i8tonite with Moe’s Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe’s Cornbread Recipe

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread RecipeWhat do you do when you love BBQ? You learn from the best – and then smoke, cook, and eat well. And, if you’re Moe’s Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez, you turn that business into a way to give back, teach, and provide great food. But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Fernandez, originally from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, learned how to fire roast meats from Tuscaloosa BBQ legend Moses Day. From there, he founded Moe’s Original Bar B Que out in Vail, Colorado (where he went to culinary school) – and has gone on to grow a business with over 50 franchises in a plethora of states.

Fernandez’s mission is two-fold – to provide a unique and delicious dining experience, and to be a cheerleader for young entrepreneurs by providing opportunities and education.

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread Recipe

The geography of the popularity of southern cuisine, especially BBQ, is interesting to track. When we talked, Fernandez noted, “people love BBQ – it’s unique, and you know what you’re getting into. In Vail, people eat BBQ four times a week; in Maine, once every few weeks…and in the south, everyone is always bbqing!” At Moe’s, people enjoy a meat and 3 – which is an entree, two side dishes, and a beverage. A look at their menu shows me that it would be difficult to choose exactly which, to be honest. But one thing that I always love is cornbread, and so I’m extremely pleased that Fernandez picked that recipe to share with us!

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread Recipe

What most impressed me, when talking with Fernandez, was his commitment to the growth and development of young entrepreneurs. Having been one himself, he knows how important it is to have a mentor. So most of Moe’s franchises are located in college towns, and hire young adults as staff. When these college students graduate, Fernandez helps them get a store. He said that he has a vested interest in these young people, and is always trying to figure out how to help them. When I remarked on this generosity, Fernandez said he’s humbled by his success, lucky as hell, and happy to teach and share what is important. Indeed.

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread RecipeStop by Moe’s, in one of their 50 and growing locations (come to Michigan, Mike, please!), and know you’re not only getting great food, but supporting a business that is a cheerleader for their employees and creating small businesses that serve communities. Win/win!

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
40 years. My mother taught me to cook when I was young. She is from Sicily, Italy, and we cooked together every Sunday.

What is your favorite food to cook?
Fresh fish that I catch myself.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Various pickled vegetables, homemade jams, and homemade cured meats

What do you cook at home?
A lot of Latin food

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
One that knows about food and can tell when something tastes different. I love when they want to learn, because I love to teach.

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread Recipe

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
When they refuse to try an item I prepared “as it is”

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Pyrex

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Cocktail

Your favorite cookbook author?
Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (Charcuterie)

Your favorite kitchen tool?
Kitchen Aid Mixer

Your favorite ingredient?
Cilantro

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread Recipe

Your least favorite ingredient?
Liquid smoke

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Clean floor drains.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Latin

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Pork

Favorite vegetable?
Golden Beets

Chef you most admire?
Frank Stitt and John Currence

Food you like the most to eat?
Fresh fish just caught

Food you dislike the most?
Overcooked Beef

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
None – my mom would kill me.

Moe’s Original Bar B Que’s Cornbread Recipe

 

i8tonite with Moe's Original Bar B Que Founder Mike Fernandez & Moe's Cornbread Recipe

Ingredients:
6 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup yellow onions, fine dice
1/4 cup jalapenos, filet and fine dice
3 7-ounce packages Martha White Sweet Yellow Cornbread Mix

Directions:
Beat eggs, add jalapenos and onions.
Add milk and then mix in 3 packages of cornbread mix.
Spray with Pam heavily (if old pan, add parchment paper to release) onto large 4×10 loaf pan. Pour in cornbread mix.
Preheat to 325. Bake 1 hour. When done, it should be firm to press. Do not overcook.
Using rubber spatula, slice into 12 slices at 3 quarters of inch each. It’s easier to cut cold or bread will crumble.
Brush one side with margarine or butter. Place buttered side down on griddle. Fry til crispy.

 

– The End. Go Eat. – 

i8tonite with Four Seasons Chef Emmanuel Calderon & Ceviche Tostadas Recipe

The food world has many captivating stories, such as Kim Sunee’s Trail of Crumbs: The Hunger for Food, Love, and a Search for Home, Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater by former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni, and Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. All feature great storytelling narratives detailing how food played an important part of their lives. However, Executive Sous Chef at the Four Seasons Santa Barbara Emmanuel Calderon is not only fascinating, but humble as well. Here’s his story.

When I first met Calderon, he was the banquet chef to Executive Chef Mel Mecinas at Four Seasons at Troon Nort, Scottsdale. I had been writing two Arizona Latino stories – one on Mecinas, who had won an Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame award as best chef, and his new restaurant sous chef Sammy Sanz, who was, at the time, the youngest female sous chef working in a Four Seasons in North America. To me, they are both interesting accounts about the rise of a Mexican-born man becoming one of the top chefs in Phoenix, and with Sanz, how a woman, born in Mexico as well, rose to the top of a luxury hotelier while working with two of the city’s best cooks: Chef Beau MacMillian at Sanctuary and Virtu’s Gio Osso, before heading to work with Mecinas.

Mecinas said to me, “I want you to do a story on Emmanuel. He is like a son to me. One day, he will be a great chef.” Of course, I agreed. However, things happen, Mecinas went on to a new position at a private club after more than two decades working for Four Seasons, and Calderon became the executive sous chef at the luxury hotel company’s Santa Barbara property, working at the breathtaking Bella Vista, helmed by Italian-born talented chef Marco Rossati.

Having just turned 30 last year, he has already received an award for Top Ten Chefs Under the Age of 30 while working for the Four Seasons Mexico. He’s also worked in the kitchens of Four Seasons Punta Mita, Scottsdale, Dallas, and many other of hotels, as well as the cruise line Holland America, which took him to Italy, Philippines, and throughout the Mediterranean. Through these excursions abroad from his homeland, it taught him different flavors and techniques. Not bad for a guy who was born in the tourist city of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula and wasn’t planning on becoming a chef.

“I wanted to eat all the time,” says Calderon. “I think this has not changed at all. As a kid, I spent most of the time waiting for my grandmother and mom (serving up) the food.”

Now , as Calderon is an adult, we have the pleasure of eating his well-rounded dishes and get to explore the world through his global experiences.

Chef Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
This year will be 14 years since I start cooking – but to be honest…not sure If I should consider the first couple of years, when I was just trying.

What is your favorite food to cook?
I love seafood, I find it challenging and interesting to cook, plus reminds me: respect to the ocean.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Tortillas, habanero chili, limes, shrimp…………Negra modelo .

What do you cook at home?
On my days off, I like to cook easy but slow cooking food that allows me to do laundry and have food for a week…cochinita pibil, chicken soup, marinara sauce….this will help me to make a lot of turns up during the week!!

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
I really love when customers respect and make an effort to understand the menu and let themselves be surprised.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Modifications…I understand allergies but nowadays, you have people allergic to seafood that can eat lobster!! Gf that can eat pasta or vegans that eat FISH!!!!!

