How I Learned to Love the Art of Sous-Vide Under the Tutelage of Its Inventor

Jordan Wright
May 22, 2017
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
 

In a non-descript two-story building in Sterling, VA, in a suburb better known for defense contractors and software developers, is a company that has trained more three-star Michelin chefs than any cooking school in the world.  Here at Cuisine Solutions Inc. through their learning division CREA (Culinary Research and Education Academy), I recently participated in a workshop on sous-vide given by Dr. Bruno Goussault, the very scientist who developed the revolutionary technology.

In the classroom with Dr. Bruno Goussault, the creator of sous-vide

In the classroom with Dr. Bruno Goussault, the creator of sous-vide

There are two divisions under one large corporate umbrella.  Cuisine Solutions sells prepared sous-vide foods to Costco, as well as airlines, cruise ships, the military and major hotel chains worldwide.  And CREA, with locations in France and Sterling, trains chefs in the sous-vide technique with seminars, on-site training and online video courses.  The company opened its $30 million dollar, 163,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art plant in Sterling in 2013.

Table set for luncheon in the Executive Dining Room

Table set for luncheon in the Executive Dining Room

Along with Goussault’s many years of experience as a scientist and founder of Centre de Recherche et d’Edudes pour Alimentation in Paris as well as recipient of the “Ordre National du Merite” from the President of France, officers in the company have equally extensive pedigrees.  Stanislas Vilgrain, Chairman and CEO, rose to the top of his career earning the medal of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor of the French Republic in 2015 after years as a top officer at Vie de France Corporation; Chief Strategy Officer Gerard Bertholon is a Maître Cuisinier de France, one of the world’s highest honors, and trained as a chef under the great Alain Chapel;  Felipe Hasselmann, Cuisine Solutions president, brought his powerful international business development experience from L’Oreal Paris, Coca Cola and Frito Lay; and Bruno Bertin, VP of Culinary Innovation who himself has worked with the legendary Pierre Troisgros, Louis Outhier and Daniel Boulud, as Sous Chef at Restaurant Daniel in New York.

72-Hour Short Rib & Potato Hash

72-Hour Short Rib & Potato Hash

Not only did I watch, learn and participate, but I also spent most of the day tasting the results, beginning with a breakfast prepared by a cadre of chefs schooled in the art of sous-vide.  Exquisitely decorated plates were served starting with an egg white and red pepper sous-vide egg bite (these were specially created for Starbucks); bacon and Gruyere egg bite; coconut and chia seed oatmeal parfait; compressed fruit and dragon fruit granite; egg and rosti with sous-vide hollandaise and 72-hour short rib and potato hash served in a miniature cast iron pan.

Egg White & Red Pepper Sous-Vide Egg Bite and Bacon & Gruyere Sous-Vide Egg Bite

Egg White & Red Pepper Sous-Vide Egg Bite and Bacon & Gruyere Sous-Vide Egg Bite

After breakfast our class moved onto nibbles of “sous-shi” – a trompe l’oeil preparation that looked and even tasted like sushi but was entirely vegetarian; a Moroccan dish of octopus, raisins, capers, compressed melon, pomegranate seeds and radishes; Arctic char brandade with ramp aioli; and a sous-vide pig face which offered up meltingly tender cheek meat.  Well fortified, we left the dining area for a large classroom, which is really a laboratory.

Moroccan-influenced Sous-Vide Octopus

Moroccan-influenced Sous-Vide Octopus

Under the avuncular tutelage of the 75-year old Goussault, “father of sous-vide” and the company’s Founder and Chief Scientist, I slowly shed the neophyte’s notion that sous-vide is a cheater’s technique or a culinary sleight of hand.  There is just as much time and effort put into sous-vide preparation as there is with conventional methods.  In many cases, a lot more goes into achieving the perfection that it guarantees to the chef.  Moreover, I learned that many of the world’s greatest chefs were taught by Goussault – chefs such as Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, Daniel Boulud, Dan Barber, Charlie Trotter, Anne-Sophie Pic and the late Michel Richard, who have embraced it wholeheartedly.

