Articles in Chefs

Shrimp marinated with shallots, garlic and Italian parsley being prepared for Chef David Padilla's Drunken Shrimp at the Beverly Hills Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel. Credit: David Latt

After a long winter, summer will be welcomed with open arms. Looking ahead to outdoor parties under sunny, blue skies, chef David Padilla’s easy-to-make Drunken Shrimp sautéed in a spicy citrus sauce is the perfect recipe for lunch or an early dinner.

As Padilla describes what he loves about cooking, he remembers his father taking him to the markets in their small town in the Mexican state of Nayarit, on the Pacific coast between Sinaloa and Jalisco. His father would lead him past the fishermen on the beach and ask, “Do you want oysters today, or fish or shrimp?” They would eat what had been in the ocean’s clear waters only a few hours before. And long before farmers markets were fashionable, he and his father shopped in the mercados to buy freshly picked produce from the family farms outside of town.

Chef David Padilla in his kitchen at the Beverly Hills Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel. Credit: David Latt

Chef David Padilla in his kitchen at the Beverly Hills Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel. Credit: David Latt

So when Padilla says he searches out organic, local and seasonal products, he’s not following trends, he’s referencing his childhood in rural Mexico — even if his kitchen is now in a boutique hotel in the heart of Beverly Hills.

Padilla is chef de cuisine at Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel’s restaurant called On Rodeo Bistro & Lounge. As documented in the recently published “Beverly Hills Centennial Cookbook,” the wealthy city has dozens of restaurants. Surprisingly, only one of those restaurants is on Rodeo Drive, the city’s internationally known, upscale shopping street.

Chef puts a Latin touch on Drunken Shrimp recipe

Given the hotel’s cosmopolitan clientele, Padilla embraces a California-inspired, fusion cuisine. He describes his menu as “a little bit of Asian, Latin, Mediterranean, a little bit of everything because we’re in L.A. and it’s a melting pot of cultures.”

At the restaurant, Padilla pulls together Latin, Asian and French influences. The bits and pieces he takes from many cuisines are melded into a balance of flavors and textures. For him, a meal is a journey. As he says, “I want your mind and taste to get lost and then you get to your destination.”

Padilla puts a decidedly Latin spin on Drunken Shrimp. The well-known Chinese dish has many iterations. One decidedly cruel version tosses live shrimp into a pot of liquor. Most commonly, the shrimp are cooked in wine or liquor so shrimp and diner presumably can share the bar tab. The shrimp in Padilla’s dish are flavored with tequila. Citrus sections and freshly squeezed juices give the dish its bright, summery flavor. serrano peppers add fire, and butter mellows and sweetens the dish.

With such a flavorful sauce, Padilla wants every drop to be enjoyed. He serves the shrimp with a thick slice of a soft Italian ciabatta bread, toasted on the grill. He suggests that rice and pasta would be good companions for the shrimp. I think steamed spinach would also be delicious.

Mexican Drunken Shrimp in a Spicy Citrus Sauce

As with any recipe, quality ingredients increase the pleasures of the dish. Use freshly squeezed citrus sections and juice and the freshest raw shrimp available. To sear the shrimp, a frying pan like one made of carbon steel that can tolerate high heat is very helpful. Quick searing is important for flavor and appearance, and also because searing seals in the shrimps’ juices. Because the flavors of the sauce take several minutes to combine, the shrimp simmer along with the other ingredients. Smaller shrimp and ones not seared can dry out and become chewy.

Drunken Shrimp at the Beverly Hills Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel. Credit: David Latt

Drunken Shrimp at the Beverly Hills Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel. Credit: David Latt

While grapefruit and oranges are available year-round, kumquats are seasonal. When they are available, they are a beautiful addition to the dish.

Taste the sauce and adjust to your palate. You may want more lemon or grapefruit juice or less. Do not season with salt during cooking. The shrimp are naturally salty. Padilla dusts the plated dish with a small amount of sea salt crystals to “brighten” the flavors.

Serves 4

Ingredients

12 raw large shrimp (10 to a pound), washed and patted dry

4 tablespoons blended oil, 80% canola oil, 20% olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

4 tablespoons chopped garlic

4 teaspoons finely chopped shallots

4 tablespoons Italian parsley, washed, patted dry and finely chopped

12 tablespoons sweet butter, plus more for bread

4 thick slices ciabatta

8 ounces tequila

1 cup orange or Cara Cara orange juice

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

12 kumquats, washed, patted dry and sliced into rounds with the skin on

4 fresh serrano chilies, washed, patted dry and sliced into rounds

12 grapefruit sections, membranes removed

12 orange sections, preferably Cara Cara oranges, membranes removed

Sea salt as needed

Directions

1. Prepare each shrimp by peeling away the shell, exposing the body. Leave 1 inch of shell covering the tail. Devein and drizzle with 2 tablespoons blended oil, season with black pepper, garlic, shallots and 2 tablespoons parsley. Set aside.

2. Heat a grill. Place a small amount of butter on each side of each piece of ciabatta. Using tongs, grill the slices on both sides. Remove and set aside.

3. Use a large frying pan so the shrimp are not crowded. Place the pan on a burner with a high flame. When the pan lightly smokes, drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons blended oil into the pan. The oil will smoke in a few seconds. Using metal tongs, place the shrimp into the pan.

