Monthly Archives: October 2013

City Harvest Bid Against Hunger 2013

City Harvest TruckA City Harvest food collection truck

Last week, I attended one of New York’s premier fundraising events, City Harvest‘s “Bid Against Hunger,” a night where the culinary community comes together to raise money to feed its city’s citizens.  Seventy chefs provided tastings of specially-made dishes, beverages flowed, and wallets and pocketbooks opened to generate funds that will have a wide-reaching impact on getting much-needed food to people who might otherwise go hungry.  The moneys raised through the live and silent auction will go towards supporting the organization’s programs throughout the year, initiatives that help support 400 community food programs and to provide resources to more than one million New Yorkers a year.

Cronuts Auction - Nicholas Lowry, Questlove, & Dominique AnselQuestlove and Dominique Ansel auction Cronuts

After the initial walk-around tastings portion of the evening, everyone gathered around for the live auction.  I haven’t jumped on the Cronut bandwagon as yet.  Truthfully, I’ve been avoiding this food fad.  After this event, however, I might have to become a fan.  First to take the stage were Questlove and Dominique Ansel with an extra-special, off-program, unique additional item for guests to bid on that evening.  One dozen, freshly-baked, hand-delivered Cronuts.  The winning bid?  $14,000.  That’s quite a few people being fed from just one box of sweet treats.

The Auction - Nicholas Lowry, Aldo Sohm & Eric RipertThe Auction – Nicholas Lowry, Aldo Sohm & Eric Ripert

Other prizes for the auction featured special dinners cooked by top NYC chefs, including the top-bid item “C’est Magnifique.”  This was also the highest-bid item during last year’s auction as well.  A wine class for 15 people hosted by Aldo Sohm and Jay McInerney plus dinner for two a Le Bernardin prepared by Chef Eric Ripert.  It’s the kind of one-off experience that makes me wish I’d saved all of my pennies from every job I had ever had so that I could also have the chance to compete for it.  The winning bid for that was $42,000, enough to keep many bellies from growling from hunger.

The Auction - Star Chefs package - Amanda Freitag & Marc MurphyThe Auction – Star Chefs package – Amanda Freitag & Marc Murphy

The other live auction items were no less splendid or spectacular either.  How would you like to take a private sushi-making class for four at Morimoto followed by dinner personally prepared by the chef himself?  Or maybe take a tour of Harlem with Chef Marcus Samuelsson with dinner at Ginny’s Supper Club aftwards?  Chopped Chefs Marc Murphy and Amanda Freitag also teamed up to offer a meal prepared together by them complete with special wine pairings selected by Landmarc’s Beverage Director David Lombardo.

Picholine - Gorgonzola Semi-freddo w Pear, Port-red Wine Gel, Walnut CrumbPicholine – Gorgonzola “Semi-freddo” with Pear, Port-red Wine Gell, Walnut Crumb

In addition to the auction lots, everyone was gathered this evening to enjoy the food, and there were some amazing dishes to sample.  When I arrived there, I bumped into Rhonda Kave of Roni-Sue’s Chocolates (who had opened up a new store on the Lower East Side just the week prior).  She advised me to start with dessert first, which I was more than happy to do.  One dramatic, stand-out dish was the Gorgonzola “Semi-freddo” with Pear, Port-red Wine Gel, and Walnut Crumb offered by Picholine.  The “semi-freddo” was made on-site using liquid nitrogen and mixed up to order (see the slideshow below for a step-by-step plating).  It was a bit like eating the crunchy Astronaut Ice Cream of our childhood, for those who remember that concoction with a funky, blue cheesy backnote, and made an interesting contrast to the fruit and sauce.

Landmarc - Creamy Grits with Charred Kale & Sweet Italian SausageLandmarc – Creamy Grits with Charred Kale & Sweet Italian Sausage

On the savory side, there was so much amazing food to taste that it is really hard for me to pick a favorite.  I am going to give a special nod, however, to the folks with whom I work on a daily basis and highlight the Grits with Charred Kale and Sweet Italian Sausage that the team at Landmarc put together.  By way of full disclosure, I work with the events group for this company, doing culinary production, so I had a kitchen-eye view of the evolution of this dish.  I even had a hand in chopping up the cooked kale and getting it packed and ready to go for the evening.  Truthfully, I was a little bit skeptical when I first heard about it, but after trying that first bite, all hesitation melted away.  The creamy grits worked perfectly with the smokiness of the kale and that sweet meatiness of the sausage.  My only complaint is that I wanted more parmesan to sprinkle on top of it as the nutty, salty addition of the cheese really brought it all to an even more delicious level.  I enjoyed this plate so much that I was hoping maybe we’d get the leftovers for family meal at work the next day, but I’ll have to settle for re-creating it at home.