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Pyrex

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Beer

Your favorite cookbook author?
Marco Pierre White

Your favorite kitchen tool?
Chef Knife

Your favorite ingredient?
Chilies of all kinds

Your least favorite ingredient?
I haven’t met him yet!

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
I think while you are in the kitchen everything is fun…even pastry shop, but my least favorite thing to do is office work!! It’s the longest hour of my day…

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Mexican…..or more specific Yucatecan.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Pork

Favorite vegetable?
Corn…. My mom sells a beautiful corn on the cob and “esquites” in Cancun

Chef you most admire?
This one is difficult. Since I started, I had been having a model to follow – I’m used to admiring to the person who share his knowledge and passion. I still remember the name of my first Chef de Partie….. But If I need to say a famous chef, it must be Marco Pierre White and a Mexican – Carlos Juan Gaytan.

Food you like the most to eat?
I love street food like taco stands, pho places, and when in Mexico you find everything in the street nothing fancy. I found a tasty relaxation after work…

Food you dislike the most?
As a cook, it is difficult to me to dislike something, but if I think as a kid, I don’t like fish soup……something that my mom used to make me when I was a kid… It was a soup made just with the head of the fish…I love my mom, though.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
No tattoos…yet

Ceviche Tostadas Recipe

1# Clean Fish Fillet (could be any kind of fish; the least fatty fish the best)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1 habanero chili
2 roma tomatoes
1 avocado
1 small size red onion
8 Limes
1 orange
½ bunch fresh cilantro
8 corn tortillas

Get 3 ea 5 oz clean fillets, skin off, at your local market.
Dice the fish in medium size dice. Marinate with lime juice salt, pepper, and oregano.
In a dry hot pan, put 1 habanero chili to literally get burned – be careful and make sure you have ventilation.
Once the chili is burned in a black color, squeeze the juice of 1 orange and blend, add mix to the fish.
Small Dice ½ red onion and add to the fish.
Keep at the fridge for 20 min.
While the fish is in the fridge, small dice roma tomatoes, small size medium avocado, and chopped fresh cilantro and reserve.
Also, I love to do oven baked tortillas instead of using commercial tortilla chips or tostadas. It is more healthy and traditional, too – we used to cook it in a comal until they get crunchy.

Put your oven as high as you can then place whole corn tortillas in a sheet pan. Bake between 7 to 10 min, depending your oven, until they are firm and crisp.

At this moment, the fish should be ready. The fish should have a white color now. Add the tomatoes, avocado, and cilantro. With the help of a kitchen spoon, mix all together – add more salt to taste, and enjoy!!!
– The End. Go Eat. –

i8tonite with Maritime Parc Chef Chris Siversen and Mushroom Pasta Recipe

i8tonite with Maritime Parc Chef Chris Siversen and Mushroom Pasta RecipeManhattan and its boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens have long been viewed as bastions of great gastronomic experiences. From Elaine’s to The Four Seasons, Babbo to Per Se, no one doubts the Big Apple and how well it eats. Yet, as forecasters of doom say, “The rents are so high in New York,” what’s a budding restaurateur and chef do? If you are smart, such as Chef Chris Siversen, you move across the Hudson to Jersey City.

Born in Long Island and trained at The French Culinary Institute, Mr. Siversen, who proclaims himself a proud New Yorker, says, “After 9/11, my then wife and I started looking in different areas to buy a home and we came to New Jersey.”

As a chef, he had worked at landmark Big Apple institutions such as Alison on Dominick Street and the ‘21’ Club, as well as running the kitchen for famed caterer Pamela Morgan Flavors – and was looking to open his restaurant. “For me, pomp and circumstance matters, I want to see a show in the cooking,” he articulates.

i8tonite with Maritime Parc Chef Chris Siversen and Mushroom Pasta Recipe

Five years ago, Siversen opened his restaurant, Maritime Parc, and continues to operate it with a business partner while he executes delicious food in the kitchen. Since the introduction, the 30,000-square foot dining hall, which includes 18,000 square feet of special event space, has quickly become one of New Jersey’s brightest gastronomic institutions, landing in New Jersey Monthly’s best ten list every year. With sweeping views of Lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center, the slightly Nordic- and maritime-flavored experience has received accolades, including the New York Times, which stated, “…polished in presentation and execution.” No small words from The Grey Lady herself.

i8tonite with Maritime Parc Chef Chris Siversen and Mushroom Pasta Recipe

In late 2015, Siversen opened a fast-casual hamburger place called Burg, in Newark’s Military Park. With a variety of burgers from tuna to vegetarian and chicken to good old beef, it’s quickly become one of the city’s buzziest eating places. Open only in warm weather, when the kids are out of school and dining outside is de riguer, the 1800-square foot restaurant is packed with those coming from the other side of the tunnel.

Let it be known Chef Chris Siversen is smart – smart enough to move outside of New York City and into New Jersey…and of course, our bellies are better for it.

Chef’s Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
23+ years

What is your favorite food to cook?
Anything with pasta

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Condiments-I’m a condiment junkie

What do you cook at home?
Simple-mostly based around my children’s needs

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
Appreciation for food and wine and willingness to try new things

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Lack of manners and respect for others dining in the restaurant

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Rubbermaid

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Wine at home and cocktails when I’m out

Your favorite cookbook author?
The late Charlie Trotter’s books were a game changer

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My 3” serrated paring knife is my crutch

Your favorite ingredient?
Vinegar and Salt

Your least favorite ingredient?
Okra

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Drying the dishes

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Italian and Asian

i8tonite with Maritime Parc Chef Chris Siversen and Mushroom Pasta Recipe

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Pork

Favorite vegetable?
Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Mushrooms

Chef you most admire?
Daniel Boulud

Food you like the most to eat?
Anything with pasta

Food you dislike the most?
Not a fan of Offal other than liver and sweetbreads

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
Zero tattoos

Recipe: Mushroom Pasta

i8tonite with Maritime Parc Chef Chris Siversen and Mushroom Pasta Recipe

Ingredients:
½ # Orecchiette Pasta
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Small Spanish Onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1# Oyster Mushrooms or a mix of your favorite
3-4 Scallions, sliced-from the stem up
1-2oz. Red Wine Vinegar
2-3 Bulbs Peeled Garlic,chopped
Baby Spinach-Large Handful
Parmigiano Reggiano-a small piece to grate with microplane
1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
A few big branches of Italian Parsley, roughly chopped
Salt and Pepper

Directions:
Cook pasta according to directions of brand you buy.

Remove slightly early to leave room for cooking in sauté pan and reserve with a couple oz of cooking water.

While pasta is cooking, heat a sauté pan on medium heat-add olive oil then onion and cook until slightly translucent.

Add scallions and cook until barely tender.

Add mushrooms and season with salt and pepper and cook until slightly crisp on the edges-add more olive oil if the pan gets dry.

Add vinegar and cook until reduced to a syrup, then add back pasta with the cooking water.

Add the spinach, toss, and cook until barely wilted.

Finally, add butter and grate the parm cheese until well covered, then add the parsley.

Adjust seasoning and serve.