4. Each shrimp will sear quickly. Turn to sear the other side. This will not take long.

5. From the marinade, add the garlic, shallots and parsley. Sauté to caramelize.

6. Remove the pan from the burner so the tequila doesn’t catch fire when added. Deglaze the pan with tequila. Stir well to lift the flavor bits off the bottom of the pan.

7. Add the citrus juice and sliced kumquats. Stir to blend together the flavors.

8. Add serrano peppers.

9. Place chunks of butter into the sauce. Stir to melt and mix together.

10. Turn the shrimp over to absorb the sauce. Reduce a few minutes.

11. To plate, use shallow bowls. Place four shrimp in each bowl. Portion out the sauce, covering the shrimp. Garnish each plate with grapefruit and orange segments. Place a slice of grilled bread on the side. Dust with a sprinkling of sea salt crystals. To add color, lightly drizzle the grilled bread with olive oil and dust with parsley.

Main photo: Shrimp marinated with shallots, garlic and Italian parsley being prepared for Chef David Padilla ‘s Drunken Shrimp at the Beverly Hills Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel. Credit: David Latt

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Susie Middleton and the cover of “Fresh from the Farm.

In 2008, Susie Middleton was looking for a quiet place to chill out from her intense 11-year position as editor at Fine Cooking magazine. She visited Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., in the dead of winter, and there discovered her inner pioneer woman, New England-style. She promptly gave up her job in Connecticut, started raising vegetables on the Vineyard and opened a farm stand at the end of a quiet road. She said, “It’s really rewarding to see the food you grow go directly into people’s hands.”

The author of two previous cookbooks, “Fast, Fresh & Green” and “The Fresh & Green Table,” Middleton chronicled her island experiences on her blog sixburnersue.com.

It blossomed into her newest book, “Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories,” which includes stories and photos of farm life and 121 recipes. Middleton added diagrams for building raised beds, a farm stand and chicken coop. You might call it a complete recipe book for the good life.

What was the major draw for you to leave a top glossy magazine for life on a small island?

I’d been editor at Fine Cooking for all those years, but I gradually had come to realize that I felt disconnected from the source of my food. I liked the idea of helping people get access to local food and learn to cook farm fresh food. Also, the minute I got my first little vegetable garden out here, I realized that it made me very happy. I am totally charmed by vegetables.

What elements of this lifestyle influenced your decision to start a commercial farm?

I was very fortunate to meet a man who became my life partner, Roy, and he had a little girl who is now just like my daughter. Her name is Libby. Together we lucked into renting an old rustic farmhouse that came with a couple acres of land. We liked it so much that we not only increased the size of our garden, we also built a hoop house and started raising more and more chickens. We’re very small but we raise 500 chickens and have another quarter acre of vegetables planted and a farm stand, which is very popular.

Access to land is one of the biggest barriers for small farmers. It sounds like that was your entry point.

It’s huge. I wrote about this on Huffington Post. We did start very, very small. We were able to be profitable without going into debt. So, if you don’t think you have to get a lot of acreage, you may be able to get started. Considering as a farmer you’re probably going to have to be doing something else anyway, it’s not a bad idea to start small so you can see if you like it.

You’ve been immersed in food for a long time, so how does owning a farm influence your cooking life?

If anything, it’s solidified my approach to cooking: Start with really fresh ingredients, learn some techniques and keep a well-stocked pantry. This book really reflects the kind of food we like to eat and what we like to cook. I want people to have fun in the kitchen and then get it out on the picnic table or the farm table — or the tiny oak table we have in our kitchen — and eat it and enjoy it.

From “Fresh from the Farm” by Susie Middleton (Taunton Press, 2014). Credit: Alexandra Grablewski

I’m crazy about vegetables. Everybody wants to cook more of them, not just vegetarians. So I feel like opening up the world of vegetables to everybody is a good thing.

I’ve always loved high-heat cooking. To me, caramelizing vegetables is a huge way to make them really tasty. I tell people to keep some good olive oil, some good vinegars, plenty of lemons and limes, good Parmigiano-Reggiano, fresh herbs, aromatics — onions, garlic and ginger — and a few condiments from your favorite cuisines, and with that you can make delicious meals.

With 500-plus laying hens, you have to have a good egg recipe or two. So, what’s your favorite?

Gosh, we do a lot of frittatas. We use the eggs in a lot of custards. We make a lot of French toast around here [laughs]. I like to make my Green Island Farm open-faced egg sandwich with some of the early Asian greens, like tatsoi. Greens and eggs are an amazing combination.

How did your first two books lead toward this one?

I started out life as a writer. When I first started doing cookbooks I thought it best to maximize my expertise at the time, which was cooking techniques. I started my blog sixburnersue.com six years ago and it has transformed itself into the story of the farm.

Readers do respond to stories. So, will you do more of this?

I have mixed feelings about food memoirs that have a dozen recipes. I think what I’d like to do is something that does have a lot of writing in it, but also has a fair amount of recipes.

Top photo: Susie Middleton and the cover of “Fresh From the Farm.” Credit: Courtesy of Taunton Press

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At the C-CAP fundraiser, left to right, President Susan Robbins, C-CAP alum chef Brandon Bryan and chef Philippe Bertineau of Benoit, C-CAP founder Richard Grausman. Credit: Sylvia Wong Lewis

“Learning to cook changed my life,” said Kelvin Fernandez, a Dominican New Yorker and graduate of Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), an organization that prepares public high school kids for college and careers in the hospitality industry. “I followed a girl into a high school cooking class and ended up finding my passion,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez cooked for C-CAP’s 16th annual gala recently, which drew more than 800 guests for a grand tasting benefit scholarship fundraiser. The event raised more than $1 million for scholarships, most of which will help underserved students.