Braised Beef Cheeks over Celery Root Purée with Truffle Triple Sauce & Pickled Ramps garnished with borage flower

Braised Beef Cheeks over Celery Root Purée with Truffle Triple Sauce & Pickled Ramps garnished with borage flower

During this one-day workshop I became a rabid convert, sometimes tasting conventionally prepared product beside sous-vide prepared foods.  I learned how preparing literally tens of thousands of dishes for major events using this method (Cuisine Solutions has catered huge events, like The Ryder Cup and the Super Bowl, for tens of thousands of guests.), offers high quality, consistency, precision and food safety while preventing product loss and spoilage.  Meats are cooked uniformly and fruits and vegetables retain the intense signature of the ingredient.  This was heady stuff for someone not particularly science-minded.

A cadre of chefs create our meals

A cadre of chefs create our meals

Dr. Goussault, who invented the two-minute rice while working in food science for the United Nations in Africa, invented sous-vide in the early 1970’s and continued to tweak and promote it with Joël Robuchon in Paris with the establishment of CREA.  Armed with probes and monitors Dr. Goussault travels the globe throughout the year training chefs in his methods.  He has been compared to Escoffier as a pioneer in the world of gastronomy, and you can take that to the bank!  Some of our local chefs who have trained with him at this facility are from Le Diplomate, Mintwood Place, Green Pig Bistro, The Red Hen, Central Michel Richard, Convivial, Fiola and The Dabney, to name but a few.

Glazing the vegetarian "Sous-shi"

Glazing the vegetarian “Sous-shi”

After discussions on vacuum sealing, water circulators, the precise temperatures for the scale of doneness, and becoming familiar with the various types of machinery involved in this technique, it was time for lunch – Beef sirloin “jar salad’ with ponzu and baby greens; Amazon cod with soy beurre blanc and fiddlehead ferns; braised pork belly over Beluga lentils with shitake broth and wild foraged mushrooms; braised beef cheeks over celery root puree with truffle, triple sauce and pickled ramps.  As each dish was sampled it became clearer to me that food prepared sous-vide results in the superior dishes found in the world’s finest restaurants.  Each ingredient retains its singular identity, and that is a mind-blowing experience.

Amazon Cod with Soy Beurre Blanc & Fiddlehead Ferns

Amazon Cod with Soy Beurre Blanc & Fiddlehead Ferns

Even after such a lavish lunch we continued to sample sous-vide filet of beef, fried chicken, carrots and other delights comparing them alongside traditionally prepared product.  The meats were seared and finished on a flat top grill, the chicken crisped up in a fryer.  The results were remarkable.  In the matter of the chicken, you could just die right there.  It was ultra-crispy while still juicy.  Carrots tasted as though they were picked fresh from the garden and apples like they had just been plucked off a tree.

Platter of citrus madeleines

Platter of citrus madeleines

Cramming ten meals into one day wasn’t for the faint of heart, or I should say, stomach.  At this point I am wishing I had a cow’s four stomachs and a week to digest everything.  But I persist, because this is what I do.  And were we done?

Chocolate Moelleux with Raspberry Coulis

Chocolate Moelleux with Raspberry Coulis

No siree!  Desserts were served – chocolate moelleux brightened with raspberry coulis and baskets of citrus madeleines and macarons.

Compressed Fruit & Dragon Fruit Granita

Compressed Fruit & Dragon Fruit Granita

After all this, I’m fairly sure I will never attempt to replicate these dishes at home – equipment costs can be out of sight for home cooks and small restaurants, though many do experiment with the concept of sealing and immersion.

A Multivac seals the food before immersion

A Multivac seals the food before immersion

I certainly came away with a greater appreciation and keener understanding of what sous-vide means and how lucky I am to have been born when it was invented.

High Tech Rotary Evaporator

High Tech Rotary Evaporator

Here are some pearls of wisdom from Goussault.

* Water is the best fluid to transfer the heat.  When you cook in water you’ll have a beautiful jus.

* Take lemon to the market when you buy fish and squeeze it over the raw fish to determine if it’s fresh.  If it turns opaque, it’s NOT fresh.

* The Maillard reaction has to do with the perception of the color of the meat.  What do you say in a London fog? All the cats are grey!

* Red meat has a thin layer of albumen.  White meat has a thicker layer.

* Vegetables cooked separately retain the integrity of the dish. Cooking vegetables to 85 degrees to respect the pectin will give you the top taste in the world.