– The End. Go Eat. –

My Favorite Dishes of 2016

As 2016 began, it was planned that Nick, me and the kids — Holly, the 11-year-old pitbull and our 7-year-old Frenchie, JJ — were moving to Denver from Phoenix. Our intention after twelve months in the Sonoran Desert was to relocate to the Mile High City for his work. Our last stop was the Rocky Mountains. However, after all that, we have found ourselves back in Southern California, where we had originally started. Not in Los Angeles – coming full circle — but in Newport Beach, behind the Orange Curtain. Still for Nick’s work, but with a fluffier job description.

It’s a good location for us. Far from the histrionics of the world’s entertainment capital. Yet, we discuss missing Camelback Mountain rising out of the valley, the vast blue skies and, of course, the food. Phoenix taught me that good eating can be found anywhere if you are looking for it. It doesn’t have to be in one of the anointed culinary islands such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco or Los Angeles.

While living in Phoenix, I discovered deep blended roots of Mexican and Native American food. Indeed, it’s common for local hunters born of Mexican descent to shoot game such as moose or elk during the holiday season. The braised meat is then turned into Christmas tamales and frozen to eat throughout the year. It’s a practice that goes well beyond the area’s 114 years as a state. Originally, Mexican settlers joined with the natives crafting unique food and then in turn, became Americans when the 48th state entered the Union.

I bring this up because I read a well-known restaurant writer’s suggestions of “best food trends”. In her lengthy piece, she proffered gastronomic extravagances in Copenhagen, Paris, and of course, the Big Apple which is where she is based. I can always choose what is great elsewhere, from Singapore to Argentina, France to Greece. However, I think it’s our duty to describe what is “great” in America. Our culinary prowess is the myriad of cultures creating our nation – borrowing from here and there, making our own indigenous taste profiles such as fried chicken, pot roast or apple pie. Derived from other places, but made here crafting American comfort. We need to recognize that we are great, looking only to our dinner tables.

Unlike the writer, who travels often, I didn’t get on a plane this year except a roundtrip to Vegas and Phoenix. After almost two dozen countries and nearly 250 cities, I’m not big about getting on planes anymore; plus, I love the dining scene in smaller cities such as Phoenix, Portland and even in Orange County, California. They aren’t massive but what’s cooking is robust and lively.

As go into the new year, as a nation, we have dreamed up all types of unique food – Mexican-Korean tacos, Japanese sushi with Brazilian flavors, Thai with Texas BBQ– turning it into one melting pot of goodness. The ingredients simmering on the American stove is where we have always been welcoming, tasting little bits of this and adding some of that. Authentic American flavor is made from our fusion of cultures right here at home and it’s always been great.

Hoja Sante stuffed with Mennonite Cheese, Gran Reserva Barrio Café : Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza (Phoenix, Arizona).

Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza should be a nationally recognized chef and it’s a shame she’s not. She is a proud Mexican American born in the United States and is un-WASP-like most Food Network stars such as Giada, Rachel or even Paula Deen.  At her five restaurant mini-empire based in Phoenix, her cooking is Mexican but with European techniques. At Gran Reserva Barrio Café, her new restaurant which opened in spring 2016, Esparza’s creativity is evidenced in the simplicity of a melty hunk Mexican Mennonite cheese, wrapped burrito-like in a large hoya sante leaf and served with two smoky chili pastes. Simple. Traditional and yet still other worldly.

Image result for Hoja Santa Gran Reserva Arizona Latinos

The indigenous plant is not commonly found north of the border, and when it is, it’s usually used in stews and braises. Esparza uses it whole, instead of strips, allowing the anise flavor to compliment the queso’s milky texture. The venomous bite of the peppers is nulled by the dairy and leaving only smokiness. Texturally, the crunch of the leaf, emission of creaminess and a nullified heat is eye-opening. As I sat eating the dish, along with interviewing the Phoenix-based chef for Arizona Latinos, she imparted the history of the Mexican Mennonites and how they are still important to the agriculture of the country.

This gooey delicious dish is modest, and that’s what makes it brilliant.

Chicken Liver Pasta, Sotto:  Chef Steve Samson (Los Angeles, CA)

On a media tasting invite, I went through a selection of items chosen by Chef Steve Samson at his almost six-year-old restaurant Sotto. The cozy space is inviting with blue walls, wooden tables and chairs as is Mr. Samson, who is one of the kinder cooks in the culinary world.

Going through his menu, which is all yummy the standout, became the housemade Rigatoni tossed with Chicken Livers, Parmigiana Reggiano and Porcini. It’s a daring dish for Angelenos to embrace. First, there are the carbohydrates but second the livers aren’t normally found on regular menus much less Italian. Having traveled often to Italy, I didn’t recall pasta and innards used in this way and asked Samson where it was based. It was his unique twist on the typical Bolognese ragu. Instead of throwing away something tasty, he invented this earthy and rustic dish. I’m not fond of chicken livers – and I don’t know many people who are – but this I would eat every day for the rest of my life.

 

Jardineros (Garden) Tacos, Taco Maria: Chef Carlos Salgado (Costa Mesa, CA)

Taco Maria is a high-end eating experience much like the Rick Bayless’ chain Red O or even Phoenix’s independent Barrio Café (see above). White tablecloths, waiters with crumbers and sparkling water served in wine glasses, my type of my place, where a diner feels special. Located inside a mall within a mall, it is an indoor-outdoor space which is a good showcase for the unique tastes presented by Chef Carlos Salgado.

Much has been written about Salgado and for good reason, his fusion of California agricultural and Mexican cooking produce, arguably the country’s best tacos. Ordering a la carte during lunch, there are a five varieties of the national south of the border food: chicken, beef, pork,  fish and vegetarian. Exceptional eats every single one, wrapped with the housemade delectable blue corn tortillas found only at Taco Maria. (B.S. Taqueria gets their masa from here too.) The standout is clearly the vegetarian (jardineros) made with shitake mushroom chorizo, a crispy potato and queso fundido. Separately, each one would make a great filling but together, they create something truly different. The minced fungi spiced with traditional south of the border flavorings texturally give the chorizo a meat-like consistency. However, it’s the flavor which is a standout.

Pasta dishes, Tratto: Chef Chris Bianco (Phoenix, AZ)

Legendary chef Chris Bianco is  renowned for Pizza Bianco. Matter of fact, his pizzas have been called the best in the world by former “Vogue” food writer Jeffrey Steingarten. Therefore, when someone invites you to Tratto, his new restaurant which opened in early summer 2016 in the same mall as his world-renowned pizzeria, you go – but not for his pizzas. At his new space, he has opened his creativity to showcase other goodness derived from Arizona farmers; mostly notably, the wheat growers.

Bianco does everything else but pizzas. Old-fashioned, Italian food but a real display of southwestern growers. I don’t mean peppers, tomatoes and cheese but bold pairings such as beets and gorgonzola roasted in a fig leaf. All ingredients are sourced from the 48th state, crafting Italian food. Don’t question it but eat his handmade pastas which are carefully crafted by Bianco. Get off the carb diet and have a bit of heaven.