As he put the finishing touches on his signature dish, Fernandez said, “Tonight, everything must be perfect. We are ready and we worked very hard. But in a way, my journey is just beginning.” Fernandez is the new executive chef at Blend on the Water, New York’s hottest new Latino restaurant.

A national nonprofit organization founded in 1990 by cookbook author and educator Richard Grausman, C-CAP has awarded students $40 million in scholarships and donated more than $3 million worth of supplies and equipment to classrooms. C-CAP operates in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Arizona.

The recent culinary showcase featured an all-star roster of New York chefs and restaurateurs including Marcus Samuelsson, Daniel Boulud, Bryce Shuman, Drew Nieporent, Alexander Smalls, Joseph “JJ” Johnson and Banks White.

Tattooed arm of C-CAP alum and executive chef Sean Quinn as he plates a signature dish from Chadwick. Credit: Sylvia Wong Lewis

Tattooed arm of C-CAP alum and executive chef Sean Quinn as he plates a signature dish from Chadwick. Credit: Sylvia Wong Lewis

C-CAP alumni in New York include Mame Sow, The Cecil and Minton’s executive pastry chef; Thiago Silva, who is also known as the baker to the stars of the General and the EMM Group; and Sean Quinn, executive chef at Chadwick’s. Everyone turned out to raise scholarship funds but  most important to work alongside and mentor 60 C-CAP students. This gala was their first step into the big leagues.

Most C-CAP students are from communities where few students can afford culinary training or are aware of culinary career opportunities. An event that promotes diversity in the culinary-hospitality industry is very timely; statistics show the industry is diversifying.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms a 3% increase in black chefs and head cooks from 2012 to 2013, according to a PBS report. It is important to note, though, that minority chefs still face challenges from traditional social and racial hierarchies in professional kitchens.

Going from table to table, some of the event old-timers gave unsolicited pointers. “Check out the Peking duck over there! There are two different quail egg dishes tonight!” Some of the other luxurious food samples included Samuelsson’s signature chicken donut, Mame Sow’s pineapple upside-down cake, and Daniel Boulud and Brian Loiacono’s braised veal shank.

C-CAP ‘set me on an amazing path’

“Once you’re a C-CAP graduate you are always part of the C-CAP family,” said founder Richard Grausman in his greetings to the packed room at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers. The live auction, which raised $80,000, was highlighted by bidding wars on private dinners cooked by celebrity chefs.

“The annual benefit is critical in supporting C-CAP’s mission of providing scholarships, education and career opportunities to at-risk youth who are interested in pursuing careers in the restaurant and food service industry,” said Susan Robbins, C-CAP’s president. “For more than 20 years, we have been transforming lives for thousands of qualified students across the country, from culinary education in high schools to career placement assistance upon graduation. We continue to manage the largest independent culinary scholarship program in the nation and, to date, have awarded over $40 million.”

Carlton McCoy, one of the youngest Master Sommeliers in the world, and only the second African American to hold the title, credited C-CAP with introducing him to his career.

Celebrities turned out for the C-CAP Gala to help the next generation of chefs (from left) Banks White, Minton's Chef de Cuisine; Alexander Smalls-The Cecil and Minton's restaurants in Harlem; Tamara Tune, actress ("Law & Order"), and her husband Gregory Generet, jazz singer. Credit: Sylvia Wong Lewis

Celebrities turn out for the C-CAP Gala including, from left, Banks White, Minton’s Chef de Cuisine; Alexander Smalls of The Cecil and Minton’s restaurants in Harlem; Tamara Tunie, actress (“Law & Order”), and her husband, Gregory Generet, jazz singer. Credit: Sylvia Wong Lewis

“My story is known to most of you. I was a high school student in a tough Washington, D.C., neighborhood where I was mugged twice and lived in constant danger,” McCoy said. “My family had no exposure to fine wines or fine dining. Luckily, my high school had a C-CAP program. So, I am especially proud and honored to be with you tonight. Mr. Grausman’s program set me on an amazing path.”

Honoree Michael White is the chef/owner of Altamarea Group, which includes Marea, Ai Fiori, Al Molo, The Butterfly, Chop Shop and Osteria Morini. He praised C-CAP’s mission to reach underserved students.

“The success that I enjoy was not done alone. I received lots of advice along the way from industry insiders. So, I accept this award with a message to everyone to pay it forward and mentor someone.”

Filling a culinary education gap

C-CAP developed its culinary education program just as many public schools were discontinuing old-style home economics programs. Those school kitchen cupboards were bare and many were torn out to make room for computer labs. It was the height of “cookless” kitchens and microwave ovens.

But Grausman aimed to save culinary arts in the classroom. Using his cookbook “French Classics Made Easy,” (previously published as “At Home with the French Classics”) as the basis for the curriculum, he developed the first culinary  enrichment program in the New York City Public Schools, said Joyce Appelman, C-CAP communications director who has worked with Grausman from the beginning.

The program continues to feature teacher development, student job training and alumni resources. A new initiative offers pro bono legal services to help students negotiate contracts and establish their own restaurants.

