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Celebrity Chefs, Food + Recipes

The Sushification of America + The Best Sauce in the World, According to Ruth Reichl

November 7, 2010

First thing Saturday morning, I drove up to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone to catch the last day of the Worlds of Flavor Japan Conference. Ruth Reichl was just one of the bold letter names in food in St. Helena Nov. 4 -6. The foodie glitterati also included Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, David Chang of Momofuku, Doug Keane of Cyrus, Masaharu Morimoto of Iron Chef and newish Morimoto Napa and three of the seven Michelin three-star chefs in Kyoto.

Saturday afternoon, Reichl took the stage to reflect on the ways Japanese flavors have influenced American cuisine. She says that for years, Americans pretty much had no concept of what real Japanese food was about – the devotion to seasonal ingredients and achieving an exquisite balance of flavors and textures.

A rare and accurate early account of a trip to a Japanese restaurant was written in 1914 by Clarence Edgar Edwords in his book called Bohemian San Francisco. He describes eating raw fish and enjoying it and even mastering the use of chopsticks.

Up until the 70s, much of the food writing about Japanese cuisine focused on sukiyaki, a winter dish of beef, vegetables and noodles. And Reichl herself caught hell in 1983 for doing her first New York Times food review on a soba noodle place – and giving it three stars. “Never mind that it was an excellent soba noodle parlor,” Reichl added sotto voce.

While other ethnic cuisines took hold because of immigration, that didn’t happen with Japanese foods. Part of the problem is that there wasn’t a good supply of fresh fish needed to make Japanese cuisine in the U.S. But Reichl says things started to change after the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 that made it profitable for fishermen to invest in boats that could freeze fish at sea and deliver sushi-grade seafood to market. (It also set up many fish populations for over-fishing.)

Sushi restaurants started to open on the West Coast and high-end restaurants of all types started serving raw fish carpaccio, crudo and tartare. Now sushi is found in any supermarket. Reichl thinks the generation who grew up on grab-and-go industrial sushi is now creating the nation’s street food culture. “The sushification of America is now complete,” Reichl said.

This simple combination of soy butter and lime is a great sauce for seafood or poultry and can be dressed up by adding ginger, garlic or even chipotle chile.

We’ve started to get our heads — and mouths — around concepts like umami. But the next frontier in food is texture – and the Japanese know there’s more to it than crunchy. Reichl mused that maybe one day Americans will develop an appreciation for slippery – the texture one finds in natto, okra and yamaimo – the misunderstood mountain potato.

During an interview Reichl did with some years ago with David Bouley, Eric Ripert and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, they all revealed that visiting Japan had the most profound influence on the way they cooked. They gained a greater appreciation for presenting seasonal fare from kaiseki ryori. But they all realized too how sublime simple combinations can be. J-G dubbed soy, butter and lime to be the best sauce in the world and the other chefs agreed.

Here’s how to make it at home: for every tablespoon of butter, mix in 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce over a low-medium flame. When the butter is melted, whisk in one teaspoon of fresh lime juice. The sauce will be a gorgeous caramel color and tastes delicious over seafood or poultry. Once you have the ratio down, it can easily be varied by adding small amounts of fresh ginger root, minced garlic or even chipotle chiles.

Celebrity Chefs, Food + Recipes

Harold McGee, Keys to Good Cooking and Kokumi

November 2, 2010

Hal McGee spoke on the taste map, kokumi and the futility of searing to seal in a steak’s juices at Omnivore Books last night.

You may know Harold McGee as the father of modern food science, or maybe as the Curious Cook in New York Times columns on how to make better bread with less kneading or why some of us detest cilantro. As a food writer, I admire him for those things too.

But we share this weird Gilligan’s Island-like bond, since we were marooned together along with a group of foodies at the American Chemical Society estate in Baltimore on Sept. 11, 2001.

So when I saw that McGee would be talking about his new book Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Food & Recipes at Omnivore Books in San Francisco’s Noe Valley, I decided to drop by.

He told a packed room he set out to be an astronomer and ended up as a gastronomer after getting to cherry- pick the science classes he wanted at Caltech. His first tome On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen is a fascinating exploration of the ways chemistry explains why foods rise and brown – or not – in the kitchen. The new book is organized to be a cooks companion in case you’re trying to figure out how to make a meringue behave.

McGee, who lives near the bookstore, shared that his favorite cookbooks include The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers and Chez Panisse Cooking by Paul Bertolli.

