THIRTEEN. Encore!

 

In recent posts, I’ve ranted about things I hate, loathed, couldn’t do, strived to do, had a journey to accomplish, etc.  I’ve been asked if there is anything I do like and that I don’t rant about.  Well, being a chef, we are always influenced about what we don’t like or find offensive, it’s easier to work backwards to know what NOT to do.  So, I am going to take a break from a rant today and talk to you about things I do love!  Food, chefs and cities that have inspired me and some things that are just good, healthy or not.  I have mentioned some in earlier posts, so expect some repeats!  I hope you enjoy the softer side of me and really the foundations of why I cook, what I love to eat and how my palate actually works.

New-Delhi-India-map_0New Delhi, India…my first food haven.  Where I was born, raised and my roots will forever be tied to.  My first love is Indian food; it always will be as I don’t think anything compares to the food I grew up on cooked by my grandparents.  As a matter of fact, RB – Red Butter is the name of my grandfather translated from Hindi to English.  My grandmother will argue that he was a better cook than she was, but I learned everything I know about food from her.  She didn’t just teach me about spices and flavors, she taught me how to build flavor, to taIMG_0753ste every element, to smell every spice…things that translated not just to Indian food, but to any cuisine I experimented with.  She taught me that the basics of cooking are all the same around the world, it’s the details that make them different.  The local resources, spices, land, sea and even water that defines every culture’s food base.  At the age of 7, I knew more about my kitchen than my own textbooks. I was fortunate enough to be raised by her here in the U.S. for the first 8 years of my life, as broken as my home was, my grandmother made sure I was grounded and put together.  I learned how to speak Hindi, she gave me my first lessons in Hinduism and read me all the stories…ultimately, she created that rock solid foundation of my culture, religion and food that I have never veered from.

 

college-food-pyramid-1As I grew up in my teens, I became an amazing cook and always started dinner, having two working parents, it was an expectation.  My parents gave me the freedom to eat what I wanted and didn’t tell me to not eat beef, as most Hindus are expected to.  When I was 16, I made the decision to quit eating beef as the more I learned about my own religion, the more inclined I felt to do so.  In college, well, you know how food is…. fried, grilled, fried, salad, grilled, sandwich, pasta, pizza, Chinese, FRIED….I think I lived off fries and chicken fingers for most my college career.  I was also the one that always cooked dinner for my roommates and was basically a den mom…. After college, that first year, I gave up meat entirely, except seafood, so basically I was a pescatarian for one year, thinking I was cleansing my body of all the crap I put in it in college.  I actually never had a drop of alcohol until I was 22, that really changed my life!  LOL!  Late night pizza after being out all night became a staple!  I lived in Downtown Chicago and stuck to bar food and things I could afford, which wasn’t a whole lot after paying for drinks, but it was more about location than food.  Then in my mid-20s, as I earned more money, I started to branch out and try newer foods. Sushi became a fast favorite, but only the stuff that was cooked, of course.  I started to travel and try new foods that were local favorites or indigenous to the land and/or sea that I was visiting and I started to really create food memories that still to this day I can taste.

 

mgm-grand-restaurant-latelier-interior-wide-@2x.jpg.image.698.390.highStrangely, my first food memory comes from a place that isn’t exotic at all, Las Vegas.  This city is not only a haven for debauchery, but the culinary scene here is amazing!  One of my first degustation menu experiences (for those that don’t know, degustation means basically a tasting menu) was at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon.  Just walking into this place with its open kitchen and stainless steel finishes, I knew that I was in for something awesome and modern.  I believe the menu was about 8 courses and chose a bottle of Rosé over the wine pairing, mainly because I was still a wine virgin.  The quail and the rabbit courses were perfect, the salad was just enough to cleanse my palate and honestly, I don’t remember much more, except for the scallop dish.  This beautiful dish is something I will never forget.  The dish was a Diver Sea Scallop, cooked in its own shell, then plated on an Artichoke Jus topped with Chive Oil and Fresh Chives.  The colors alone were captivating with that pearl white sclatelierchivescallop-lallop beautifully encrusted in the emerald green of the fresh chives.  That tender scallop combined with the earthiness of the artichoke broth was a euphoric bite to begin with, but then it finishes in your mouth with this silky butter and these bright, fresh chives that left me wanting more…unfortunately, I only got one.  This scallop dish became a benchmark for me anytime I ate scallops or even seafood.  I also learned the art of simplicity.  You don’t always need to put the kitchen sink in a dish.  Pick your lead, and accompany her with two, maybe 3 supporting cast members and let them create magic.  I don’t think I ever got that scallop off my mind the rest of that trip, as nothing else I ate even came close to it.  Even today, every time I smell scallops and butter, I think back to this dish and smile :).