C-CAP is credited with holding the first cooking competition long before TV’s Food Network existed. At this annual event, students must memorize, prepare and present classic French dishes before a panel of judges in order to receive their scholarships.

Top photo: At the C-CAP fundraiser, left to right, President Susan Robbins, C-CAP alum chef Brandon Bryan and chef Philippe Bertineau of Benoit, C-CAP founder Richard Grausman. Credit: Sylvia Wong Lewis

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Top photo: Kalbi-style flank steak. Credit: W.F. Tierney

I must confess my undying love for Los Angeles. I spent most of my life there, but there came a point when it was time to move on. I’m not one of those people who relocates out of L.A. and then spits on it. I’m just the opposite. I look forward to going back, sometimes by Amtrak Surfliner — Union Station is an incredibly beautiful building, and the city is there for you right outside the front door.

Whether I drive or take the train into Los Angeles, I somehow always find myself in Koreatown. It’s a strange and mysterious place. The Korean population in Los Angeles is second only to Seoul, South Korea, in numbers. The rough confines are Vermont Avenue to the east and Western Avenue to the west, with the pulsing heart beating from Sixth Street to Eighth Street from north to south.

Trip to Koreatown a multisensory experience

On the ankle-breaking pavement of Eighth Street, as you make your way westward, you’ll have to negotiate paving slabs thrust upward like tectonic plates. Tree roots seem to be the cause. My first stop (and of course you have other options) is Dong Il Jang for by-the-book Seoul food. You are served by prim waitresses in black, nun-like outfits with starched white collars. One of my friends who spent a long time in Seoul at the service of a major U.S. bank described it as “old school.” The best dishes on the menu are prepared with two people in mind, so for my lunch I have to settle for a very good kimchi stew with beef and tofu, and it comes with an array of banchan, or small plates.

Next it’s off to Assi, also on Eighth Street. Assi is a Korean mega-mart where you can explore the world of kimchi, or do as I did and track down a jar of yujacha. This is a tea base made with citron rind that resembles marmalade. I didn’t know where to look for it, so I carefully transcribed the Korean characters onto a scrap of paper. That turned out to be unnecessary as I turned a corner on an aisle and found a whole end cap of yujacha in front of me. One of life’s little epiphanies.

But why my recent trek back to Koreatown? Part of the inspiration was reading Roy Choi’s book “L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food.” I’m fascinated by what these Korean-American guys are coming up with. David Chang was the subject of the PBS series “Mind of a Chef,” but Choi is more like “The Id of a Chef.” Early in his career, he bounced around all over the place. He eventually wound up at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, then stumbled into a job with Éric Ripert at La Bernardin. Back in Southern California, he couldn’t find work and wound up in Borrego Springs cooking for geezers at a golf club. But the geezers got him thinking about real food again.

Back in the Los Angeles I know and love, taco trucks were part of my youth. But Choi and company have turned food trucks upside down and started a revolution in the process. Savvy use of social media put Choi’s Kogi food trucks on your smartphone and everywhere from outside the bar scene in Venice, Calif., to an office park in Torrance, Calif. It was the food concept that made it work, all these dissimilar strands pulled together to make something strange and shockingly good.

Dong Il Jang in Los Angeles' Koreatown. Credit: W.F. Tierney

Dong Il Jang in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. Credit: W.F. Tierney

The whole internationalized food-truck movement began with Choi. He is simply a savant. It’s Choi being Choi, or “Papi,” as he calls himself. Chinatown seems like an odd place to throw down his latest bomb. The downtown L.A. dining scene is bustling like never before, but Chego, in Chinatown, is rather far away from that. Angelenos will tell you that the best Asian and Mexican food is found in strip centers on major surface streets like Ventura Boulevard, Pico Boulevard or Beverly Boulevard. Why? Leases are reasonable and L.A. people spend a lot of time in their cars. Choi’s first brick-and-mortar location, A-Frame, was located in what used to be an IHOP.

Let’s not forget Sang Yoon, the Korean-American guy you probably haven’t heard of. Best known for Father’s Office hamburgers, he has now pretty much conquered Culver City, Calif., with his Lukshon restaurant. The old Helms Bakery building is the focal point of what has become an arts and dining district, and he’s in the middle of it.

So in tribute to Korean America, I’m offering you this K-Town-inspired recipe.

Kalbi-Style Flank Steak

This beef is best cooked outside, over either a gas grill or a wood charcoal fire (the latter is preferred). You will need a hot spice element in the marinade; in this case, I used gochujang, which is a chili and bean paste mixture. You can find that or other similar concoctions in Asian markets. Sriracha is an acceptable substitute, but it shouldn’t be your first choice. The chili and bean paste adds more subtle and complex flavor notes. Gochugaru is an optional addition to the marinade. If you can find this Korean hot red pepper powder, it is wonderfully aromatic. I call it “Korean crack.” I received some from a Korean-born friend and fell in love with it right away.

Serve this meat with short-grain rice and kimchi or other Korean pickles. HMart and Assi each have an entire aisle of kimchis.

Serves 4

Ingredients

½ ripe Asian pear, peeled

¼ cup dark soy sauce

¼ cup sesame oil

1 tablespoon gochujang or other chili bean paste, Sriracha being your last resort

1 teaspoon gochugaru (optional)

1 tablespoon honey (or substitute maple syrup)

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 small piece of ginger thinly sliced

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1½ pound flank steak (or use flanken ribs)

8 to 12 iceberg or romaine lettuce leaves for serving

Directions

1. Cut the peeled pear half into chunks and purée in a sturdy blender.

2. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, gochujang, gochugaru (if using) and honey to the blender and pulse a few times.