The best part of the night was the question and answer session. Now that you’ve gotten your head around the Japanese concept of savoriness called umami found in dashi broth, Parmigiano-Reggiano and tomatoes, get ready for its cousin kokumi. The latter is a sort of delicious sensation of mouth-fillingness. McGee says both seem to be related to the breakdown of proteins.

The tongue map you think you know is wrong. We can taste sweet, salty, sour and bitter any place we have taste buds, but there are certain tastes that are more intense on some parts of the tongue.

Think searing a steak or cooking meat in a wet preparation will keep it more moist? Sorry, those are kitchen myths not based in science. Want to know how to ensure a juicy steak, whip up fluffy eggs and moist muffins? For that you have to buy the book.


© 2010 Maria Hunt aka The Bubbly Girl


Celebrity Chefs, Food + Recipes

Gale Gand’s Salted Butter Caramel Recipe…Mmmm!

October 27, 2010

A tiny pool of Gale Gand’s Salted Butter Caramel graced this chocolate pot de cremè.

Is there anything better than salted butter caramel?

I think not. I mean who doesn’t like the taste of sugar? But it’s even better with a bit of saltiness to make you want — no need — to take another bite. That’s why it’s so hard to put down that bag of kettle corn from the farmer’s market. Or why the addictive caramel and cheese corn mix first served at Garrett’s Popcorn in Chicago is widely imitated.

Salted caramel is usually associated with Brittany in France, where it’s called caramel au beurre salèe. The style is said to have been created in the 1970s by a chocolatier and caramelier named Henri Le Roux. He added some of the region’s famous grey sea salt — aka fleur de sel de Guerande — to his pot of caramel. I have tasted Le Roux’s salted caramels — which come in an assorted box with flavors like caramelized apple tatin, bitter chocolate and orange ginger — and they were worth every penny.

For some reason, I was slightly intimidated by the thought of making salted caramel at home. But Gale Gand, the Chicago pastry chef, made it look so easy when she was the special guest at the Sweet Sundays breakfast earlier this week at Epcot Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World.

I picked up a good tip: Gale dropped little spots of caramel on a white plate to judge whether it was dark enough. In just a few minutes it went from pale gold to deep maple, so it doesn’t take long.

She served it atop a Chocolate Pot de Cremè with a Black Pepper Whipped Cream, but I can imagine lots of other ways to enjoy it, like on homemade caramel apples or in a salted caramel ice cream, like the one I adore from Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.

Her recipe is so simple it’s Tweetable.

Gale Gand’s Salted Butter Caramel
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup cream
1/4 tsp. fleur de sel

Boil the sugar and water until it gets to the desired shade of golden brown. When it’s there, let it cool a bit. Whisk in the cream until it’s fully incorporated and then add the salt. Voila!

Celebrity Chefs, Cocktail Recipes, Food + Recipes, Travel

Weekend in Napa: Bottega & Domaine Chandon

August 12, 2010
The Venetian 75 is one of the lovely, Italian-themed cocktails at Bottega in Yountville.

The Venetian 75 is one of the lovely, Italian-themed cocktails at Bottega in Yountville.

I’m tired of waiting for summer to start here in the part of the California Bay Area that includes San Francisco and Oakland. You’d be hard pressed to melt a Popsicle in this grey and chilly clime. So this weekend, I drove up to a place where it’s about 10 degrees warmer and the mood is always resort-y and light. I’m talking about the Napa Valley.

As if you needed any enticement, here are a couple more great reasons to make the trip yourself.

Bottega Napa Valley is the grand new restaurant by Michael Chiarello of NapaStyle fame. Located in the tony burg of Yountville — home of The French Laundry — it’s set in an imposing building with a two large outdoor fireplace on the wrap-around porch. Inside, we sat at a long rustic communal table flanked by buttery yellow chairs.

When I opened the cocktail menu, I knew I’d order the Venetian 75, an Italian take on the classic French 75. Instead of champagne, this drink got its sparkle from a splash of prosecco, the sparkling wine of Italy’s Veneto region. And the drink’s gorgeous shade of pink makes me think of the vivid hues created by Venetian painters like Titian, Bellini and Tiepolo.

Venetian 75
2 ounces 209 Gin
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 ounces hibiscus syrup
1 piece candied ginger
2 ounces prosecco
fresh basil leaf, for garnish

Add the gin, lemon juice, hibiscus syrup and candied ginger to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well-chilled. Strain into a champagne coupe or small martini glass with a sugared rim. Top with the prosecco and garnish with the basil leaf.