* Brine your fish for 10 minutes before cooking.  Fifty grams of salt per one quart of water.

In Search of Israeli Cuisine

Jordan Wright
March 26, 2017 

In director Roger Sherman’s latest documentary In Search of Israeli Cuisine (Menemsha Films) we learn there’s a lot more to Israel’s culinary culture than just milk and honey.  Our guide is the James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov who leads us on a journey throughout Israel from an obscure mountaintop restaurant and a city-centric restaurant where Palestinian cooks work the line beside Jewish cooks to seaside cafés, where dozens of varieties of fish are found in vast outdoor markets, to discover the “true” Israeli cuisine through its people.

Roger Sherman - Producer/Writer/Director founder of Florentine Films

Roger Sherman – Producer/Writer/Director founder of Florentine Films

Best known for his two Philadelphia restaurants, Zahav and its sister restaurant, Abe Fisher, where he expresses his passion for modern Jewish cooking, the young Israeli chef shows us it’s about more than hummus or falafel and deeper than kugel or chopped liver.  The film gets at the root of a culture and its history through its cooks – both amateur and professional – revealing the complexity of a country whose traditions and customs have deep roots, many which descend from outside its borders.

Chef Michael Solomonov - James Beard Award Winner and owner of Zahav

Chef Michael Solomonov – James Beard Award Winner and owner of Zahav

We learn that Israel’s cuisine is informed by dozens of other countries and traditions over centuries of immigration – Jewish, Turkish, Arab, Muslim, Spanish, Mediterranean, Moroccan, Indian, Bulgarian, Christian, Syrian, Lebanese – in a mosaic of 150 different cuisines.  The documentary is a love story of sorts – one of the self-determination of immigrants, the rejection of the old ways by Jewish newcomers and the culinary influence of those who reached its shores with their grandmother’s recipes.  It is told primarily by chefs and local journalists – and it’s as much a tribute as it is a learning curve.  We learn that “Food is not political,” and “Food makes peace.”  May it be so.

Solomonov purchasing fresh local ingredients

Solomonov purchasing fresh local ingredients

Solomonov takes us into the hills to Rama’s Kitchen, a French-inspired restaurant that forages for sumac to flavor its dishes and sources all its ingredients locally, before traveling north to listen to chef Uri Geremias of Uri Buri in his restaurant by the sea.  And there’s a tender segment in the simple home kitchen of a woman preparing the sacred Sabbath meal for her extended family.  Noted Jewish-American chef and cookbook author, Joan Nathan, weighs in with her extensive knowledge about the changes in Jewish society where 80% of its citizens are non-religious.

Solomonov visiting country farm ingredients source.

Solomonov visiting country farm ingredients source.

To understand the inspiration for many of these chefs as well as Israel’s home cooks, Ezra Kedem of Arcadia Restaurant in Jerusalem clarifies, “I cook my memories.” From Moshe Dayan’s hybridization of the cherry tomato to the sophisticated irrigation system of stepped dams that water fruit trees, vineyards and olive groves, their gifts to our kitchens are endless.

Running time two hours.

The film will be released in the Washington, DC area this Friday, April 21st at Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. For more information please visit https://www.landmarktheatres.com/washington-d-c/bethesda-row-cinema/film-info/in-search-of-israeli-cuisine

St. Patrick’s Day and Oatmeal ~ Celebrating Ireland’s Amazing Exports ~ Interview with John Flahavan – CEO of Flahavan’s

Interview with John Flahavan – CEO of Flahavan’s
March 14, 2017
Jordan Wright 

Not all of us will be guzzling Guinness or Harp while wearing shamrock beads and green Pilgrim hats on St. Patrick’s Day.  I leave that to those cookie-baking elves.  As fanciers of Irish beer, Kerrygold butter and Irish cheddar (how did we ever live without these?), there are other ways to celebrate the Auld Sod.  Recently Flahavan’s Oatmeal hit the US market.  Their non-GMO and gluten-free products are now readily available in our area and around the country. The company, based in Ireland, boasts a seven-generation provenance.  Surprisingly, this is the pre-eminent oatmeal in Ireland, and rated Ireland’s favorite food brand.  I loved hearing that it is also Ireland’s oldest family-owned company.  Another little-known fact is that Quaker Oats and John McCann’s – the so-called “Irish oatmeal” we see in our supermarkets – are completely unknown there.  Oddly enough McCann’s is processed and packaged in the US.  So if you want real Irish oatmeal, I urge you seek this product out.