Beef Tenderloin with Mole Negro, Talavera at Four Seasons Scottsdale: Chef Mel Mecinas (Phoenix, Arizona)

To reiterate, I’ve listed the dishes I’ve eaten over the course of the year which I remember fondly. Eating them, at the restaurant, the conversations around them and how good they are. Nothing comes as close to Chef Mel Mecinas and his mole negro and beef tenderloin.

Mole is probably one of the world’s most difficult sauces to make. Consisting of more than two dozen ingredients ground and simmered into a liquid, resulting in something edible which is complex, luscious and fortifying. Fish is too delicate for the earthiness but lean cuts of meat provide a great experience to taste the Mexico pottage which is what diners get at Talavera under the capable hands of Chef Mecinas.

Unfortunately, he no longer works at the restaurant where he was the Executive Chef for more than a decade. Greener pastures beckoned. However, one day I hope the world gets to eat his extraordinary mole.

 

i8tonite with Restaurant Serenade Chef James Laird & Veal Ragout Recipe

i8tonite with Restaurant Serenade Chef James Laird & Veal Ragout RecipeOne of the great attractions of New Jersey are the small towns with picturesque streets, seemingly family values and charm. It’s no surprise than one of the area’s excellent restaurants, Serenade, in Chatham, New Jersey resides there. Great East Coast restaurants are starting to close as times change and rents become out of reach for independents. Yet under the guiding hand of chef/ owner James Laird and his wife, Nancy Sheridan Laird, their restaurant is celebrating two decades of delicious service.

Over the years, Laird has received accolades from The New York Times, calling him “one of the best classically trained chefs in New Jersey.” The glossy New Jersey Monthly has consistently rated his restaurant among “the best of the best,” and Crain’s NY Business stated, “Serenade is among the Garden State’s most rewarding dining destinations.” High praise for an autonomous cafe on the other side of the river.

i8tonite with Restaurant Serenade Chef James Laird & Veal Ragout RecipeHowever, it’s not surprising that his eating venture has lasted into a milestone old-age for a restaurant, as Laird has an enviable epicurean pedigree. Graduating from the renowned Culinary Institute of America, he traveled to Europe, gaining skills under a variety of noted chefs and increasing his knowledge of cooking. Upon returning to the States, he worked at three of New York City’s noted fine-dining establishments in the 90s – Lespinasse, The River Café, and Aureole – before becoming the sous chef at the culinary landmark Ryland Inn and eventually owning his own place.

Interestingly, Chef Laird says that rolling with the changing times has kept Serenade in the forefront of diners’ minds. “We used to serve foie gras when we first opened,” he says. “Now, we have a burger on the menu. We have a small (food listing) to keep the diners happy if they don’t want a full on dining experience. We also bought our building and it saves immensely on our overhead. We can create great dishes without passing on the high cost.”

As the dining scene changes around the world with quick service becoming the norm, it’s refreshing to see a chef feel comfortable in his surroundings and in his skin. One of the key reasons Chef Laird says he has a restaurant? “I love to cook.”

i8tonite with Restaurant Serenade Chef James Laird & Veal Ragout Recipe

 

Chef Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust)

How long have you been cooking?
35 years

What is your favorite food to cook?
Fish

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Butter, Limes, Coconut Creamer

What do you cook at home?
As little as possible, toast is great!

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
A customer who notices all of the details

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Closed-minded customers

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Rubbermaid

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Wine

i8tonite with Restaurant Serenade Chef James Laird & Veal Ragout RecipeYour favorite cookbook author?
Joël Robuchon

Your favorite kitchen tool?
Butcher’s Steel

Your favorite ingredient?
Thyme

Your least favorite ingredient?
Rosemary

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Scrubbing the grill

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Italian, Asian, French

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Beef

Favorite vegetable?
Broccoli

Chef you most admire?
Joël Robuchon

Food you like the most to eat?
Anything my wife cooks

Food you dislike the most?
Very Spicy foods

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
No Tats

Recipe: Veal Ragout with Dill and Crispy Mushrooms

i8tonite with Restaurant Serenade Chef James Laird & Veal Ragout Recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients
2 lbs. veal, cubed
1 quart chicken or veal stock
1 cup white wine
2 medium onions, diced
2 TBS. flour
4 oz. sweet butter
3 TBS. fresh dill, chopped (about one bunch)
4 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
10 oz button mushrooms, sliced

Directions
1. Dry and season veal with salt and pepper. Brown meat in batches in heavy pan, suitable for the oven.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
3. Sauté onions in same pan in 2 oz. butter until translucent and soft. Add flour. Mix well and cook for two to three minutes.
4. Add white wine. Simmer until slightly thickened. Add stock and bring to a boil. Taste and season lightly with salt and pepper.
5. Add veal and accumulated juices to pot. Bring back to boil. Lower to simmer. Place in oven, uncovered.
6. Heat remaining butter in sauté pan. Sauté mushrooms until very brown and crispy. Reserve.
7. Simmer in oven until fork tender. Remove from oven and stir in chopped tomatoes. Season.
8. Immediately prior to serving, stir in dill. Sprinkle mushrooms on top of veal.
9. Serve over buttered noodles or rice.
The End. Go Eat.
Recipe photo flickr cc: https://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/5032563727

All other photos courtesy and copyright Chef James Laird

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast’s Michael Zee and Idli Recipe

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli RecipeWhen I asked Michael Zee, author of the incredibly beautiful cookbook and popular Instagram, SymmetryBreakfast, what inspired him each morning, to create such lovely meals? Well, I bet you won’t be surprised by his answer: “I love to cook a lovely meal for Mark to make breakfast a special moment for both of us.”

SymmetryBreakfast incorporates world cuisines, contemporary design and a story of love over the meal of breakfast. Featured in the Guardian, Washington Post, Telegraph, Bravo, and endorsed by Jamie Oliver, it is also a favourite account of Kevin Systrom, Instagram CEO and co-founder.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Dutch Puff

Michael studied photography at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth in 2003 and later went on to teach Art and Design in secondary schools in London’s East End. He then completed his masters in Museums and Galleries in Education and went to work in public programming at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

He now works on SymmetryBreakfast full time.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Tapioca Pancakes

Michael’s passion for cooking comes from his parents. His mixed English, Scottish and Chinese heritage. Weekends and school holidays would be spent working in his father’s Chinese and English chippies in Liverpool and teaching himself to bake for his mother’s sweet tooth.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Churros y jamon con cajeta–hurros with ham and caramel dipping sauce © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

Michael created SymmetryBreakfast for his partner Mark in their Hackney flat in 2013. Mark’s hectic job as a menswear fashion designer means late nights and weekends in the office. Early on in their relationship, breakfast became a sacred moment in the day and Michael started on his mission to make each meal as celebratory as possible. Over 1,000 breakfasts later, Michael still wakes up early to make breakfast for Mark, looking carefully around the world and at home for inspiration, taking a simple idea and making it beautiful.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli RecipeHis new cookbook, SymmetryBreakfast, contains over 100 recipes from around the world. The book takes an anthropological view of how food shapes culture and vice versa and how in the many different ways we break the fast.