3. Turn the blender contents into a bowl and add the garlic, ginger and sesame seeds to complete the marinade.

4. With a sharp knife, score the top of the flank steak with four or five bias cuts.

5. Cover the steak with the marinade and refrigerate for up to eight hours.

6. Fire up your grill (remember wood is preferred) and cook the marinated steak turning only once. Flank steak of this size should take no more than 30 minutes to cook. Test for doneness with an instant read thermometer — sorry, I don’t trust the finger-poke method. The temperature should be between 130 F and 135 F.

7. Allow the steak to rest under tented foil for about 10 minutes, then slice very thinly on the bias.

8. Serve with the lettuce leaves as lettuce cups.

Top photo: Kalbi-style flank steak. Credit: W.F. Tierney

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The Irati tapas bar in Barcelona. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

During a recent dinner party I found myself making a distinction between ingredient-driven cooking and culture-driven cooking and explaining that I believe the best cooking is culture-driven. Here’s what I mean by that.

When a cook is inspired to a manner of cooking derived from a particular culture, their creation respects that culture. They are cooking in a culture-driven mode whether the dish cooked is an old standard or a new recipe. The inspiration keeps the newly created or inspired dish true to the heart and soul of that particular cuisine.

Ingredient-driven cooking, on the other hand, is all too often the fetishization of a food incorporated into a cooking that lacks the very soul that we want to taste. Ingredient-driven cooking is enamored with the food rather than the culture of the cook or cuisine.

Culture should trump fashion

As consumers and cooks we confront a barrage of the latest “hot” ingredients, methods and prepared dishes. Food marketers, restaurant chefs, bloggers and food magazine editors contribute to this onslaught of looking for the next hot thing. It might be a food promoted for its trendy ingredients, such as açai berry or a new kind of grain such as quinoa, or a resurrected vegetable such as kale, or a method such as sous-vide or a whole category such as tapas or sushi.

Twenty-years ago, fresh pasta became more desirable and fashionable than dried pasta, its proponents seemingly ignorant over the uses of both in Italian cooking. They were ingredient-driven, not culture-driven.

Tapas is a good place to start to talk about this distinction because in America tapas have no other meaning than “appetizers on little plates that we will call tapas.” But tapas are a category of not merely foods, but of a way of eating, and not just in Spain, but historically and specifically, in Andalusia. A tapa in Spain is not an appetizer. It is much more, it is part of a culture.

Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t invent new things, new categories, but let us respect the culture from which new culinary gifts came. Let’s be gracious and learn about this culinary culture. It will help us cook better. After all, hundreds of years of development of the tapas bar in Andalusia will provide more foundation to our culinary thinking than the 10 years the word has been popular in the United States.

Look past the hot ingredients

I’ve looked at restaurant menus of Mediterranean-inspired restaurants and I see a variety of well-known meze under a category heading called “tapas.”  Hummus is not tapa, it’s a meze. They are not similar because they are little foods on small plates. That’s not what is germane about these foods. What’s germane is that they come from and are eaten within a particular culinary culture and that they function in a particular way.  As an aside, “hummus” does not mean “dip” it means “chickpea” and the meze you eat when you eat hummus is hummus bi’l-tahina, chickpeas with sesame seed paste.

That might seem a minor issue, but it’s essential to what I’m saying. In America, it seems the fetishization of food is in full throttle. Americans celebrate ingredients totally devoid of their cultural and emotional context.

In America, we eat sushi, presented as raw fish, and rarely as Japanese food. Restaurants serve tapas, little foods (growing bigger all the time in America) on little plates, and not a cultural heritage of Andalusia. Imagine looking at a Vermeer painting and admiring the frame and not the tilt of the maid’s head, the pouring of the milk, or the light from the window. This is what ingredient-driven cooking is like.

Now this does not mean we should not be concerned with ingredients. However, when the ingredient drives our cooking over and above the culinary context, it becomes a fetish. Do we want to cook and eat saumon à l’unilateral because of omega-3 or because of the French technique of cooking on one-side-only, skin-side-down, in a covered pan over high heat that creates an extraordinarily delicious and easy-to-prepare dish that has been popular with French families for generations?

Similarly, consider the fashion of heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes can be wonderful, but it isn’t the heirloom quality that makes them wonderful. It’s where they are grown and how they are grown that make them wonderful. However, one does not buy $5-a-pound heirloom tomatoes simply to make a tomato sauce. What I’m suggesting is that you buy tomatoes best suited for the preparation you are making and not what other people say, i.e. fashion.

We don’t cook in a vacuum. We cook because we live and breathe a culture that provides an ineluctable connection and foundation to who we are.

Top photo: The Irati tapas bar in Barcelona. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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A wall of Ferran Adrià's drawings on display as part of the

What is art? And where do the culinary arts fit into the spectrum of what is referred to as “art?”

These are questions I asked myself at a recent show of Ferran Adrià’s drawings, sculptures, photographs and videos, titled “Notes on Creativity,” on exhibit at The Drawing Center in Manhattan. Adrià, the world-renowned chef of the now-closed El Bulli in Spain and the master of molecular gastronomy, is mentor to many of the most forward-thinking chefs working today. He has also been the subject of several documentaries, including “El Bulli Cooking in Progress.”

