Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Taste of Home

I'd be lying if I said that I've had a hard time dreaming up specials lately. Truth be told: I have enough completed dishes to get me through the next month, and that doesn't even include ideas based on those wonderful "blips" of produce that quickly surface in the market (Lobster Mushrooms anyone??). So why the long list? It is the inspiration of that first chilly day, where the leaves turn crisp and jingle in the breeze and when the bounty of produce begins to peak; it is in fact my favorite time of year.

This is the time of the year where we get to view another side of my style of cooking - rich and bold flavors mingling with familiar ingredients to impart the fundamental sense of home; not just my home, and not just your home, but any home. With years of living in different areas of this great country and with its many influences I have found that, though the regions and the people differ, the soul of the food remains the same, and with that thought in mind, I came up with this:

I started the dish by sauteing large pieces of rockfish, which I love for it's almost shrimp/lobster texture while still staying flaky, like a fish should. Next I wanted to combine something traditionally American with what is unconventionally American, so I made a base of roasted sugar pie pumpkins pureed with garlic, onions and a touch of allspice and blended it with red Thai curry paste and some coconut milk for richness.

To finish the dish I went with a Guamanian preparation of pickled papaya that I used to form a salad along with red bell pepper, scallion, jujube (a.k.a. Chinese date) and fresh cilantro to offset the lusciousness of the pumpkin curry, and topped it all off with toasted papaya and pumpkin seeds for even more crunch and flavor.

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Once I had this week's special finalized, I knew that I had to come up with a cocktail that is also both conventional and unconventional, and then it struck me.

No cocktail has been more prevalent in America in the last decade than the ubiquitous Cosmopolitan, a blend of cranberry juice, lime juice, vodka and triple sec. So I replaced the lime juice and triple sec for lychee nectar, which not only rearranged the whole characteristic of the drink, but actually formulated a cocktail to pair with my special!!

Try them seperate or taste them together, either way you'll feel right at home.

With Love,


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The 25th Hour

Last week I snuck away for a little vacation to go back home for my brother's wedding. Sorry for not telling you before, but when people know that the chef is away they tend to expect the quality of food to go down, and when you already have negative expectations, they usually come true for you.

Obviously southern Indiana isn't an ideal place to summer for a week, but I had other matters to attend to, the biggest of which was the arduous task of making the wedding cake.

Fear not dear reader, I have done this before, even at my own wedding, and I hate to say it - this one came out better. With the requested kelly green ribbons, fleur-de-lis molded fondant and the fresh green rose topper this cake sure came out sharp!!

The bad side of the trip was the return; not that I didn't want to leave but because my wife and I had to go through Atlanta, GA to get here, and since they had more rain in 12 hours than we get here in December and January COMBINED, we had to leave Louisville at 2 am (Seattle time) just to get here in time for me to start work today. Now that's dedication!! Lucky for me, I already had this week's special mapped out.

The foundation of this dish starts with purslane, considered a weed here in the US but is now being cultivated by local farms that has a herbal, slightly sour flavor that makes an amazing puree when I blend it with shallots, garlic and cream.

As I've stated before I am now officially moving into fall flavors, so I continued building another layer of flavor for this dish with a light saute of sliced fingerling potatoes, baby fennel, bacon, thyme and scallions to showcase some earthy components of fall.

To top it all off I pounded portions of boneless lamb and cooked them sous vide to perfect medium rare and tender medallions which I dusted with a fine mixture of ground fennel seeds, black pepper and coriander.

During our layover at my mother's house last night she made us a favorite cocktail of a friend of her's - the French Martini - a blend of vodka, pineapple juice and Chambord to ease our traveling woes, which reminded me about a new type of flavored vodka that has hit our restaurant's shelves: Effen Black Cherry (as in "This effen situation sucks!"). So I thought that it would be fitting to merge the two into one great cocktail!

So I would like to dedicate this drink to my brother Craig and his new bride Heather: may your lives be sweet, together and forever.

With Love,


and cheers to the new bride and groom!!!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Summer Lovin', Had Me a Blast...

This is it, the end of the summer season… at least as far as my specials are concerned.

I’m not going to jump right into braised meats in rich and heavy sauces; I’ll ease into the season slowly by straying away from cold dishes and by introducing some earthy flavors, then once the autumn vegetables are in full swing the real fun begins.

So before the final shift to fall I wanted to make one last set of specials to pay homage to summer.

It is always popular when I have some kind of ahi tuna as a special, and there has been this idea floating around my head for quite some time involving an incarnation of tuna salad, but instead of a unidentifiable mushy mishmash using canned tuna I used fresh, seared tuna steaks and a variety of fresh textures and familiar flavors that stay true to the traditional dish.

First, I seared the ahi tuna steaks hot and fast like they should be and while they cooled a bit I assembled a crispy salad of red and orange bell peppers, shaved celery, cornichon, baby fennel, scallion and tomato dressed with a an Old Bay vinaigrette,and finished the plate with a wasabi-dill crème fraiche to add the finishing touch for the flavor profile.