The book has been published by Transworld (part of Penguin Random House) in the UK and Commonwealth, by PowerHouse in North America and by Shanghai Insight in mainland China.

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Kaiserschmarrn with redcurrants © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

How long have you been cooking?
Since I was about 5 years old in our family restaurant in Liverpool. It was a Chinese food and English fish and chip takeaway (very popular in Liverpool and probably nowhere else!)

What is your favorite food to cook?
Fresh pasta. It becomes such an event and is so much fun to do with friends, whilst having a glass or bottle of wine, one person turns the handle and the other feeds it through. You get in a huff when it goes wrong, but it’s pure joy when it comes out perfect.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Pastel de nata-Egg custard tarts © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Butter. If there isn’t any then something is wrong

What do you cook at home?
Absolutely everything from every country and cuisine possible.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Being British, I only have one Pyrex thing in my kitchen and it’s a measuring jug.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
All three in that order.

Your favorite cookbook author?
Ernest Matthew Mickler of White Trash Cooking . One of my favourite books ever, too, food with soul and humour.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Magic grits © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My santoku chef knife from Blenheim Forge

Your favorite ingredient?
Tea – its not just a drink! An Earl Grey infused gin or a tea smoked salmon are delicious and add excitement in so many ways. I have over 50 teas from The Rare Tea Company and I love that they can be paired in so many ways

Your least favorite ingredient?
Olives, can’t stand them.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Indian Slapjacks

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Doing the dishes. It’s a luxury to have a dishwasher in London. I’m very happy Mark loves doing the washing up.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
I love cooking Middle Eastern food. There are some fantastic shops and markets in East London that you can get fresh pistachios or pomegranate molasses easier than getting white sliced bread.

I also have a soft spot for French country cooking, things like Soupe à L’oignon or Pot-au-feu. I also have a deep love for Comte cheese and particularly love a Tartine au jambon et Comte

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
A Japanese Breakfast Gohan Shoku Salmon With Green Beans And Tofu

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
I’d prefer to say a pig rather than pork. I love crispy belly pork or char sui pork, but lets not forget jamon and a glass of wine.

Favorite vegetable?
Aubergine, or as you might call it, eggplant. Roasted whole on a fire and mashed with some olive oil.

Chef you most admire?
Jamie Oliver – he’s changed the way the majority of people eat in the UK for the better.

Food you like the most to eat?
Cheese, in every form

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Cassava Porridge

Food you dislike the most?
Dark chocolate, I also hate it when people pretend to like it because it’s somehow cool. Give me the cheapest milkiest chocolate any day.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
None!

Recipe: Idli – South Indian fermented rice pancakes with masala chai spiced tea

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Idli-South Indian fermented rice pancakes with masala chai spiced tea © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

Makes about 20 idli

3 cups rice (long–grain is fine)
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1⁄2 cup water
1 cup black gram lentils (urad dal)
3 tsp salt
Oil for greasing the pans

Start in the morning of the day before you’d like to eat – as I said, some forward planning is required. In a bowl, mix the rice with the fenugreek seeds and cover with the water. In another bowl, put the urad dal and cover with water. Leave both bowls for a minimum of 5 hours.

The evening of the day before eating, drain the water from the rice but don’t discard it. Put the wet rice in a blender and add 1⁄2 cup of the water. Blend until you have a smooth batter, adding extra water, a little at a time, until it flows easily. Decant this into a large bowl and repeat with the dal (start with 1⁄4 cup of water this second time, as you should have some residual liquid in the blender).

Add the liquid dal to the rice with the salt and mix together using your hands. The bacteria on your skin will help kickstart the fermentation. Leave this covered overnight to ferment in a warm oven; I leave the oven light on. Depending on the time of year, this process will give different results, but you should have a huge, bubbling white mass.

The day of eating, give the batter a good stir. The consistency should be that of thick cream.

Prepare your idli pan by lightly oiling each of the sections with either a brush or a paper towel. Fill the bottom of the pan with water, making sure it doesn’t touch the idli holder. Ladle in enough batter to reach just beneath the edge; you’ll get some rise but not lots.

Steam the idli for 20 minutes with the lid firmly clamped on.

Remove the idli with a wet spoon, running it round the edge of each pancake. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve with sambar and coconut chutney.

Leftovers can be transformed into idli fry, a delicious snack of deep fried idli served with a dip, chutney, or sauce of your choosing and a cup of tea.

– The End. Go Eat  –

All photos courtesy and copyright Michael Zee/SymmetryBreakfast

i8tonite with Maine Windjammer Chef Annie Mahle & Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash​ Recipe

i8tonite with Maine Windjammer Chef Annie Mahle & Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash RecipeFor over 25 years, Annie Mahle has honed her craft with both knife and pen. Annie and her husband, Captain Jon Finger, run the Maine windjammer, the Schooner J. & E. Riggin. Not only is Annie a maritime captain, she also is the captain and chef of her galley, where she has been cooking meals on her cast iron wood stove, Lucy. In the winter, she continues to create new recipes and shares them on her recipe and lifestyle blog, At Home & At Sea. Her third cookbook, Sugar & Salt: A Year At Home and At Sea – Book Two is the second in a series of cookbooks featuring a collection of recipes, crafts, thoughts, and stories from Chef Annie’s adventurous life on the coast of Maine.

i8tonite with Maine Windjammer Chef Annie Mahle & Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash Recipe
Lucy

Chef Mahle notes, “In Sugar & Salt, I share more memories, stories, and recipes that are inspired by my life on the coast of Maine. Whether it’s through my cooking, crafts, or gardening, I’m always creating, and I hope that this book will be a inspiration for the reader.”

 

i8tonite with Maine Windjammer Chef Annie Mahle & Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash Recipe

Chef’s Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
My first cooking memory is of canning tomatoes with my grandma in her kitchen. Several years later, I had a love affair with chocolate chip cookies. I started cooking professionally after I graduated from college and haven’t looked back!

What is your favorite food to cook?
Anything from the garden but kohlrabi.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Half and half, kale, leftovers.

What do you cook at home?
All of the comfort food.

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
I love someone who is willing to try something new. Like oysters. And really savor that first bite.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Boorish or selfish sorts who are unaware of how much airtime and space they take up.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Ball jar.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Wine. Red. Although I do love creating new cocktails.

Your favorite cookbook author?
Lori Colwin, Laura Brody, Dorie Greenspan. I wish I liked James Beard more.

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My santoku. One day I wasn’t thinking and used the tip to pry something open. Rookie move. The tip broke. But then Jon, my husband, ground the tip down to look like a blunt sailor’s knife and I love it.

Your favorite ingredient?
Flour. Or eggs. They can become so many creations.

Your least favorite ingredient?
Kohlrabi. Hate it.

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Clean.

i8tonite with Maine Windjammer Chef Annie Mahle & Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash RecipeFavorite types of cuisine to cook?
The type you eat with family and friends.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Pork. Flavor, flavor, flavor.