From "Notes on Creativity":
"The type of person who carries a pencil around is the type of person who's open to change. Someone who walks around with a pen isn’t; he's the opposite. I always have a pencil with me, to the point where it forms a part of me."  -- Ferran Adrià


More from Zester Daily:

» Chef Ferran Adrià’s talk of innovation still resonates

» A post-El Bulli universe

» The real magic of molecular gastronomy

» Staff meals at El Bulli

In a New York Times review of the art exhibit, Roberta Smith writes, “If his cooking is close to art, then Mr. Adrià is close enough to being an artist to merit the exuberant, engrossing overview of the graphic side of this work at The Drawing Center.”

Adrià’s food is inventive, outside the box and beautiful. Although I never had the chance to eat at El Bulli (it closed in 2011), I was curious to see his recent show. The press release from The Drawing Center describes it this way: “This is the first major museum exhibition to focus on the visualization and drawing practices of master chef Ferran Adrià. The exhibition emphasizes the role of drawing in Adrià’s quest to understand creativity. His complex body of work positions the medium as both a philosophical tool — used to organize and convey knowledge, meaning, and signification — as well as a physical object — used to synthesize over twenty years of innovation in the kitchen.”

Does Adrià’s translate to art?

I meandered through the three rooms containing Adrià’s work, including notebooks, drawings (some of which were created in conjunction with Marta Mendez Blaya) and photographs of chefs working at El Bulli. I couldn’t help thinking that the wall of colorful drawings looked a lot like the kindergarten classroom at my daughter’s old school. Oversized words were boldly colored and in childlike print: “Milk. Crème. Beware. Cheese. Yogurt,” read one drawing, like a warning to a lactose-intolerant child. Some drawings had a primal appeal, like the one with stick figures seated around a large oval table with the word “PARTY” printed at the bottom. My favorite drawings involved gardens and vegetables, primitive, colorful sketches of radishes, carrots and other root vegetables coming out of the ground. There is a sense of playfulness and harmony in these drawings that lets you know the sheer joy Adrià must feel when he’s in the presence of truly fresh, seasonal food.

As a cookbook author, food writer and recipe developer, I, too, have notebooks filled with drawings and diagrams of how I arrange or plate recipes I’m working on. Are they museum worthy? Certainly not. In the same way, my journals, for the most part, are not meant for anyone’s eyes but my own. So I have to ask: Is this art because Adrià is world-renowned? Is it art the way Picasso’s doodles are art?

At first, I wasn’t clear. I felt cynical even. But as I took my time and looked at the work without judgment, I began to understand that this is a show about process. It provides a glimpse into the mind of a mad (and I use this word with the utmost respect) scribbling of a genius chef who thinks about every aspect of what goes on a plate and into a diner’s mouth. His almost maniacal attention to detail, the rethinking of every possibility of flavor, is revealed in this show.

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One of several in a wall of drawings on display as part of the "Notes on Creativity" exhibit at The Drawing Room in Manhattan. Credit: Kathy Gunst

For instance, a large table contains an exhibit of 247 colorful, plasticine molds that look like fossils or papier-mâché rocks, designed to show the chefs who worked with Adrià exactly how a dish should be shaped and sized. “In cooking, dimension and proportion are very important, and the more sophisticated the style of the cuisine, the more decisive these can become … For a time the kitchen resorted to photographs,” Adrià writes. “But these did not completely solve the problem, because the proportions of each element continued to be difficult to determine.”

The working boards of Ferran Adrià

In another room, an entire wall displays oversized “working boards.” Adrià explains the idea behind these boards: “The process of creating a dish is meticulous but very simple; first jot down an idea, then develop it; if it works, develop it further.” One board, titled “How to Create a Dish,” is a crude pencil drawing of ravioli with various shapes and filling and plating ideas. Ideas are expressed on paper before they go to the kitchen, showing where food will be placed on a plate — oval shapes next to rectangles, triangles surrounded by tiny circles.

These working boards are fascinating for anyone who cooks and thinks about the colors, textures, shapes and flavors of food. And it is a great contrast to the modern world of looking at plates of food on Instagram and Facebook.

In the end, after gazing and considering Adrià drawings, working boards, journals and photographs, I left with more questions than answers. And then I realized: Isn’t that the real definition of art?

Top photo: A wall of Ferran Adrià’s drawings on display as part of the “Notes on Creativity” exhibit. Credit: Kathy Gunst


Exhibition schedule: “Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity,” curated by Brett Littmann, begins an international tour after wrapping up at The Drawing Center in February. Dates include: May 4 to July 31, 2014, at Ace Museum in Los Angeles; Sept. 26, 2014, to Jan. 18, 2015, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland; Sept. 17, 2015, to Jan. 3, 2016, at the Minneapolis Institute of Art; March 20 to June 12, 2016, at Marres House for Contemporary Culture in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

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Beef jerky. Credit: Sofia Perez

If you’re someone who likes to experiment in the kitchen, you know that inspiration can strike in unexpected ways. The latest spark for me was a trip to Mexico, where a Canadian chef persuaded this American to try her hand at making beef jerky. I like to think of the result as my own little gastronomic North American Free Trade Agreement.