SanFrancisco_0.jpgAs I got older, I learned more about wines and as I became a better chef learned how wine really can influence food.  The art of wine pairings is something that I will always be in awe of.  Just knowing the flavor profiles of wine is challenging enough, but knowing what vineyard, from what region in what country…that’s beyond impressive.  In 2012, I landed in San Francisco and Napa for 7 days.  I don’t think I will ever forget this trip as a whole, but man, my food and wine experiences here were more than I even could imagine and I didn’t know that I would fall in love, again.  San Francisco stole my heart…the people, the food, the bay itself…I never thought I would find a city that rivaled Chicago.  I mean there was a coffee shop on the corner from my hotel, that had a happy hour from 3-10pm… with beers for $3…come on now!  I remember sitting outside that coffee shop at a cafe table with my $3, 16 oz. Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer by 21st Amendment (yes, shameless plug),
letting the 21A_Hell_or_High_Watermelon_V2evening sun blanket my shoulders, thinking I don’t think it gets any better than this. I am not going to get into every aspect of the mainland part of my trip, but I discovered an Indian restaurant, called Dosa, located on Filmore Street, that doesn’t look or feel trite, it tasted and felt like gold.  I ventured into a place called Incanto, with Chef Chris Consentino, who opened my eyes to delicious food made from offal (parts of animals that usually is thrown away).  I even had my first speakeasy experience that required a secret password and a private “library” hidden behind a simple metal door. {Note, the library is a cocktail lounge, I know what you were all thinking… :)}  This was only the first 3 days of my trip.

 

napa_valley2Heading over the Golden Gate Bridge, I rode the wave into my next food adventures.  I can write all day about the wineries I visited and all the stuff I learned, but none of that shaped my life as much as two restaurants I ate at, well, 2 dishes really.  Redd, this Downtown Napa place, I feel, often gets overshadowed by Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, where everyone tries to get in… sadly, most of us don’t.  I ended up at Redd willing to eat at the bar as I had no reservations.  Luckily I got a table and was given an option for their tasting menu, which I totally went for.  Again, I couldn’t tell you what I ate for most of the meal except for this one dish……Petrale sole, coconut jasmine rice, clams, chorizo, saffron curry nage.  It’s the perfect kitchen sink of precious seafood.  The colors again were stunning with a stark white sole enrobed in this yellow liquid silk. nage That nage was the most aromatic, flavor bomb I have ever had.  A nage is basically a fancy word for the best broth you will ever eat.  I can taste every ounce of that elixir even now as I type this…being Indian, that saffron balanced delicately with the curry, was comforting as it was exciting.  I knew the flavors so well, just not in this capacity with the fragrant, crispy jasmine rice and that perfectly poached piece of sole.  The layers of flavor unraveled in my mouth and each bite was different than the last.  As for the clams and chorizo, who cares, I don’t even remember them being in the dish.  I learned again from this one dish that complexity doesn’t have to look obvious.  Complexity doesn’t need to be seen, it should be present in the taste and smells of a dish.  Building flavors that complement each other in a dish, versus actually showing them, allows someone to actually eat with their other senses.

 

