Archive for February, 2010

East L.A. Culinary Students Get Celebrity Chef Advice

Posted 27 Feb 2010 — by S.E.
Category Warms My Heart

Chef Sam Choy with Belle Gardens Culinary Student

Debbie Silveira isn’t your average culinary arts instructor. She is one of the hardest working and committed teachers I have known. Debbie is a culinary arts instructor and co-chair of the family & consumer sciences department at Belle Gardens High School in Montebello California just east of down town LA. For the past five years I’ve had the pleasure of working with Debbie and a team of talented chefs and administrators as a volunteer advisor to the district. In a community where things aren’t always easy and a state where funding for public education is in crisis, Debbie hasn’t faltered in her commitment to students. After meeting her students, I can see why. They are all heart and are deserving of the best support we can give. They come from hardworking families, often have limited resources, and clearly make the connection between education and a better life. Perhaps this is why Debbie convinced chef Jeff Mora, Corporate Chef and Owner of Metropolitan Culinary Services to jump in and help her prepare the Belle Gardens culinary team for the 2010 state ProStart competition in Sacramento (March 6-7). The stakes for Debbie’s students are high; ProStart winners receive lucrative scholarships making the pathway to college all that more feasible. Be advised, her students are up to the task.

Since December the team has been working after school, on weekends and during winter break to perfect their skills in preparation for the big event. Following ProStart guidelines, they composed a three course menu choosing an Asian inspired theme.

Good Buddies Sam Choy and Paul Prudhomme

During one of their recent practice sessions Hawaiian Chef Sam Choy turned up with Jeff Mora to provide the team with some advice and inspiration. Sam Choy is a restaurateur, television personality and talented chef who most recently created all the first class and business class menus for American Airlines flights between Tokyo and Honolulu. I first met Sam in New Orleans last September at K-Paul’s Louisiana kitchen. My first impression was one of great admiration not only for his professional background but also for his wonderful personality and great heart. Sam is the kind of guy who radiates positive energy. When he enters a room, he makes it better. When he cooks, there’s nothing better. Jeff texted me the day Sam was on his way to Belle Gardens. His note brought a smile to my face and didn’t surprise me at all, that’s the kind of guy Sam is. Convincing Sam to visit Belle Gardens is just the kind of thing Jeff would do for Debbie and her students. Plus, who could provide better guidance on an Asian inspired menu than Sam Choy.  I love the level of authenticity to all this. Debbie, Jeff and Sam work with these students because it’s the right thing to do.  They do this work under the radar with no expectation of anything in return other than the success of the students. These kids are going to succeed regardless of how they do at the ProStart competition in Sacramento because they have a whole community pulling for them while they work their butts off and pull for themselves.  I can’t wait to see what happens in Sacramento.

Seawater Flooding Vegas?

Posted 25 Feb 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

What’s with all the seawater flooding Vegas? Earlier today I scanned Bloomberg.com as I usually do to see which way the wind was blowing in the financial world and noticed Ryan Sutton’s article about Vegas casual dining. I am a fan of Sutton’s and seek out his work on Bloomberg regularly. In the article Sutton describes a Turbot poached in Hawaiian Ocean water at Michael Mina’s American Fish located within the new Aria Resort and Casino in the CityCenter complex (which itself may be underwater). Michael Mina is one of the most talented chefs in the country so it took me a moment to get over my initial tinge of envy that Sutton had a chance to eat at his new place. As my envy subsided it was replaced by a sense of wonder why Mina would import ocean water from Hawaii for a dish in bone dry Las Vegas.  Mina is not alone; this is the second restaurant that I know of in Vegas using seawater in a dish.

During a trip to Las Vegas back in December, 2009, Charlie Trotter and I bumped into each other at an event at the Venetian. After a brief chat he promptly sent for the maître d’ of Restaurant Charlie at the Palazzo Hotel so she could escort me back to the restaurant to enjoy his five course Kaiseki menu.  The menu included a tuna dish topped with seawater foam. It was one of the best dining experiences I have had.

Trotter’s seawater foam was a garnish on the second course in a multi-course menu (see image to the right). The dish included, in addition to the Spanish blue-fin tuna and foam, umeboshi which is a tree fruit (ume) similar to apricot that

Spanish Blue Fin Tuna with Seawater Foam

has been pickled. The dish was outstanding with a perfect balance of fatty tuna, sweet and sour ume and salty foam but I couldn’t help but wonder, with trepidation, where the seawater came from (Coast of Cartagena vs. the East River). Hiro, the polite, soft spoken and ultra-professional Kaiseki chef at Bar Charlie provided me the detail.

The “seawater” much to my relief, was not real seawater at all but a liquid consisting of a dashi base that had been filtered, seasoned and foamed.  In contrast, Sutton’s article claims that American Fish is actually using ocean water bottled up and shipped from Hawaii. I guess in an age when we drink bottled water shipped from every corner of the earth, a little Hawaiian ocean water is no big deal, but the notion of ocean water in Vegas remains foreign to me. Is the flavor of Hawaiian ocean water sufficiently sublime to warrant a trip to the mainland? Is the flavor of ocean water on the north side of Oahu different than the south side? Are we headed toward vertical ocean water tastings from pristine global sources? Worse yet is the challenge of knowing, like many things in Vegas, whether the ocean water you are served is real or fake.