Favorite vegetable?
A ripe tomato picked just off the vine on a warm summer day.

Chef you most admire?
Is it a cliché if I say Julia Child? Well, it’s true.

Food you like the most to eat?
I’m loving poached eggs, kale, and avocado for breakfast right now.

Food you dislike the most?
Food that is too clever for its own good. The sort that looks like the height of art on the plate, but leaves you still feeling hungry and wishing for a burger.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
I’ve never gotten a tattoo, but my crew has poked at me for years to get one. I think a tattoo would bore me after a time. If I did get one, it would be a ring of a knife, fork, and spoon around my wrist or bicep.

Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash with Poached Eggs and Asparagus Recipe

i8tonite with Maine Windjammer Chef Annie Mahle & Pork, Potato, and Parsnip Hash Recipe

Hash is usually made with leftover meat or fish from a previous meal. Feel free to substitute beef, pollock, or other flavorful fish in place of the pork.
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 1⁄2 cups diced parsnips, peeled; about 2 parsnips
5 cups diced red potatoes; about 11⁄2 pounds or 6 potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onion; about 1 medium onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic; about 1 clove garlic
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
several grinds fresh black pepper
1 pound cooked pork shoulder or other tender pork meat, pulled apart with a fork into bite sized pieces
1 pound asparagus, ends cut or snapped off; about 1 bunch
Poached Eggs
Herbed Salt (recipe below)

Directions:
Place the parsnips and potatoes in a wide saucepan and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork. Remove from water with a basket strainer or slotted spoon and set aside. Keep the water hot for the asparagus. In the meantime, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil and onion. Sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the parsnips, potatoes, salt, and pepper and cook until the potatoes begin to brown. Add the pork and sauté until the pork is warm. Remove from heat and cover.

Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute or until the asparagus is tender. Timing will vary with the thickness of the stalks. Remove from water with tongs, transfer to a platter and cover. To the same pot of water, add the vinegar (from Poached Egg recipe) and poach the eggs. Plate the hash, asparagus, and poached eggs and sprinkle the eggs with a pinch of Herbed Salt.

Herbed Salt
Makes about 2 tablespoons

1 tablespoon kosher salt
1⁄2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill

In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Store in a glass jar indefinitely.

– The End. Go Eat. –

i8tonite with Orange Beach Chef David Pan & Chargrilled Oysters Recipe

i8tonite with Orange Beach Chef David Pan & Chargrilled Oysters RecipeChef David Pan was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota – one of my favorite towns in the world! After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu Mendota Heights, he began his career at WA Frost in St. Paul with Chef Russell Kline. WA Frost, one of my favorite restaurants in the Twin Cities, is a leading culinary institution in the Midwest, winning multiple awards, including the “AAA” Tour book 3 Diamond Rating – they also have a great outdoor patio, FYI. Pan noted, when I expressed my joy at eating at Frost, that it was a great place to start! He said, “they have a great culinary vibe – everyone is there because they love to cook. There are hard core line cooks!”

He then moved on to the prestigious Minneapolis Club, one of the last invitation only clubs in the US, and his culinary skills were put to test cooking for the elite clientele. Pan spent his summers in Gustavus, Alaska working at The Gustavus Inn, a 2010 James Beard America’s Classics Award Winner. There, he worked side by side with the chef – being a prep cook, gardening, washing dishes, driving a van, and learning how to do just about everything! Pan remarked, “It was the first time I’d been outside of my comfort zone – getting fish straight from the ocean, growing vegetables in a very short summer. It was eye-opening to work with vegetables straight out of the ground, and learn the difference between something processed. I now have a great appreciation for fresh veg – from seed to harvest. When I think of the fresh (and small!) strawberries there, they were so potent and delicious. It changes how you think of foods.”

Pan moved to the Gulf Coast in 2013, and had the honor of working for Chef Bill Briand of Fishers Orange Beach as well as working for Eric Beech of Brick and Spoon. He worked very long days for 14 months, and then made a big life decision. In 2015, he and his wife launched Orange Beach Concierge, one of the only private dining services in the Orange Beach area. He said that there is a big fear to step out on your own, and lose the stability of a full-time job.

i8tonite with Orange Beach Chef David Pan & Chargrilled Oysters RecipeHowever, he’s doing many private events, and loving it. From private chef work to themed weddings (a recent Greek-themed wedding saw him making gyros meat from scratch, as well as kebabs, hummus, tabbouli, and every kind of traditional Greek food – and they loved it) and smaller events. When he described his menus, well, I started thinking about a trip down south. He’s very talented – and creative. His kitchen at Orange Beach Concierge specializes in locally sourced, organic and sustainable ingredients whenever possible – and that that healthy dining should and CAN BE convenient – as well as affordable.

I asked (as a former Minnesotan myself) what changed about his cooking, when he moved south. He laughed, and said he couldn’t help but be influenced by the South! A man after my own travel heart, he said that “one of the greatest parts of traveling and cooking is that you are influenced by that area, and you take it with you in your education and life experience. I never want to stop – I always want to travel and eat and learn as much as I can about foods (especially locally sourced) and different places.”

I also queried him about what new foods he loves, living down south. Don’t be surprised that he answered fresh seafood, especially  oysters. He shared how delicate they are, and how sensitive they are to the environment that they grow in. Pan also noted that with the longer growing season (than Alaska, for sure, but also Minnesota), the agricultural environment in Alabama is abundant and great. The corn is amazing, and there is definitely a bbq scene (I laughed when he said that chefs “have to be on your game because many bbq critics will let you know if you know how to cook pork or not. I passed the pork test…”).

i8tonite with Orange Beach Chef David Pan & Chargrilled Oysters Recipe
Boeuf Bourguignon with Roasted Garlic Pomme Purée, Chef David’s way. Traditional French Cooking for the current times. This is the winning dish for the FLAVOR category at #thewharfuncorked2016.

Pan earned the Flavor Award at the Wharf Uncorked Food & Wine Festival in Orange Beach. His style is traditional French cooking for current times; his winning dish was a Boeuf Bourguignon with Roasted Garlic Pomme Purée. Held in mid-September, the three day event combined tastings of delicious food and tantalizing wines, live entertainment, a pinch of southern flare, and a dash of Gulf Coast hospitality.

Chef Pan is relatively new to the coast but his culinary impact is already well known by his peers. His new storefront (a commercial kitchen, located at The Wharf), is available by appointment only for events, private chef table dinners, and more. Did you know that the Orange Beach area has about 5,000 year-round denizens, but over 6 million people visit from Memorial Day to Labor Day? That’s some kind of crazy tourist season (imagine private cheffing during the busy season!), and also influences his cooking the rest of the year, he noted. I expect we’ll hear much more about this innovatibve, interesting chef, who cares deeply for his fellow cooks, as well as his (lucky!) clientele.

