly inspiring. “People are fascinated by the nature of who I am, but they haven’t gone all the way,” Choi said. “There’s the bad-boy image, but they’re not listening to what I’m saying all the way through. I cross worlds, and I don’t pass judgment on anyone.”
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His fame arrived through his Kogi BBQ truck, selling $2 Korean barbecue tacos, marketing via Twitter ( “the first viral eatery,” said Newsweek). At the Pantages event, when Bourdain remarked that he’d turn away a homeless person from a restaurant he ran, Choi countered that he’d proudly serve anyone “whose money was green,” according to LA Weekly. “Skaters and rappers and homeless and jobless” is how he described the young people he’s teaching to cook when he volunteers at A Place Called Home in South Central Los Angeles. The goal: Empowering them to open their own local food-based businesses.
He’s not taking them out to farms in a yellow bus to learn about “real” food. “That would just reinforce the message that they have to leave their community to be better human beings,” he said. “I want to do the reverse, to enlighten them that they are beautiful human beings, and they are responsible to making the community better.
“They look me up online and say, ‘You famous, dude? What are you doing here?’ I tell them, ‘Just because I’m famous doesn’t mean I have to change what I am.’ ”
The kids can’t cook. “You have to open their hearts. They don’t want to admit they don’t know this stuff. I tell them, you can f**k things up. Mash things together, like hip-hop, like a skate trick, you can fall down and scrape your knees. Use your swagger. Don’t listen to others,” he said. He shows them how to hold a knife, how to peel, how to heat a pan and render fat; to follow a work ethic; the core value of cleanliness.
“I teach them how to blanch and cook asparagus, but it doesn’t have to taste like white people food! Vegetables don’t discriminate. They can char it, squeeze lime over it, hit it with chilies and cilantro, and make it taste like they like to eat.
“I show them how to create a food cart, how to honor their Latin heritage, to use umami flavors, yogurt, coconut milk, a little chili and lime — to make it taste like their palate. So they know ‘my flavors are valid, my palate is valid, I can do anything I want.’ ”
He demonstrates how to “build” fried rice: “Start with aromatic vegetables, layering flavors as you go — ginger, garlic, scallions, that’s your trinity — maybe onions, bell peppers, chilies, cooking them, adding rice, cooking it through, deglazing, finishing with butter, eggs, mixing, layering.
“Even simple things like a hamburger, butter the bread all the way around, toast it completely, slow their steps down. Even if it’s just bread and a piece of meat, notice the difference in texture in toasting the bread, seasoning the meat.”
Forever food exploring
In his own cooking, Choi is exploring flavors of the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Trinidad, Puerto Rico and Cuba. He’s jumping into, of all things, Korean food, “wild sesame, and all these really pungent deep viscous flavors,” making his own fermented chili pastes.
“I’m looking for ways to really intensify vegetables, making them really simple with lots of flavor, like Korean side dishes,” he said.
So here’s a toast to Choi’s new fame: Don’t ever change, Roy, and keep changing. “Whatever I’m doing, it has nothing to do with putting anything else down. I love fine dining. It will always exist. I don’t want to squelch what is already thriving. I want to focus energy on things that aren’t existing,” he said.
Here are three fruit-based recipes that Roy Choi has taught his South Central students. When we asked Roy about the title for the last recipe, he replied, “I named it Boba Fett because of the boba (tapioca balls), which a lot of young kids drink.”
For the spice mix:
⅔ cup kosher salt
½ cup organic all natural sugar
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
¼ cup chili powder
Mix in a bowl and store in a shaker top container with a perforated top.
For the paletas:
¼ cup frozen mango chunks
¼ cup frozen pineapple spears
Put slightly thawed but still cold fruit into a 4-ounce plastic cup, store on ice. Sprinkle fruit with ½ teaspoon spice mixture, add 1 lime wedge, serve with fork.
Coco Nuts Smoothie
For the coconut agave mixture:
3½ cups (28 fluid ounces) coconut milk (shake before opening)
3½ cups (28 fluid ounces) coconut water
½ cup organic agave nectar
Thoroughly mix and pour into pitcher and keep cold.
For the smoothies:
¼ cup each of frozen fruits (sliced strawberries, mango chunks, pineapple chunks and peach slices) thawed but still cold. (Use four different kinds of fruit to make one cup total.)
1 cup coconut/agave mixture
Place one cup of the frozen fruit mixture in blender. Pour one cup cold coconut milk/agave mixture over fruit and blend. Serve with a straw.