Yesterday I spoke with CEO John Flavahan by phone who rang me from Waterford County, Ireland where the company is based.  Due to the blizzard, his flight to the US was cancelled and unfortunately we would not have the opportunity to meet in person.  Still I was ready to learn more about his company and hoped to seek clarification of the sometimes-confusing types of oatmeal.  John’s Irish lilt was a joy to hear as he lovingly spoke of his ancestors and the history of their centuries-old mill.  He is especially proud of the mill’s award-winning approach to sustainable production and renewable sources.  Our conversation below is followed by fantastic several recipes to try at home. 

Whisk and Quill – As the oldest mill in Ireland, your mill is a veritable anthology of the history of milling in Ireland.  How excited are you to introduce your oatmeal to America? 

Flahavan’s is the oldest grain mill that is still working in Ireland. Given my family’s long history in milling, I have a great personal interest in history and have enjoyed tracing back the history of the company to 1785. This is when my great, great, great grandfather took over the mill, and it is quite likely that the mill was operating before that. There are records in the 1656 Civil Survey showing that there were two mills in the village of Kilmacthomas, and we believe that the Flahavan’s mill could be one of those mills.

In my quest to know more, I discovered old letters from America dating back to the 1850s and 1860s from a family member (Matthew Kelly) in Chicopee Falls, MA, USA to my great grandfather, Thomas Flahavan. One of these references the political climate among the States following the election of a new US president: Abraham Lincoln, when he described with the ultimate understatement that “The South don’t like him” Matthew went on to describe the taking of Fort Sumter which was the first act of the Civil War and mentioned the rebels attacking towards Washington.

So you can see how our family has been engaged with the USA throughout our history.

We often hear stories of Irish people travelling back to the States with Flahavan’s packed into their suitcases or asking family at home to send care packages over to them in the US. Equally many American visitors to Ireland have discovered our creamy oats while visiting Ireland and contact us to find out if they can purchase our products in the States.

Today, I see great synergy between our values of wholesome, delicious wholegrain goodness and the growing foodie / health trends that America is currently valuing, perhaps more today than ever. 

Can you describe the difference between instant, steel-cut or pinhead oats, rolled oats, quick oats, and old fashioned? 

  • Steel Cut Oats are produced at one production stage back from the rolled oats. They are produced using the whole roasted groat, cut with a steel blade just two or three times to preserve a nuttier, richer texture. Steel cut would have the lowest GI.
  • Quick-to-Cook Steel Cut Oats are the same as Steel Cut Oats, but cut into smaller pieces to enable quicker cooking.
  • Rolled Oats are the Steel Cut Oats, steamed and rolled into the flat flakes with which you might be most familiar. This process also enables a quicker cooking time of just 3 minutes.

Pinhead oats are effectively the same as steel cut oats.  They are known as Pinhead oats in Ireland and as Steel Cut Oats in the US.  We do not sell “instant oats” in the US. Our rolled and quick to cook options are so wholesome, unsweetened, quick and simple to make that we believe they suit the busy but health-conscious lifestyles of American consumers well. 

What’s the difference between Scottish oats and Irish oats? 

One key difference – between not just Irish and Scottish oats, but oats from Ireland’s South East and elsewhere – is the unique microclimate of the South East of Ireland.  We use specially selected oat varieties that are perfectly suited to the exceptionally long, damp, mild growing seasons which allow for more complex flavor development.

What do you do with the bran part of the oat? 

Our oatmeal is sold as a whole grain without the bran removed.  However, we can actually separate out the bran to produce a product called oatbran, which we sell in small quantities in Ireland.  It is most commonly used in baking wholesome Irish brown bread but can also be used as a porridge. 

What are “oatlets”? 

“Oatlets” is not a term that is relevant to the US market.  In the Irish market we brand the equivalent of the Rolled Oatmeal US product as “Progress Oatlets”.  This is an historical term that dates back to 1935 when Flahavan’s were the first mill in Ireland to begin rolling the steel cut/pinhead oatmeal into flakes in order to reduce cooking times and make the product more relevant to modern living trends.  This was seen as very progressive at the time, hence the phrase “Progress Oatlets” was coined.  We have registered it as a trademark.  In the US, these rolled oats are simply called Flahavan’s Irish Oatmeal.