Chef’s Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
16 years

What is your favorite food to cook?
Roasting and brining proteins

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Butter, cream, and Wickles pickles

i8tonite with Orange Beach Chef David Pan & Chargrilled Oysters RecipeWhat do you cook at home?
Ramen – I use the noodles to make sticky noodles…never use the packet

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
Willingness to be open and try new foods

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Taking issue with others without bringing it to me first. I can make anyone more pleased if I know there is an issue

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Rubbermaid

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Cocktail

i8tonite with Orange Beach Chef David Pan & Chargrilled Oysters Recipe

Your favorite cookbook author?
Thomas Keller

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My tongs

Your favorite ingredient?
Kosher salt

Your least favorite ingredient?
Bouillon

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Peel potatoes – I am allergic

i8tonite with Orange Beach Chef David Pan & Chargrilled Oysters Recipe

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
French, Mediterranean, and Vietnamese

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Pork (Bacon)

Favorite vegetable?
Carrots

Chef you most admire?
Francis Mallman

Food you like the most to eat?
Pizza

Food you dislike the most?
Whole olives

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
None, not sure if I will ever go there.

Recipe: Chargrilled Oysters

i8tonite with Orange Beach Chef David Pan & Chargrilled Oysters Recipe

1 lb butter room temperature
1 large shallot minced
4 garlic cloves minced
1 1/2 fresh lemons squeezed
2 tbsp creole seasoning
1 tbsp fresh thyme chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley chopped
Hot sauce to taste
Worchestershire sauce, to taste
1/2 cup Parmesan shredded

24 oysters shucked, toss top shell
French bread crostini or favorite saltine crackers to complement

Directions:

Fire grill
Reach 500 degrees and hold
Combine all ingredients except oysters in KitchenAid and mix
1 tbsp of mixture on shucked oyster
Place oysters on grill
Cook for 4 minutes, lid closed
Remove from grill
Squeeze fresh lemon juice on each oyster and serve and enjoy!

– The End. Go Eat. –

 

 

i8tonite with Traverse City’s amical Chef Dave Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie RecipeTraverse City, Michigan is a special place. Globally known as an incredibly beautiful location, there’s so much more to Traverse City than Sleeping Bear Dunes, named the most beautiful place in America. It seems that everyone here loves food, as you can tell from the array of incredible restaurants, second homes of well-known chefs, and a farm to table movement that has been going on for over a hundred years.

Two of the things I love most about TC are the friendliness and sense community. Whenever I head north from our cottage an hour south, I ask my friend Mike Norton, of Traverse City Tourism, for a recommendation. He’s got the goods, and knows the best in town (including his contributions for my 50 best Midwest Coffee Roasters, but I digress). Mike recommended amical restaurant to me a while back, and I couldn’t wait to share this favorite restaurant with our readers.

Owner and Chef Dave Denison is one of those people you immediately love. He’s funny, creative, and extremely interesting. You’d pick him, if you were going to be stuck on a desert island (hopefully, his chef knife would come with him, because I would be carrying sunscreen). He started by cooking at a young age, and has always worked in restaurants. When he moved out west to California, he thought about getting out of this line of work. Luckily for us, his plan backfired, as he got a job at a growing chain restaurant, and moved up through the ranks and opened up restaurants all over the country for them.

Denison grew up in Southeast Michigan, as well as in Alamaba and Georgia. When he and his family decided to leave California and find a place to start a new restaurant, Traverse City fit the bill. He’s one of Traverse City’s top chefs, with his restaurant amical, which opened in 1994. amical started as a quick service gourmet cafeteria, and has evolved into a European-style bistro.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

Denison remarked that they were fortunate in that through all these changes, their customers supported them and kept coming back.  He noted that “how amical started, to where we are now, is very, very different. We’ve always treated our guests and visitors with respect and knowing that they are the reason we are here.”

I was intrigued by his description of the local food scene. Denison said that “TC has obviously enjoyed national and international recognition over the last 10 years, and it’s well-deserved. It might look like it’s an overnight sensation, but people have worked a long time at their craft here, and many established chefs have been here for a while – in fact, moved to the area with the intention of practicing their craft, using local ingredients. Generations of families have been raising these local ingredients for 100+ years! The farm to table movement was always here, but we were able to utilize it well in our restaurants, and then people ‘discovered’ it. However, it’s always been going on in this area – now just on a bigger scale. This is an agricultural community that has lived for centuries with such natural beauty. We’re surrounded by farmers and people that create a bounty from the land, and we’re happy to be able to be a part of that legacy, and know that this will continue for quite some time.”

amical’s food is local, fresh, creative, and delicious. The staff are incredible – supportive, supported, and intent on creating an excellent dining experience in the community.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Cookbook School!

There’s one more thing you’ll love about amical – the annual Cookbook school, held during the winter months. Denison shared, “for those new to the series, this is what we do: once a month, our kitchen staff will create a week-long dinner menu that consists of recipes from a cookbook. You will find a nice blend of cookbooks from the past, previously featured chefs with new publications, and first time cookbooks. Over the past 19 years, the kitchen team has developed menus from over 100 different cookbooks…while preparing almost one thousand recipes. We credit our loyal patrons for their support and our staff for their passionate drive in making this series an incredible success.”

A community treasure, indeed. 

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
The winner of the big game gets milk and cookies! Go (your team here)!

Chef Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

How long have you been cooking?
“Professionally” since I was 15. My mom was, admittedly, a lousy cook, but for some reason I had an interest at an earlier age. She says it was due to my survival instincts.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Amish chicken with ancho chile cream and tomatillo salsa

What is your favorite food to cook?
I like to prepare hearty soups, especially during the winter months. Can you tell I’m from the Midwest?

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Tortillas (corn & flour)… and cheese – usually a St. Andre or a local chevre or Raclette. P’tit Basque, too.

What do you cook at home?
For a quick bite, it would be tacos. Or a stir fry.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Cardamom-Nutmeg Custard

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
The fact that they continue to return!

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
Paranoia. A few people think “we’re out to get them” or treat them differently because they were late, not from around here, etc… and for the record, we are not, unless you are late or from another town. JK on that.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Pyrex, then it’s on to ziplocks.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Cocktail. Right now its tequila, ginger beer, and lime.

Your favorite cookbook author?
I plagiarize cookbook authors on a frequent basis. Everyone from Mario to Jamie Oliver are represented somewhere on our menus. Right now we are using Pickles, Pigs and Whisky recipes from John Currence. But Yotam Ottolenghi is quickly becoming a new favorite.

Your favorite kitchen tool?
A 10” French knife but I like having a good quality mandolin around. A garlic slicer is a neat little gadget to have around, too.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Garlic Shrimp, Potato Shells, Lamb Meatballs, and Mussels in Coconut-Chile Sauce

Your favorite ingredient?
Onions, onions of all kinds. Caramelized onions, grilled onions, roasted onions, onion soubise, fried onions, don’t forget the chives, red onion, Vidalia onion, green onions…

Your least favorite ingredient?
Eggplant. My mom would pan-fry it and pour maple syrup on it. Yikes! Did I mention she was not a very good cook? But I love you, mom!