The second of the two dishes, from Bistro Jeanty, also in Downtown Napa, is actually really simple.  It’s tomato soup.  No, I’m not joking.  Honestly, the best freaking tomato soup I have ever eatTomato+Soup+in+Puff+Pastryen in my life.  There’s something to say about taking comfort food and making it even more comfortable.  It’s like taking jeans and washing them a few more times to make them even more lived in.  I learned that Bistro Jeanty was a chef hangout and that the tomato soup was a must have, so I had to go.  This time I sat at the bar, ordered a glass of wine and the soup.  The soup comes out in a tureen encapsulated in a dome of this golden, flaky goodness.  At first I thought…awesome, I’ve been soup blocked by dough…. but the moment you break into that crust and it sinks down into that velvety soup below, it’s mayhem.  I don’t know whether the crust made the soup or the soup made the crust.  Either way, I pretty much licked that bowl so clean that the dish guy probably got confused.  I was so far in the bowl, I looked like a horse drinking from a trough! Everyone knows it, will eat it, have an opinion about it, so don’t screw it up!  There’s not a whole lot more I can say about it, mainly because I can’t stop drooling, but the lesson learned here is that there is power as a chef in doing something familiar, and doing it exceptionally well.
01 cc northave beach aerial
Speaking of familiar…I bring myself back to Chicago, my heart and soul.  I’m sure you wondered if I was ever going to talk about how much the food scene in Chicago has changed and the influences it has had on my repertoire as a chef.  Well, the thing with Chicago is the gamut of food available from scrappy street food to hair raising molecular gastronomy.  It’s almost impossible to narrow down food in a place that you live in.  I am constantly surrounded by award-winning chefs and new restaurants are popping up every day.  But the odd part is that one of my favorite food memories in this city doesn’t come from a Michelin star restaurant or even a well-known chef, but it does come from a familiar set of red and white stripes.  Yep, Portillo’s…I don’t even have an explanation as to why, but that first taste of that chocolate cake was of orgasmic proportions.  I never tasted something so moist (ugh, hate this word) that was mass produced in a fast food joint!  I measured every chocolate cake to this one from Portillo’s.
There’s something sexy about consistency, because they never faltered from their recipe, which I now know has mayonnaise as it’s secret ingredient (ewwww).  The cake always tastes the same no matter when I have ever eaten it, including when it’s dumped into a chocolate shake!  I can’t even, that concoction has a little piece of heaven in it.  I chocolate cakehave to say, recently, I think they changed the frosting on the cake as I can’t really eat it!  I just hope it’s them and not me!  But again, the lesson learned here again is that it’s ok to bring it back to basics.  People always value nostalgia, so why not make the best damn chocolate cake ever that reminds them of their own childhood???

 

Now that I have started with something simple, let’s talk real food in Chicago.  There is only one chef here that has always captured my heart and my palate, Chef Paul Kahan.  This guy is the epitome of everything I strive to be.  From his flavor profiles to the way he runs his empire, it’s fascinating.  First the food, Chef Kahan first introduced me to farm to table dining at The Publican.  His use of fresh ingredients sourced from local farms transformed into familiar favorites, with an eccentric touch.  His use of textures and temperatures really did me in.  I will never forget this one dish I had theoriginal_WM-The-Publican--7406_1500pxwidere that included Indian food and sweetbreads…WHAT?  Hindus aren’t even allowed to eat sweetbreads!  The dish had crispy sweetbreads nestled in a bed of curried yellow lentils, drizzled with mint raita (yogurt sauce) and fresh herbs.  Understand that it’s hard to pair a meat with curried lentils mainly because the flavors often hide the meat and overpower anything else in the dish.  The use of sweetbreads is genius!  The minerality and gaminess of the meat is a perfect foil to the curried lentils and oddly enough it works!  It’s a huge ménage of flavors and textures in your mouth, but then comes the cool, mint raita that adds that element of temperature and freshness.  Now there’s a kitchen sink that is obvious and needs to be!  The boldness of all the flavors could have killed this dish, but the thoughtful process of plating and use of ingredients makes this a masterpiece.  This is only one of a million dishes I have eaten at all of Chef Kahan’s restaurants in this city, he’s magnanimous.  He made me THINK about food and the purpose of each ingredient I use.  The importpublican2.PNGance of layering elements of a dish is just as important as layering the flavors within a component of the dish.  It’s a concept that really got me thinking more about my food and what I am trying convey to those eating it.  I also learned that taking risks in flavors, temperatures or textures should be doctrine in my kitchen, never to be afraid to do so.  He has made an empire on taking risks not only in the kitchen but his many other establishments that vary from fine dining to a taco joint to a diner.  It’s uncanny what this guy thinks up of and how he isn’t afraid to take chances.  Being fearless in the kitchen is something that I was deathly afraid of, and even now I have my moments.  Every time I have a moment of fear…I bite into one of his tacos or his pork rinds and I know that everything is going to be ok.

So, this is only a small snapshot of my experiences as a chef and my culinary journey, as you know there is so much more.  I hope you were able to get a glimpse into my life and what an adventure it’s already been, and I’m not even close to done.  You can see I’m not just a fit chick ripping on vegans and millennials, at least not all the time.  My passion for food, life and now fitness continuously molds me and allows me to change shape as needed, haha…oh the puns!  I never want to pigeon hole myself in any way whether that’s in my cooking, the gym or even this blog.  I love being so multi-faceted because I never know what’s coming up next.  The one thing I do know is that I am not afraid to attack it, so go ahead, give me all you got.

 

 

 

Published by

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s