For the pineapple cinnamon mixture:
1 can (46 fluid ounces) pineapple juice shaken and cold
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Mix well and pour into pitcher and keep cold.
For the fruit mixture:
2 tablespoons frozen pineapple cubes
2 tablespoons frozen mango cubes
2 tablespoons frozen banana slices
2 tablespoon frozen diced strawberries
1 cup cold pineapple/cinnamon juice mixture
Spoon fruit into plastic cup. Pour one cup pineapple juice/cinnamon mixture over fruit. Serve with big boba straw.
Top photo: Roy Choi. Credit: Fridolin Schoepper
The cream of the culinary crème was in London to attend the annual San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards and find out whether Chef René Redzepi’s Noma could retain its title as world’s best restaurant for a fourth year (it couldn’t: the three Roca brothers, of El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, knocked him off the throne into second place, while Italian chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana moved up to take third place).
Several special prizes were given out during the April awards ceremony, held in London’s magnificent medieval Guildhall, which rocked with loud music and pink lighting for the occasion. The prizes included the Sustainable Restaurant and Best Asian Chef awards to Tokyo’s Yoshihiro Narisawa; the Highest New Entry to Australian restaurant Attica; and the coveted Chef’s Choice Award to Grant Achatz.
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“Cooking is like art, it stirs the emotions,” she said as she smiled out across the sea of chefs and food professionals. “Like poetry and music, it creates a harmony of soul and mind. Food is the best way to meet and enjoy the world.” She also mentioned cooking’s need for team spirit: Since her marriage in 1974, Nadia Santini has cooked in her husband’s family’s restaurant alongside her mother-in-law, Bruna, who at 84 still helps with the daily food preparations. Antonio Santini, Nadia’s husband, runs the dining room and its outstanding wine cellar. Nadia Santini was first awarded three Michelin stars in 1996 and has retained them ever since, a record in Italy.
A few hours before the 50 Best dénouement, an intimate champagne lunch was hosted in Belgravia by Veuve Clicquot to honor Nadia Santini. It was held at Ametsa restaurant in the Halkin Hotel, across the street from Buckingham Palace. The clean-lined dining room overlooks a leafy garden and was a fitting setting for the meal’s modernist food. The restaurant, whose full name is Ametsa with Arzak Instruction, is under the guidance of Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter, Elena, of the award-winning Arzak restaurant in San Sebastián, Spain. They have entrusted the London kitchen to three chefs who worked at Arzak in San Sebastián.
Elena Arzak won the Best Female Chef award in 2012. I asked her whether we really need a separate award for female chefs today.
“There are two things,” she explained as we were served a signature Arzak dish of langoustines with crisp rice noodles and corn salsa that went beautifully with Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2004 — part of a flight of five rare Champagnes. “Madame Clicquot, who lived 200 years ago, was a pioneering business woman and innovative visionary before her time. So it’s an honor to receive an award in her name.” (The Champagne house also honors women in other fields of achievement: Their Business Woman Award this year went to architect Zaha Hadid).
“I’m Basque, and we live in a matriarchy where women have always been the mainstay of our families and society,” Elena Arzak continued. “Our restaurant, which opened in 1897, was in the hands of women cooks until my father took over in his generation. Most of our chefs are women, too.” Her father asked her advice about food and created dishes with her from an early age.
“I’ve been lucky to grow up in an environment in which women are respected even if they are sometimes behind the scenes, working as well as bringing up children. I cooked alongside my parents and never felt discriminated against because of my sex. I wish it could be the same for all women,” she said. “However, I am sure it’s just a question of time before there will be more young women in lists such as these.”
She was sitting across the table from just such a woman. Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava is a young Thai chef whose restaurant, Bo.lan is in Bangkok. She recently won the Veuve Clicquot Best Female Chef in Asia award, when the 50 Best produced its first all-Asian list. Songvisava works with her husband, Dylan Jones, and features only locally sourced, seasonal produce in their menu.
“In Thailand, women are known to be great cooks, so it’s not hard for us to be accepted,” she said. “Perhaps the biggest difference between men and women is not their imagination but their strength, as professional kitchens can be very physically demanding.”
Nadia Santini agrees. “Cooking is hard work, but I’ve always been very happy to be in this profession. It’s important for women to express their own sensibilities and bring these differences to what is, after all, a universal love of food.”
Top photo: Chefs Elena Arzak (left), Nadia Santini and Bo Songvisava celebrate. Credit: Carla Capalbo