To see more of the evening’s activities and lots of plates of wonderful food and refreshing beverages, click on the slideshow above.  It was truly a remarkable event with a special mission of feeding not just those of us in the room, but using the power of food to assist others in our community to be able to feed themselves.  For more information about City Harvest, please visit their website.

Buon appetito!

Thank you very much to Rubenstein Public Relations for arranging for me to have a press pass to attend this event.

NYC Wine & Food Festival 2013 Burger Bash with Le Rivage

French Onion Soup Burger by Le RivageLe Rivage French Onion Soup Burger

So what did I get up to this weekend?  Well, not much, really.  I just worked the very popular Burger Bash event at the NYC Wine & Food Festival.  Oh, yeah, and the restaurant at whose stand I was helping out just happened to win first prize judge’s choice for their French Onion Soup Burger!

Skyline viewThe view

Here’s how I got involved with this.  A week or so before the event, I reached out to a friend of mine who was coordinating the cooking and set up for the chef competing in this.  She’s one of the people who helped to train me when I was a very green culinary student.  (Piece of advice for current students: volunteer to work as many events as possible.  It will make you faster and more adept at your culinary skills.)  So, when I found out I wasn’t scheduled to work at my other three jobs, I offered to pitch in to help out.  You’ve never seen an email returned so quickly saying, “Yes!”

Burger Bash CredentialsEvent credentials

I reported to the restaurant at 11:00 a.m. on Friday.  My first task was to start getting things together to load them up into the large tubs that we used to transport all the burger fixings to the event site over at Pier 92.  Our meat was being delivered directly to the venue by the distributor, Pat LaFreida Meats.  We were sponsored by Thomas’ English Muffins, the same kind that is used for this burger when it is served in the restaurant.  The English muffins were piled high on the table when we got there, ready to be toasted and paired with their burgers.

Burger Bash 2013 stageBurger Bash stage – the calm before the storm

We arrived at the venue at about 1:00 p.m., and it was just prepping our area and getting everything set up from there.  My first task – slicing in half the large pile of English Muffins and getting them set up on sheet trays to be toasted.  Then, walking through with our coordinating chef the set up for our stations and figuring out the flow for the evening.  These events are gobs of fun to work, but they take military-style precision to get the team to function in the most effective and efficient manner possible.  The word “multi-tasking” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Station from the terraceOur “kitchen” and the event tent

When you walk into one of these events, you might generally have an idea of the equipment you will be working with for the next several hours.  Things that can’t be controlled like the weather or power shortages only add to the fun and dynamic aspect of the day.  Fortunately, we packed enough ice when we left the restaurant, as the bins for them hadn’t been filled when we arrived.  We reorganized our speedracks and tables to work with the flow that the chef thought would be the best to cook, finish, and plate our dishes.  The cooking took place outside of the main tent where the guests would be sampling the various chefs’ burgers.  Given the smokiness of the grills, especially as the evening wore on, that was probably a smart decision.  We all reeked of bbq grease and essence of cooked burgers at the end of the evening.  I’m not sure that all the smell is still out of my clothes.

Grilling the onionsHeating the onions

Once our area was in order, it was time to fire up the grills and get cooking.  The containers of caramelized onions, this was, after all, a French Onion Soup Burger, were dumped onto the griddle and heated up to temperature before being held in a pan to be added to the burgers.  English muffins were toasted on another griddle after being brushed with clarified butter.  Then, there came a delivery of another component to our dish, one that I’d been looking forward to trying very much.  We had Jacques Torres’ chocolate potato chips, salty, sweet, creamy, chocolatey, crunchiness to place alongside the very rich burgers.