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Re-make a dish because we made a mistake.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Asian preparations for their versatility, quickness, and healthy attributes. Mexican is a close second.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
C’mon. Pork.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Heritage appetizers

Favorite vegetable?
Local asparagus. It’s only around up here for a few weeks in the Spring.

Chef you most admire?
One you would recognize would be Eric Ripert. Locally, it would be Harlan “Pete” Peterson of Tapawingo fame in Ellsworth, Michigan. He is so talented but incredibly humble. He just opened Alliance here in town. Already a favorite of many!

Food you like the most to eat?
Fresh seafood and shellfish. Walleye is a favorite. But put a fried egg on something and I’ll order it.

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Rice Centennial Farm Ribeye ready for the Carnivore menu.

Food you dislike the most?
I never really acquired a taste for calf’s liver. I’ll get my iron somewhere else, thank you. (<<Look left)

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
None so far, but my wife has one. Does that count?

 

Recipe: amical’s Chicken Pot Pie

 

i8tonite with Traverse City’s Amical Chef David J. Denison & Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

Servings: 6
Size: 1.5 Cup(s)
Prep. Time: 0:35

Ingredients:
2 c chicken breast, cooked and diced
1/2 c carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 c celery, diced
half a medium onion, peeled and diced
1/2 c frozen peas
1 pound potatoes, peeled, cooked, diced
1 c mushrooms, sliced
1 c heavy whipping cream
1 c whole milk
1 T chervil
1/2 T dried basil
1/4 T salt
1/4 T pepper
2 c chicken stock
4 oz butter
1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 T grated parmesan
2 pieces puff pastry dough
1 egg, beaten

Directions
1. Saute vegetables in butter in a small stock pot.
2. When onions are translucent, add flour and mix. Simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Add milk, cream, potatoes, stock, spices, and parmesan. Heat until sauce has thickened. Check for seasoning and proper thickness. Add more roux if needed.
4. Place filling in individual oven-proof dishes. Cut out a puff pastry dough lid to fit the top of the dish. Brush with eggwash and bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until pastry is golden brown, and the filling bubbles.

– The End. Go Eat. – 

 

 

i8tonite with Minnesota’s Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs

i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached EggsMinnesota-born-and-bred writer Amy Rea loves food, and she loves the Minnesota State Fair. Fortunately for her, the two are combined each year, as the Fair offers up wildly creative (and sometimes wildly disgusting) new foods. Oh, and part of her writing work involves going with a crew from the food site Heavy Table to the first day of the Fair to try all the new foods, then report on them. Tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. And, as any Minnesotan will tell you, the State Fair is a Big Deal. See that smile on her face? That’s  the joy of good fair food.

MN SF Buffalo Chicken in a Waffle Cone Topped w Sausage Gravy. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Buffalo Chicken in a Waffle Cone Topped w Sausage Gravy

Amy is the author of three guidebooks to Minnesota, and she blogs about Minnesota travel at wcco.com/wandermn and writes about Minnesota food at heavytable.com. She lives in a quiet suburb with her husband and their elderly, neurotic border collie, and lives for the times when her 20-somethings sons come to visit so she can cook for them. In between visits, her food writing draws me in every time. My favorite is her article about a traditional Ethopian coffee ceremony held locally – I love the diversity of people and food in the state, and she explores those so well in her writing.

MN SF Spam Sushi. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Spam Sushi

Take a look at all these Minnesota State Fair goodies – which would you pick? Thanks to Amy and Heavy Table’s hard work, we can narrow our options down when we hit the fair next summer. Thank you for this visual tour!

2016 Minnesota State Fair New Food Review from Save The BWCA on Vimeo.

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

What is your favorite food to cook at home?
Hash. Such a great way to use leftovers.

MN SF Cracker Jack Sundae. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Cracker Jack Sundae

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Butter, fresh herbs, eggs, pickles, leftovers.

MN State Fair Pronto Pups. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs

What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
Someone who truly enjoys food and cares about it.

MN SF Salem Lutheran Dining Hall. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Salem Lutheran Dining Hall

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
Someone who goes to a well-regarded restaurant and orders a salad with the dressing on the side, eats half of it, and says Oh, I’m so full. Life is short. If you’re at a good eatery, enjoy it. You can skimp on calories somewhere else.

MN SF Sweet Martha's Cookies. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Sweet Martha’s Cookies

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Yes.

MN SF Sangria Beer with Iced Sangria on Top. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Sangria Beer with Iced Sangria on Top

Your favorite cookbook author?
Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

MN SF Grape Contest. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Grape Contest

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My Microplanes (although my new Instant Pot is creeping up the ladder of my affection).

MN State Fair Maple Syrup and Vinegar Contests. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN State Fair Maple Syrup and Vinegar Contests

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
American, Italian.

MN SF Craft Beer Hall. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Craft Beer Hall

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Pork. Also, salmon.

MN SF Fried Pickles and Cream Puffs. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Fried Pickles and Cream Puffs

Favorite vegetable?
A tie between summer tomatoes and Romanesco cauliflower.

MN SF Fried Green Tomatoes. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Fried Green Tomatoes

Chef you most admire?
Julia Child.

Food you like the most to eat?
Pasta.

MN SF Turkey Legs Pork Chops on a Stick. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Turkey Legs Pork Chops on a Stick

Food you dislike the most?
Beets.

What is your favorite non-food thing to do?
Hang out with my family, read, write, hike.

MN SF Princess Kay of the Milky Way Butter Carving in Process. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Princess Kay of the Milky Way Butter Carving in Process

Who do you most admire in food?
Anthony Bourdain.

Where is your favorite place to eat?
At home. Or a greasy spoon. Or someplace that’s authentically ethnic.

MN SF Oof-Da Tacos. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Oof-Da Tacos

What is your favorite restaurant?
Just one?? Masu, Bulldog NE, Ettlin’s Café, Quang Vietnamese.

MN SF Prince Themed Crop Art. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Prince Themed Crop Art

Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
No, but if I did, most of them would be food-related.

MN SF Bridgeman's La La Palooza Sundae. i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
MN SF Bridgeman’s La La Palooza Sundae

Tomato-Poached Eggs Recipe

This is something I learned from a friend on Twitter, and there are nearly countless ways to customize it. It’s especially fabulous when there are tomatoes at the farmer’s market.

. From i8tonite with Minnesota's Heavy Table Writer Amy Rea & Recipe for Tomato-Poached Eggs
Tomato-Poached Eggs

To serve 2:
Take a couple good-sized tomatoes (heirloom or standard slicers) and dice them (you don’t need to peel them, although you can if you want). Place them in a nonstick skillet with a couple of teaspoons of water. Heat over medium high until the tomato pieces begin to release their juices and bubble. Crack 4 eggs into the tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and cover and cook the eggs to your desired doneness. Serve over polenta.

I’ve added various kinds of cheese and herbs to this, and put it over different kinds of grains (quinoa is good too), and it’s always delicious. But when tomatoes are at their best, I like to just let them shine here.

 

– The End. Go Eat. – 

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Amy Rea/Heavy Table