In January, I traveled to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, to attend a five-day culinary event at the El Dorado Royale resort on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Sponsored by a Canadian beef association, the recurring series features a different Canuck toque each month, and January’s presenter was chef Louis Charest, who is at the helm of two restaurants in Ottawa, Canada — Big Easy’s Seafood & Steakhouse and Rosie’s Southern Kitchen. In addition to sharing tips and techniques for buying and cooking beef, Charest also prepared a slew of beef-centered dishes for us to taste, including a rich short-rib ravioli that he served up with a strip of jerky on the side. While the ravioli were delicious, it was the concentrated flavor of that small garnish that was a revelation.

Although I enjoy a good burger, steak or bolognese sauce from time to time, I don’t eat a great deal of beef, but I do remain a fan of well-made charcuterie. Long tarred by its image as truck-stop mystery grub, beef jerky rarely gets invited to the high-end cured-meat party, but sampling Charest’s version made me realize the good kind can more than hold its own with other salted and dried gourmet products like salumi. One of the best ways to ensure quality — and avoid consuming unpronounceable preservatives or the byproducts of an Upton Sinclair–esque meat-processing facility — is to make your own at home.

Although the name is believed to derive from the Incan word for dried meat, jerky was also a popular staple for Native Americans and, later, the early colonists. Back in the days before refrigeration, the technique helped preserve meat for long periods of time, and the end result was sustenance that was easy for trappers and settlers to transport on long journeys.

As anyone who’s ever eaten the stuff can attest, jerky is not the most attractive food, but what it lacks in beauty, it more than makes up for in taste. The possible seasoning combinations are nearly infinite, but the basic building blocks are salt and air-drying, which serve to draw out the meat’s moisture, thereby preventing spoilage. Not surprisingly, the resulting food is fairly high in sodium, but unless you’re on a salt-restricted diet, this shouldn’t pose a major problem. The best jerky has a very concentrated flavor, and it’s not meant for gorging. A little goes a long way.

Let your tastes guide your beef jerky marinade

Standing in one of the resort’s working kitchens, Charest talked me through his jerky recipe. It features many of the seasonings he employs at his two New Orleans-inspired restaurants, where he draws from Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole culinary traditions as well as their French and Canadian influences. His final jerky spice blend includes elements like cayenne-celery salt, paprika and ground seaweed, but he was adamant that home cooks should feel free to deviate from this recipe and others. “Don’t be afraid to swap out one ingredient for another,” he says. “If you don’t have or like a certain spice, replace it with something else. Go with the flavors you enjoy.”

In this spirit, I set about adapting his recipe to match my own palate, while still relying on his overall technique. In Mexico, he used meat from the shoulder clod, but if you can’t find that particular cut, a blade or flank steak works just as well. Like moisture, fat also promotes spoilage, so it’s important to use lean meat and take the time to trim it thoroughly.

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Beef cut into strips for jerky. Credit: Sofia Perez

In addition to using generous amounts of salt, you’ll also want to slice the meat as thinly as possible, to facilitate the drying process. In my research, I came across several recipes that recommended freezing the meat for an hour or so to firm it up, making it easier to cut, but you can also follow Charest’s approach of pounding your slices with the flat edge of a chef’s knife or meat tenderizer.

For the marinade, any permutation of soy sauce, alcohol (such as bourbon, mirin, tequila, etc.), teriyaki sauce, vinegar or citrus will do nicely, but if you opt for a base that’s salted, like soy sauce, remember to adjust the overall salt content to fit your taste. (I used low-sodium tamari, because that’s what I keep at home, so I made sure to include enough extra salt.) It’s also a good idea to add a sweet element, like sugar or honey, for balance. And taste the mixture before adding the raw meat, to ensure you like the flavor.

Quality beef is not the world’s cheapest ingredient, which is why my recipe calls for a relatively small amount of meat. The idea is to experiment with different spice combinations first until you hit upon one you really like; once you do, simply scale up the ingredient quantities.

As its earliest proponents knew, beef jerky is an eminently adaptable recipe, so let your imagination — and taste buds — be your guide.

Smoked Paprika and Lime Beef Jerky

If you don’t have a dehydrator, your oven will do fine. Set it as close to 170 F as possible. Because you want the beef to dry out without burning, it’s also helpful to leave the oven door cracked open a bit and check on the meat periodically. Cooking times will vary according to oven and room temperature, ambient humidity and the thickness of your meat slices. Just be sure to leave the beef in the oven until it has dried completely.

Ingredients

4 to 4½ tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)

3 tablespoons low-sodium tamari

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne powder

½ pound thinly sliced fat-trimmed beef

Directions

1. Combine lime juice, tamari, rice vinegar and sherry vinegar in a large bowl. Add sugar, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika and cayenne powder, and stir well to combine the marinade.

2. Slice meat into ⅛- to ¼-inch-thin strips. As you slice around the gaps where you have trimmed fat, you will likely get slices that are no longer uniform in shape. This will not affect the recipe.

3. Place the meat into the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight.

4. The next day, preheat your oven to 170 F. (If you have a dehydrator, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.)

5. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil to catch the marinade drippings and place a rack atop the sheet. Lay the meat strips on the rack, making sure to leave space among them to allow air to circulate.

6. Place the rack in the oven and leave the door open a bit. (If you choose not to do this, be sure to check the meat occasionally to ensure it does not burn.) Leave the rack in the oven until the meat is completely dry. The time will vary. In my oven, it took 3½ hours.