Chocolate Potato Chip Bark by Jacques TorresChocolate potato chips by Jacques Torres

The VIP guests started arriving at 6:30 p.m.  Prior to that, we were told that the judges would be coming through at 6:15 p.m.  All of the set up had to be done with the first set of everything: buns, burgers, fixin’s all ready to go to start pumping out plates of our dish.  It’s like a starting gun going off at a race with it just taking off from there and everything flying at greater that full speed for the next 3+ hours until it comes to a complete and total stop or the station runs out of food, whichever happens first.

Putting the burgers togetherPutting the burgers together

My task was to get the completed burgers sliced into quarters (our serving size for this event) and onto the serving dishes to be put onto the tray and then garnished with a few chocolate potato chips. After that, a culinary volunteer would run the tray into the event tent to our table there, where the chef would serve them to the guests.  It was a continual, frenzied pace to continually get the burgers put together, sliced, and plated to go out.  We had a lot of hungry guests to feed and folks really seemed to enjoy our food, coming back for seconds and thirds.

Working the grillsChefs working the grills

Smoke and grease filled the air, the grills were firing on all cylinders, and we just kept pounding away, moving as many burgers as we possibly could with everyone on the team jumping in to work as quickly as possible to get the trays out to the table.  We each took turns plating, adding chips to the dishes, slicing, and running the food to the guests.  I even manned the grill for a few minutes, toasting English muffins to give one of the other chefs a break and to let the smoke clear from his eyes.

Angela & Paul with winning trophyAngela and Paul with the winning trophy

Finally, when the chef gave us the “all in” (meaning we could quit cooking and start to clean up our area and pack everything to go back to the restaurant), I had a chance to run to the bathroom and to walk out the kinks in my back and knees (one side effect of moving in a limited range of motion for several hours while working these events).  I made my way through the crowd of well-fed, happy guests who were all enjoying the music, the venue, and the great crisp fall weather.  When I got back to our tent, I started clearing up and was barely listening to the background chatter coming from the judges’ podium.  Our coordinating chef ran up and said, “We won!  We just won Burger Bash!  Did you hear that?!”  We all ran into the main tent to see our head chef with his trophy and a giant smile on his face, as his industry peers had awarded him the Best Burger for Burger Bash 2013.

Dirty Chefs jacketA burger grease-stained jacket

Winning or losing, it is always so much fun to work these events (although, it was pretty awesome to win this one).  The adrenaline just flows, and it all comes together in some magical way to get the food prepped and on the table to feed people.  It’s crazy, hectic, smelly, smoky, dirty, and madly frantic, but at the end, that beverage that you sip to celebrate the finish of another evening is the sweetest tasting thing you’ve ever had, and you go to bed completely spent but utterly satisfied that you did your job the best you could that day.  Then, you sign up to work the next event, whatever that may be.  In our case, we were back on again the next morning to work the Greenmarket Brunch.

Burger Recipe cardThe winning recipe

Thank you so much to Angela Dimino for letting me help out with this event.  It was a pleasure to work with her, Chef Paul Denamiel of Le Rivage, and the rest of the team.  To make the winning burger at home, here is the recipe card that the folks at Thomas’ had put together for Burger Bash.  You can also find the recipe here on their website.  The chef created a Monte Cristo using Thomas’ English Muffins, too.  We served that at the Greenmarket Brunch on Saturday.  Here’s looking forward to next year’s competition!

Buon appetito!

James Beard Foundation’s Taste America!

JBF Taste AmericaJames Beard Foundation’s Taste America!

Along with the catering and production cook work I’ve been doing to pursue my fledgling culinary career, I also fit in some time this weekend to help out with a couple of chefs’ demos that were part of the New York City leg of the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America! celebration of regional food across the country.  On Saturday, at the Hell’s Kitchen location of Sur La Table, two chefs presented their recipes and gave attendees a peek into their culinary philosophies.  From California, Daniel Patterson the executive chef of Coi restaurant in San Francisco, demonstrated how to make one of his signature soups.  From this coast, cookbook author and chef Maricel Presilla came in from Hoboken, New Jersey to talk about mole’ and Latin American flavor influences.

Daniel Patterson making sunchoke soupDaniel Patterson making sunchoke soup

Before the demo started, Chef Patterson spent a few minutes introducing himself to the group of assistants who would be helping out during the mini-lesson, setting the stage for his casual, yet informative communications style that combines his passion for and knowledge of working with season and hyper-local ingredients.  His new cookbook, which he was also promoting on this tour, Coi is part recipes, part stories, and part inspirational, as he put it.  As he whipped up a batch of Sunchoke Soup, he talked about how this dish is representative on many levels of the way that he and his colleagues cook at their restaurant.

