The True Olive Oil Experience!

16 01 2012

Yesterday was an incredibly special “Culinary Gathering” co-hosted by my wonderful Italian friend Cristiana.  We met last year in San Casciano, her home town in Chianti, Italy.  She opened the doors of her life to me as we ate wonderful meals at her family’s home, toured her famous Tuscan farm and nursery, wine-tasted all over the region, met local pasta makers and olive oil producers and traveled to different regions of Italy together.

Yesterday Cristiana was in my home. It was quite an honor to share my life, my home and and especially my passion for food with her. We hosted an “Italian Culinary Gathering” to share the unique recipes from her Grandmother’s kitchen, “La Bruna”, with some of my most loyal clients.  The food was unlike any Italian food I have tasted in the US.  It was full of bursting flavors and unusual techniques that I have never considered in my approach to cooking.  Most importantly, this “Culinary Gathering” was full of love, warmth and appreciation for a fantastic culture.

I’d like to share with you a small clip of Cristiana teaching the class how to taste the olive oil from her farm.  It’s a tradition in Italy called “Fettunta”: The only way to celebrate the new olive oil of the year.

To purchase Maldon Salt check out The Spice House in Chicago or Evanston

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San Francisco Inspiration

13 01 2012

This week I took a trip down memory lane and had the opportunity visit old friends, incredible restaurants and the fabulous farmers markets in San Francisco and Berkeley.  After living in the Bay Area for almost four years, I knew I was in for a treat, but I was surprised by the overwhelming nostalgia and appreciation I felt almost every moment of my trip.  San Francisco is not only one of the best food cities in the entire world, it is truly the place that transformed me from a passionate foodie to a chef.

While my pace and cooking skills advanced in San Francisco,  the most important skill I learned was how to create menu’s with seasonal ingredients.  Believe it or not, in Chicago I had never worked with kale, Meyer lemons, satsuma tangerines, tarragon, parsnips, turnips, dandelion greens or frisee before stepping foot in Boulettes Larder (my first San Francisco restaurant).  I had no idea that restaurants had menu’s that changed on a daily basis depending on farmers produce.  I couldn’t understand how a chef could see produce at a market and simply be inspired to put unique flavor combinations together and make a new menu.  It’s something that is hard to explain and just happens to those cooks that live and breathe food.

On Saturday night I went to Nopa, one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco.  I choose this restaurant because it embodies the quintessential San Francisco restaurant experience with its consistent use of local ingredients, incredible hand-made cocktails, an exposed kitchen, wood-burning stove and a long community table.  One of my friends ordered their pork chop and I jealously stared as he ate the luscious meat with crispy onions, fingerling potatoes in each bite. The next morning I hit up the Ferry Building Farmers Market to buy produce for a dinner party I was hosting at my friend’s house in Berkeley.  In true San Francisco style, I walked into the market having no idea what I would be cooking that evening.  I knew I would let the ingredients inspire my decisions.

Here’s a little clip of how I choose what to make for dinner:

I got home extremely energized from my wonderful experience at the market and cooked all afternoon.  My friend went to the fish market and picked up a 4 lbs. of fresh cod that I decided to poach with olive oil, Buddha’s hand, orange rind and white wine.

I used my inspiration from the Pork dish at Nopa to roast fresh turnips, spring onions and fingerling potatoes in the oven to give contrast in texture and color to the buttery fish.  I must say, the meal turned out delicious because it was made with the best ingredients around a lot of love!