Top photo: Beef jerky. Credit: Sofia Perez

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Photo: Pouding alsacien with crème fraîche. Credit: Sue Style

Of all the people who would have exulted — and permitted themselves a wry smile — at the recent rehabilitation of butter, Julia Child would surely have been the first.

Child was my hero. I was living in the wrong part of the world when her television series aired, so I missed all those apocryphal episodes featuring chickens crashing to the kitchen floor to be scooped up, restored to the serving plate and served up with a flourish. But I learned to cook with her at my side, not on the screen but through the pages of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (both volumes). When my first book “A Taste of Alsace” was published, I took my courage in both hands and sent her a copy.

A month or two later, in January 1991, I received a most charming letter thanking me for the book – I still treasure it. “How wonderful,” she wrote, “that you have recipes for good hearty food like choucroute, snail ravioli etc. with all of those wonderful ingredients of the old cuisine. We hardly see that kind of cooking in this country any more (sic) because people are so terrified of food and fat.”

Butter makes everything better

Child was famously unafraid of food — or fat. Butter is the warp and woof of all her books, a golden thread that runs through them from start to finish. Here she is on “Enrichments for White Sauces”: “Fresh butter stirred into a sauce just before serving is the simplest of the enrichments. It smooths out the sauce, gives it a slight liaison, and imparts that certain French taste which seems to be present in no other type of cooking.”

How could her pastry crusts — five parts flour to four parts butter — be anything other than “tender, crunchy and buttery”? Sauces don’t skimp on this glorious fat either, whether roux-based and further enriched, of the hollandaise family or whisked vigorously and with abandon into a reduction of shallots, white wine and vinegar for a classic beurre blanc. Even her crêpe batter has 4 tablespoons of melted butter blended in, to give the richest, tenderest, lightest crêpes imaginable.

When she gives a recipe for hamburgers (while cheerfully anticipating the shocked reaction of her audience on finding a hamburger recipe in a French cookbook), she first softens onions in a goodly quantity of butter, adds a little more to the ground meat for tenderness and moisture, and finally recommends serving the burgers with butters flavored variously with parsley, herbs, mustard, shallots or garlic.

Vegetables almost invariably get the treatment, whether it’s buttered artichoke hearts (to be filled with poached eggs and/or béarnaise sauce), asparagus with hollandaise or plain buttered French beans, “which go with almost anything,” but which are so good in their own right she suggests offering them as a separate course. One of my favorite potato recipes is her Gratin Savoyard, where meat stock replaces the customary milk or cream of the Gratin Dauphinois (plus an extra dollop of butter).

And when did anyone last see or hear of butter cream, that wondrously rich, smooth-as-silk filling or icing based on egg yolks, sugar butter and flavorings, which fell out of fashion alongside things like Baked Alaska and Black Forest Gateau?

I have a special place in my heart (and kitchen) for Child’s Pouding Alsacien, a homely Alsatian dessert which I suspect draws on a recipe known here in its home country as Bettelmann (“beggar man”). Child’s version consists of apples tossed in butter, mixed with plum jam and rum, topped with whipped butter, sugar and eggs with some breadcrumbs mixed in and baked till golden. I like to think she would rejoice to see this buttery, golden pudding rejoin the ranks of permitted foods.

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Apple peelings. Credit: Sue Style

Pouding Alsacien (Gratin of sautéed apples)

This dish, which should be served cold, is inspired by a similar recipe from Julia Child.

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

2½ pounds (seven or eight) well-flavored eating apples

4½ ounces (125 grams) butter

4 tablespoons plum jam, pushed through a sieve

2 tablespoons rum (I use an Alsatian eau-de-vie de quetsche or plum liqueur.)

3 ounces (75 grams) sugar

3 egg yolks

2 teaspoons flour

A pinch of cinnamon

2 ounces (50 grams) fresh breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons milk (optional)

3 egg whites

A pinch of salt

2 teaspoons of sugar

Icing sugar in a shaker

Directions

1. Quarter, peel and core the apples and cut in thick slices.

2. Heat half the butter till sizzling in a large frying pan, toss in the apples and fry over lively heat till lightly browned, tossing the pan from time to time so they brown evenly — they should be tender but still hold their shape (This is why you need to use eating, not cooking apples, which may disintegrate into a fluff.)

3. Tip the apples into an ovenproof dish or pan about 9 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep (23 centimeters by 5 centimeters).

4. Melt the sieved plum jam in a small pan and stir in the rum or eau-de-vie.

5. Mix the jam mixture into the cooked apples and smooth the top.

6. Heat the oven to 325 F (170 C).

7. Using a hand-held mixer, cream together the remaining butter and sugar till light and fluffy.

8. Beat in the egg yolks, then the flour and cinnamon, and finally the breadcrumbs. (If the mixture is very stiff, you may need to stir in a couple of tablespoons of milk.)

9. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks are formed, then beat in the sugar and continue beating till stiff.

10. Fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture and spread it evenly over the apples.

11. Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until the top is nicely risen and lightly colored.

12. Dredge with icing sugar and return the gratin to the oven for a further 15 to 20 minutes until the top is golden brown.

13. Allow to cool on a rack, then refrigerate for 24 hours.

Top photo: Pouding alsacien with crème fraîche. Credit: Sue Style

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