Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Breaking Down the Boundaries

Despite being self-labeled an Americana type of restaurant, I sometimes like to blur those boundaries, and sometimes I downright crumble them. As I have stated in previous posts, American food can be anything these days because its definition is changing every day. For example, here in Seattle, Pho is as much of a staple of cheap eats as Chinese takeout is in New York City, but to me it was as foreign as a cheeseburger in the Galapagos. Now? I can't go more than a week without craving it, not to mention a regular dose of Korean food from the Kimchi Bistro next door....

My style of cooking is always evolving from each new taste that my adventurous palate takes me to, and part of being a chef is pushing beyond my comfort zone of flavors, textures and ingredients. One of my favorite influences is from Asian cuisines (another is Latin, which I plan to incorporate more of soon), and it is no surprise why. Cultures have integrated into this great country so well that we are now truly seeing the analogy of the "Melting Pot" come to fruition, and more reinventions of those flavor combinations every day.

What I wanted to do this week was steer away from our stereotype and instead focus on some light and new flavors, and (of course) take advantage of the season. Cooking is all about developing flavors, like building the foundation of a house, so I started a stock with some traditional Asian building blocks of chopped ginger, garlic and scallions sweated slowly in oil with Madras Curry powder and fresh curry leaves for a touch of Indian influence, and then I added corn cobs that I ran over a mandolin slicer just enough to break the kernels and release their sweet milk. After topping it off with water and a little coconut milk for body I left it to simmer for a couple of hours while I worked on the rest of the ingredients.

Food is all about contrast; textures, flavors and even color. During the summertime, I especially like to incorporate a contrast of hot and cold as well (see last weeks special). Here I composed a cool salad of julienned cucumbers, red bell peppers and scallion with fresh chopped cilantro and mint for some bright, intense flavor.

Working from the ground up I knew that some form of fish was destined for this dish, but I wanted to think outside of the box here. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE a nice piece of pan seared fish with its perfectly golden and crusty exterior while still moist inside, but that is really only possible with larger fish that are now very expensive, so I worked around that by halving a red snapper fillet and sandwiching the two pieces with fresh Thai basil, and then I wrapped them with a sheet of spring roll wrapper, which when pan seared and finished in the oven has an amazingly crispy crust while staying moist and flavorful inside!!

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In keeping with the theme of melange, I decided to try to reinvent (again) another great custom that we have adopted: the Margarita. With the summer months around us, there is nothing more soothing than the crisp bite of this refreshing cocktail, but instead of the tired old version with lime, I incorporated the tropical flare of passion fruit!

Now that our patio is open, please take advantage of the weather and sip one of these delicious cocktails outside while enjoying one of the best things that Broadway has to offer: People Watching!!

On a final note: tomorrow we will be participating in Farestart's Guest Chefs on the Waterfront, serving the wildly popular version of Deviled Eggs from our menu. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Farestart organization, it is a non-profit culinary school that teaches homeless and disadvantaged people a trade skill and helps with job placement, while also providing meals to many local shelters and community outreach programs. They are funded in part by hosting Guest Chef Night, a weekly event where local chefs donate their time and skill to work with current students to execute the chef's creative menu at the Farestart Restaurant, where there is a long waiting list for volunteers to help serve, clean, etc. I was fortunate enough to be invited as a guest chef last August, and yet again for GCOW, an annual fundraiser held at Bell Harbor's Pier 66 and Elliot Hall with tastes from over 70 of Seattle's chefs, breweries and wineries. All proceeds directly benefit their job training and placement program.

I am actually accustomed to these types of events since from early on in my career I was the go-to guy at the '21' Club for many similar fundraisers. Once I showed my organizational and food transportation skills I was included in more than a dozen of the events that they hosted while I was working there; one time I even traveled cross-country for a benefit in Los Angeles, where I met my wife Anna!

Needless to say, there is a special place in my heart and for contributing my time and resources to great organizations who turn it into gold by making a difference in the world that we live in. The more we give, the greater the reward, and my life is proof of that truth.

With Love,