Daniel Patterson Sunchoke soupSunchoke Soup

They take a local and seasonal item, like the sunchoke, and then build up a recipe using each aspect of the product.  Sunflower seeds are ground in a mortar and pestle and mixed with oil, the young greens are used as garnish and thinly-sliced, raw sunchokes are placed on the final dish.  The sunchokes themselves are also puréed and mixed with an emulsion of chanterelle mushrooms, giving the soup added depth of flavor and an extra dimension of earthy, meatiness.  Attendees raved about the samples that we presented to them, and there were just a few bowls left for the staff to enjoy, too.  This soup seemed to capture the essence of autumn in each bite with a feel of afternoons walking through a damp field or shuffling feet moving through piles of fallen leaves.

Maricel Presilla explaining peppersMaricel Presilla explaining about various peppers

The next demo took us south to warmer climes.  Maricel Presilla, the award-winning author of the Latin American cooking tome, Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America.  She explained to us that mole’ was traditionally a dish served at celebrations and that it has a long history across many Latin American civilizations.  When chocolate was used in the recipe, it was as a sign of prestige, as it was very expensive.  She also talked to us about the kinds of peppers that are used in the dish and how to prepare them for putting into mole’.

Enchilada with Mole'Enchilada with Mole’

Then, the tasting portion of the program was ready.  Attendees were treated to Chef Presilla’s hand-rolled enchiladas, steamed for us on-site served with a generous helping of the mole’ that she had made for us.  The deep, rich flavor and silken texture with slightly-spiced, mildly-peppery cocoa notes hit every area of my palate and made me want to lick the prep bowl to get every drop out of it.  This was a fantastic display of the range of cuisines and cultures that make up our culinary landscape in this country, which just encourages me to want to explore more of it.

Buon appetito!

Tofu Noodle Stir-Fry for Oxo & Plated Contest

Oxo box of toolsBox of Oxo kitchen tools

I’ve been a big fan of Oxo‘s kitchen tools, which make my life much easier in the kitchen.  I’ve raved about their cherry pitter, which was put to great use this past summer in making several batches of my Tart Cherries in Brandy and Spiced Syrup.  Their vegetable peeler was my constant companion during culinary school, and comes with me to every catering gig as part of my standard toolkit (where it is borrowed on a regular basis).  When I received an email asking for recipe suggestions for using a selection of their utensils as part of a contest sponsored by Oxo and Plated, a meal delivery service, I knew that I wanted to take part in it, squeezing it into my busy working chef schedule.

Vegan Tofu Noodle Stir-FryTofu Noodle Stir-Fry

For a while, I’ve been tossing this recipe around in my mind, thinking that it would be a great thing to tackle.  There is, however, the issue of prep time.  Slicing piles of vegetables takes time, which, as I run between jobs, isn’t always possible.  On the nights where I’m not working or attending a networking event or culinary activity, collapsing on the couch and putting my my aching feet takes first priority.  Several of the tools in the box that Oxo mailed to me to use for this contest minimize prep time and make this recipe very doable for a weeknight dinner.  I also chose to make this recipe vegan and gluten-free, as I try to build up more of a repertoire of those dishes for potential clients.

Oxo ToolsTools for this project

For this recipe, I picked out the tongs, the small whisk, the slicer, and the salad dressing shaker.  Each of these utensils are very handy to have in the kitchen for all sorts of jobs.  The salad dressing shaker was my marinade mixer, with the handy cup measurements on the side helping me to figure out the right proportion of oil to vinegar.  I combined everything with the whisk and then closed the top to help me pour the marinade, minimizing spills and splatters, much like using a squeeze bottle (on which we rely heavily in professional kitchens and in catering).  The slicer created beautiful, thin strips of vegetables, making them easy to cook.  The three different sizes of thickness as well as the fact that you can lock down the blade when you are done, makes this a resourceful tool for slicing.  Tongs, I can’t really say enough about tongs, as I use them quite a bit in my cooking.  I have another pair of Oxo ones that are workhorses in my kitchen.  This extra pair might go into my knife kit, but I’m hesitant, as I can see someone falling in love with them and them “disappearing” at some point.