Most Americans are familiar with Quaker Oats and John McCann’s.  Tell us why Flahavan’s is a better choice. 

Well, Flahavan’s is still a 100% family owned company with an historic milling tradition and 235 years of experience.  We’ve been sourcing our oats from local family farms within 50 miles of the mill for generations.  Everyone knows Ireland as having a mild damp climate, particularly in the South East and our local oat growers use specially selected oat varieties that are perfectly suited to these ideal oat-growing conditions.  The oat grain therefore develops and ripens more slowly which produces a plumper grain filled with more natural starches thus enabling us to produce a distinctive naturally creamy Flahavan’s oatmeal, with a delicious wholegrain texture.

Smaller scale, sustainable production is also at the heart of Flahavan’s 230-year old milling process. Over 60% of our mill energy comes from our own renewable sources.  The millstream was originally channeled along the valley of the River Mahon and was used to power the mill wheel is still used to this day, but we are now using a water turbine installed in 1935 to generate a proportion of our electricity.  We also burn the outer shell (the husk) of the oat to generate the steam used in our cooking process and use our own large scale wind turbine to generate electricity to help power the mill.

Flahavan’s produce, package and ship Irish oats worldwide from here.  It’s also worth noting that Irish oatmeal consumers would not be very familiar with Quaker or John McCann’s.  Flahavan’s is the most popular brand of oatmeal in Ireland, where people eat more oatmeal (60 portions) per capita than in any other country.

Do you process your oats on grinding stones or with steel blades? 

Even though we’re a small company we are still relatively modern and use steel blades to produce our oat flakes.

What will I discover about the taste of your Irish oatmeal vis a vis American oatmeal? 

You’ll find Flahavan’s oats have a more wholesome texture and a naturally creamier taste than oats grown elsewhere, thanks to the unique Irish microclimate and our distinctively small-batch, slow-roasted, sustainable production methods.

What’s your favorite way to eat oatmeal? 

I would sometimes soak the oats overnight for an extra creamy bowl of porridge but I would always use some raisins pre-soaked in apple juice as a topping.

Which of your products is the most popular in Ireland? 

Our most popular product continues to be our Flahavan’s Progress Oatlets, which is the very same product that can be found in our Irish Rolled Oatmeal box in the US. 

What is baobab powder? I see it listed as an ingredient in one of your recipes online.  

Baobab powder is a superfood gaining in popularity in health food circles for its high levels of vitamin C, other vitamins and minerals and a supposed immunity-boosting value.  It comes from the raw fruit of the baobab tree, which grows in Africa and some parts of Australia.

In our recipes, we like to maintain a balance between the enjoyment of traditional oatmeal preparations and innovations that authentically reflect the globalizing popularity of our oats.  For example, Flahavan’s oats have become popular in South Korea as a healthy source of whole grains and so we have enjoyed developing recipes that honor South Korean flavors, such as Turmeric Kimchi Oatmeal with a Fried Egg.

Do you use oat groats to process your oatmeal? 

There is essentially a groat in each individual grain of oat.  We slowly kiln these groats twice, while still in their husks, to optimize their flavor and naturally creamy texture.  We then remove the husks and cut the groats using a steel blade.  To make rolled oats, we then steam and roll the cut pieces into flakes.  We power the steamer using our own renewable energy, which has been generated by burning the discarded husks.

What products are available here in the States? 

Our product range in the US consists of Flahavan’s Irish Steel Cut Oatmeal; Flahavan’s Irish Quick to Cook Steel Cut Oatmeal (cooks in 5 minutes); and Flahavan’s Irish Oatmeal – our rolled oats that cook in just 3 minutes.  In your area, we are in Harris Teeter, some Wegman’s markets and Giant in Landover, MD.  It is also available to order from Mybrands.com and amazon.com 

What else would you like our readers to know. 

We are committed to innovation and sustainability.  Flahavan’s is one of the founding members of the Irish Food Board’s Origin Green Programme, the only sustainability program in the world that operates on a national scale, uniting government, the private sector and food producers through Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board.  This independently verified program enables Ireland’s farmers and producers to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets – reducing environmental impact, serving local communities more effectively and protecting the extraordinarily rich natural resources that our country enjoys.