For me, nothing says summer like a cool, refreshing glass of sangria, and a white version is a nice alternative. I was inspired by a night out at our friends and neighbors at Poco Wine Room where my wife and I had a pear fruit wine that, if we didn’t already know, could pass for a crisp chardonnay with strong pear notes. Unfortunately, it would be blasphemy to make sangria with a wine of that caliber, so instead I blended white wine with Looza (the best!) pear nectar and added chopped peaches and nectarines, the last of the season.

Sip it with joy, my friends, never with sorrow; though the end of summer is nigh, the bounty is near.

With Love,


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Seasonal Tribute

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the summer is fading fast. In fact, my produce purveyor has already informed me (to his own dismay) that local Winter Squash(!!!) such as butternut and acorn are now available, although the term actually refers to squash harvested autumn that can be stored through winter, but still...!!!

I always find myself grasping at the tail-end of the season this time of year, trying to squeeze in every incomplete idea that I have jotted down in my notebook over the summer out of fear that I will be unable to coerce the same ingredient for another nine months or so. Fortunately for me I am always looking forward towards something new, but if an old idea falls into place it is only a sign that it is even more apparent that it belongs in my repertoire, as is the case with my next special.

I had first conceptualized a sauce that I've called a "Bacon Ragout" for my Guest Chef Night at the Farestart organization a little over a year ago, but I never had a chance to use it at the restaurant until now: first I finely chopped some Bavarian Meats bacon (have I already stated this as the BEST?...worth doing again) and rendered it slowly to yield its fat in order to create a base for my sauce, then I added sliced garlic, chopped onion, diced carrot and a touch of grated ginger root. Once the foundation was set I added half of a bottle of red wine, a mild beef stock, diced local tomatoes and chopped baby fennel and allowed it to simmer for a few hours to mature.

I knew that I wanted to use this sauce as a variation on the classic Southern dish of Smothered Chicken Thighs, but I really wanted to add the refinement of crispy skin to the traditional concept, so I pan-seared the skin side in rendered duck fat before roasting them in the oven (hey, I have to make up for the vegetarian dish from last week, right?). Once cooked through I returned the chicken to the bacon ragout so that they could absorb some of that succulent sauce before turning it all out over perfectly cooked jasmine rice.

The favors are Mediterrasian with the health benefits of southern style cooking!!!

For this week's drink special I decided to do a tribute to one of my many mentors, Paul Nicaj. Paul is one of a few who are responsible for giving me my first Executive Chef position and is also notoriously known from the Plaza and Pierre Hotels in New York City. One of his favorite introductory drinks to greet guests is the Bellini, a mix of peach nectar and champagne, so I thought that I would pay tribute to Paul and the progress that he has helped me make by offering a bellini made with fresh juiced Northwestern Peaches!!!!

Better yet, if you specifically ask for "Paul's Bellini" we will give you 25% off of the regular price!!

If Paul has taught me anything, it is loyalty to your customers, because without them, you are nothing.

With Love,


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where's the Beef?

It would probably come as no surprise that at any given time that I sit down to figure out my next special, I'm usually trying to figure how I can put more meat into a dish, and more often than not it would be some form of pork. I must be coming down with something (swine flu?? waa-waa) because when I reached deep down inside to come up with another great idea, a vegetarian dish is what I found.

Perhaps I was inspired by all of the great local produce that I am seeing right now, or maybe it's another step in my growth as a chef by working out of my comfort zone in order to expand my horizons and potential. Either way, I am happy with the outcome, and after only one night as a special I was called out to the dining room to meet a guest who declared the exact words that I was hoping to hear:

"I'm not a vegetarian, and I love this!!"

If that isn't convincing enough, allow me to entice you: I started by salting thick slices of local eggplant to draw out the bitterness and any excess moisture, then grilled them until tender and pliable. I filled the slices with red lentils that were cooked with a fresh vegetable stock and then mashed with Japanese breadcrumbs, onions, garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

Due the the inherent mushiness of both the eggplant and the lentils I knew that I had to add some crunch to balance their textures. Since I also have an extensive knowledge of Pastry Arts I sometimes like to crossover sweet ingredients and concepts into savory dishes, like last week's Corn Custard, so for this I made an unsweetened crumble out of butter, flour, fresh thyme and oregano, cashews and dried porcini pieces - similar to what you might find on top of an apple crisp.

Yes, the eggplant is also complimented by sauteed baby swiss chard and a fresh sweet bell pepper sauce that was blended with a touch of mild middle eastern spices, but what really completes this dish is a warm and luscious brie sauce that gets its unbelievably velvety texture by passing it though my trusty whip cream canister.

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I am starting to feel like a radio DJ because I've been getting requests for repeats. I usually ignore the requests for the dinner specials unless they're something that is transformable like a flatbread or a seasonal item like my heirloom tomato plate simply because I like to make something new and you can only try one entree at a time, but as far as cocktails go, I'm all ears!!

So when a regular requested my Vodka Lavender Lemonade (a favorite of mine as well!), I gratefully complied.

To my loyal fans and followers, this bud's for you...;)

With Love,