IngredientsIngredients

I wanted this dish to have an Asian feel to it.  It’s sort of Thai-ish with cilantro and lime and sesame oil.  The cooking time (including prep) is supposed to be under 30 minutes for these dishes, according to our instructions.  We were also limited to using 12 ingredients, which I maxed out on completely.  The vegetables retain some of their nice crunch with the noodles and tofu giving the dish a hearty, substantial feel and additional texture.  I’m definitely going to enjoy eating the leftovers.

Tofu Noodle Stir-Fry

Prep Time: 25-30 minutes

Serving Size: 2 adult portions

Ingredients:

2 oz. Thai-style Rice Noodles (about 1-inch diameter bunch)

1/8 tsp. Garlic Powder

1/4 tsp. Ground Ginger

1 wedge Lime Juice plus more for garnish

1/4 c. Rice Wine Vinegar

2 Tbsp. Toasted Sesame Oil

1/3 c. Canola Oil, plus 1/4 teaspoon for stir-frying

6 oz. Extra-firm Tofu

1 medium Carrot

1 medium Red Pepper

6 large Brussels Sprouts

Fresh Cilantro

Assembly:

Cook noodles as you would pasta, by putting a pan of water on the stove to boil.  Toss in the noodles and let them cook until tender.  Drain and set aside, tossing the hot noodles with two teaspoons of the marinade.

Mixing up marinadeMeasuring the marinade and mixing it together

Make the marinade for the tofu and sauce for the noodles by pouring the garlic powder, ground ginger, lime juice, and rice wine vinegar into the salad dressing shaker.  Using the whisk to stir continuously, add the sesame oil and the canola oil to the mixture.  Place the top on the salad dressing shaker.  Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes and place in bowl.  Pour 2 tablespoons of the marinade over the tofu and let it sit while preparing the vegetables.

Brussels Sprouts on slicerSlicing sprouts

Using the slicer on width setting #1, cut the carrot.  For the red pepper and brussels sprouts, use width setting #2 to slice.  Everything will come out more or less the same width, which will allow them all to cook quickly and evenly in the pan.  I used the blade guard for the sprouts, but cut the carrot and peppers down to about 1-inch left in size on the slicer and finished with a knife, as the blade guard didn’t work as effectively with those vegetables.

Adding vegetables to panFrying tofu and vegetables in pan

Heat the canola oil in a 12-inch skillet (do not use a non-stick pan) until it starts to show ripples in the oil (before it starts to smoke).  With the tongs, remove the tofu with the marinade and place it in the hot oil.  Let it cook for about 1 minute, moving it around with the tongs to heat evenly.  Add the sliced vegetables and cook for 1 minute more.  Then, add the noodles and warm everything through to heat it up.  Pour over a couple of tablespoons of the marinade and toss it all together.

Vegan Gluten-Free Noodle stir-fryTofu Noodle Stir-fry

Place the noodles, vegetables, and tofu on two plates.  Chop the cilantro and sprinkle it on each of the plates.  Garnish each plate with a lime wedge, if desired.  Serve immediately.

Buon appetito!

We Have a “Make Your Own Soda” Giveaway Winner!!!

P&H Soda bookMake Your Own Soda” book

Congratulations to Jeremy whom the Randomizer selected as the winner for this prize!!!  A big “Thank You” to everyone who entered this giveaway!  Thank you, too, to Anton Nocito and his publishers at  for providing me with this cookbook and for allowing me to offer it to one of my readers in this giveaway.

Concord Grape Soda - P&H Soda Co.Concord Grape Soda by P&H Soda Co.

Root Beer seems to be a favorite of most of the folks who entered this contest, which was interesting to me, as I don’t really like it, except as an ice cream float (aka “Brown Cow”).  Sarsaparilla is one of the flavors that Anton makes, which is also a base taste in root beer.  I’m a huge fan of his Concord Grape soda which makes its appearance briefly at this time of the year, when the grape harvest arrives in this area.  I had a glass last week at the monthly New Amsterdam Market, which was the perfect way to kick off the day meandering around the vendors’ stalls, which I highly recommend the next time the market takes place the end of this month.

Buon appetito!