We are proud to say Flahavan’s has been recognized on numerous occasions by Irish green industry leaders for our sustainable approach to milling, which in February saw Flahavan’s winning 3 awards at the Green Energy Awards 2017 (Green Food & Beverage Award, Sustainable Green Energy Award and Green Medium-Sized Organisation of the Year).

For us, it’s all about wind, fire and water.  Investing in a wind turbine in December of 2015 reinforced our commitment to a sustainable future.  We also use a special technique of burning the discarded oat husks that fuel the boiler used in the steamrolling process to make rolled oats.  This eliminates the use of diesel fuel.  Also, the mill captures the power of the local River Mahon, just as it has done for over 230 years.  We are a seventh-generation family company.  I am the sixth generation, and my son James and my two daughters, Annie and Ellen, also work in the company. 

Flahavan’s St. Patrick’s Day Oatmeal
with Irish Whiskey, Honey and Cream
Serves 3-4

Ingredients

3¾ cups (900ml) of milk
1 cup (130g) of Flahavan’s Irish “Quick to Cook” Steel Cut Oatmeal
Drizzle of honey
1 tbsp. cream
1 tbsp. Irish Mist Liqueur (or any Irish Whiskey)

Method

  1. Place the oats and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes until cooked.
  3. Place in a bowl and drizzle with honey and cream.
  4. Top with Irish Mist Liqueur.

Recipe by Chef Neven Maguire

Flahavans Overnight Irish Breakfast Shake
Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups Flahavan’s Irish Oatmeal (rolled oats)
8 oz. almond milk
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Agave syrup or honey to taste
1 small banana, sliced and frozen overnight
Handful of popcorn (optional)

Method 

  1. Mix the Flahavan’s Organic Irish Porridge Oats, almond milk, cocoa powder, cinnamon and agave syrup/honey in a re-sealable bowl and leave in the fridge overnight.
  2. In the morning, add the banana to the oat mixture, then place in a blender and blend until completely smooth.
  3. If the shake is too thick, add more milk for a thinner consistency. If it’s not sweet enough, add more of your preferred sweetener.
  4. Top with popcorn for some extra-special froth.

Matcha Green Tea Oat Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake

Ingredients 

Cake Batter

1 cup coconut flour
2 cups coconut sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ¼ cups warm water
½ cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup Flahavan’s Oatmeal
1 cup almond meal
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup orange juice
½ teaspoon orange blossom extract
4 Tablespoons dried matcha (green tea) powder

Toppings

pomegranate seeds
pistachios
raspberries
powdered sugar

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. Combine the warm waters and matcha green tea. Whisk vigorously to froth the tea.
  3. Separately, in a large mixing bowl mix all dry ingredients together.
  4. Mix coconut oil, orange blossom extract, and orange juice together in a separate bowl.
  5. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine.
  6. Beat the cake mixture by hand for 3 minutes. Let batter sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  7. Grease the inside of a 9-inch cake pan with coconut oil.
  8. Add batter to pan and spread evenly.
  9. Bake the cake for 30 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.
  10. Turn cake out onto a cooling rack and cool completely for at least an hour.
  11. Dust cake with powdered sugar and fresh berries.

Executive Chef Jerome Grant Fulfills His Dream at the New African American Museum’s Sweet Home Café

Jordan Wright
March 15, 2017
Photo credit ~ Jordan Wright

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

Jerome Grant is exactly where he’s supposed to be.  And for that he exudes gratefulness.  As the first Executive Chef of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), the young chef had long dreamed of working at the newest museum on the Mall.  In the works for the past hundred years, the museum at finally opened to the public last September.  It seems unfathomable that we ever lived without it.  The building’s unique architecture rises both in tribute and testimonial to African Americans and their indelible contributions upon the fabric of this nation.  For Grant, its opening was timely, completing his own truly American story of his rise to success at the helm of a new icon to African American culinary roots.