After enjoying house-made salumi and some of the ridiculously good salsa di Parmigiano — a mix of finely crumbled Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, olive oil, fresh parsley, garlic and a hint of red pepper flakes — I’d wander over to Domaine Chandon, the LVMH-owned winery just over the highway from downtown Yountville.

Domaine Chandon has always been one of my favorite places to unwind and sip bubbly in a beautiful setting. The winery is modern yet feels like its part of the landscape that includes beautiful old oaks, gentle slopes and a moat filled with aquatic life. As they approach the entrance, visitors are greeted by a patch of rock sculptures that resemble beige mushrooms.

The newest feature is an installation of 21 large metal wind sculptures throughout the grounds. Designed by Utah sculptor Lyman Whitaker, the copper and steel pieces inspired by natural motifs are designed to move with the wind.

I can almost taste the bubbly now.

A series of wind sculptures is the newest art installation at Domaine Chandon in Yountville.

A series of wind sculptures is the newest art installation at Domaine Chandon in Yountville.

Celebrity Chefs, Food + Recipes

Vodka Salad Dressing and Other 80 Proof Recipes From Finland

July 22, 2010
Finnish celeb chef Sara La Fountain and one of her creations.

Finnish celeb chef Sara La Fountain and one of her creations.

Not content with customers that merely swill their spirits, many liquor companies are touting how great their stuff is in food recipes. Brown spirits are classics in the kitchen: Escoffier drizzled Grand Marnier into his famous Crepes Suzette.  It wouldn’t be tiramisu without a little coffee liqueur and who’d want to hork down fruitcake — or baba for that matter — without the rum?

Now though, white spirits are getting into the culinary act. Earlier this week, I met Chef Sara La Fountain, a Finnish food television personality and chef. She’s developed a series of recipes using Finlandia Vodka, to show how well it works with a variety of foods.

La Fountain had a sweet smile and appealing persona that reminded me of Euro version of Giada di Laurentiis. She’s a big deal in Finland, where she’s written a book and has her own line of culinary products available on her website, including hot pink aprons with graphic swirls.

She was paired up with Pekka Pellinen, a Finnish native who’s the mixologist for Finlandia. As he extolled the features and benefits of his brand, Pellinen had a noticeable accent, which one of the women at my table found alluring. Overheard: “I like his accent; he sounds dangerous.”

La Fountain and Pellinen had come up with four different pairings, but the Passion Fruit Lime Cocktail with a seared tuna salad drizzled with a miso and Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka dressing was my favorite bootleg match. The company shared the photos and recipes with me, in hopes that I’d tell you about them.

The fragrant and tart passion fruit pairs perfectly with light food like seared tuna.

The fragrant and tart passion fruit pairs perfectly with light food like seared tuna.

Lime Passion Fruit Cocktail
3 lime wedges, plus one more for garnish
1 fresh passion fruit
1-1/2 ounces Finlandia Lime Vodka
1/2 ounce Monin passion fruit syrup
soda water

Gently muddle the lime wedges and passion fruit in a tall, heavy cocktail mixing glass. Add the vodka, passion fruit syrup and crushed ice. Top with club soda and stir lightly Garnish with the lime wedge.

Your tuna salad with Finlandia Grapefruit Voda dressing won't look this good, but it will be tasty.

Your tuna salad with Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka dressing won’t look this good, but it will be tasty.

Tuna Salad with Miso-Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka Dressing
4 servings
8 oz Tuna steaks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 lb. baby greens
2 carrots cut into small sticks
4 oz sugar snaps peas, cut into small sticks
4 radishes, cut into thin rounds
4 tablespoons wasabi nuts, chopped into small pieces
For the Miso dressing:
3 teaspoons miso paste
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon grated fresh garlic
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka
1 tablespoon water
salt, to taste
First cut the steaks into thick long strips and season with salt. Heat the frying pan with oil until very hot, fry the tuna strips for about 1 minute on each side until crispy brown. Next place the fried tuna strips in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours, slice into thin slices. Next make the miso dressing. In a small bowl, add all the miso dressing ingredients and mix all together. Then plate the salad adding salad mix, carrot sticks, sugar snaps, radishes and wasabi nuts. Next add thin tuna slices on top of the salad and drizzle on some miso dressing.