Jerome Grant takes a break at the Sweet Home Cafe

Jerome Grant takes a break at the Sweet Home Cafe

Seven years ago Grant began his Washington area career with Restaurant Associates serving as Sous Chef to Richard Hetzler at the Mitsitam Native Foods Café, the award-winning restaurant ensconced in the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).  Grant was there when Hetzler’s much lauded cookbook, The Mitsitam Café Cookbook, was published.  Here he found a mentor in Hetzler who prepared him for the job of running large scale food operations. When Hetzler moved on, Grant took the helm, developing his own approach to seasonal and regional Native American dishes.

Jerome Grant takes a break at the Sweet Home Cafe

Jerome Grant takes a break at the Sweet Home Cafe

In 2013 Restaurant Associates gave Grant a promotion to work at the Castle Café.  He wasn’t particularly looking forward to preparing soups and sandwiches, “I went through the motions”, but he accepted with the guarantee of moving over to Sweet Home Café in 2016.  Last year under the guidance of RA Culinary Supervisor Albert Lukas and Bravo Top Chef finalist, Co-Host of ABC’s The Chew and NMAAHC Culinary Ambassador Carla Hall, Grant began taking the reins in the pristine 10,000-square foot kitchen.

But before all that the chef watched the museum rise slowly out of the dirt and reflected on his own story.  A parallel tale of ancestors making their way to America.  In his case two grandfathers who emigrated from the island of Jamaica and came by boat to Philadelphia.

Shrimp and Anson Mills Grits

Shrimp and Anson Mills Grits

In the beginning Grant worked alongside Lucas to identify the separate regions represented in the café – the Agricultural South, the Creole Coast, the Northern States and the Western Range – each featuring their own historically-influenced dishes.  To her credit Hall was positive and supportive, offering suggestions and critiques while texting encouragement as the menu began to take shape.

Duck, Andouille and Crawfish Gumbo

Duck, Andouille and Crawfish Gumbo

“People came to eat at Mitsitam more than tour the museum,” he told me.  (A 2012 RAMMY Award to the Native American café didn’t hurt.)  “Here we have coincided the café to be part of the whole museum experience.”  (n. b. The NMAAHC now reports that visitors spend an average of six hours touring the property and 25% of visitors dine at the Sweet Home Café.)

Pan Fried Trout with Hazelnut Butter

Pan Fried Trout with Hazelnut Butter

Before the museum opened its doors Foodways Curator, Joanne Hyppolite asked Grant and Hall for donations to the Gallery.  Hall is donating her mother’s cast iron skillet and Grant’s giving his chef’s jacket from opening day.  “It means a lot to me to be here.  I’m a local kid.  I grew up in Fort Washington,” he proudly says. “I believe my position here shows that you can set goals and achieve them,” adding, “Sometimes when I ride my bike here in the morning I get emotional being a part of the history of the culture.  I learned to cook for my grandmother and mother and I never thought I’d do something so historical.  It’s been a dream come true.”

"Son of a Gun Stew"

“Son of a Gun Stew”

From the start Grant and Lucas set a goal of “low and slow”, taking small batch cooking and expanding it to accommodate larger crowds.  The 400-seat cafeteria style restaurant goes through 1,000 lbs. of oxtail every week for its Jamaican Pepper Pot Stew and 200 lbs. of catfish every two days.  An Oklahoma made smoker handles 900 pounds of brisket, pork, chicken and cold smoked haddock.  When it comes to crackling good fried chicken, it’s made three times daily.  And Miss Deon, who heads up cold prep, provides the café’s potato salad recipe.

Smoked Haddock and Corn Fish Cakes

Smoked Haddock and Corn Fish Cakes

You’ll find dishes that evoke the South like Brunswick Stew with chicken and rabbit, Lexington Style BBQ pork, and familiar delicacies like pickled watermelon rind and sweet corn pudding.  The Creole menu is even more expansive with Duck, Andouille & Crawfish Gumbo, Pan-fried Catfish Po’boys, Shrimp & Grits, Candied Yams and Red beans & Rice.  The Northern States menu features Oyster Pan Roast, a dish inspired by Thomas Downing, a New Yorker whose tavern doubled as a stop along the Underground Railway.  From the Western Range are two dishes I’ve become enamored of.  “Son of a Gun” Stew made of braised short ribs and root vegetables and Pan Roasted Rainbow Trout with Hazelnut Brown Butter that I’d swear comes from a cast-iron skillet cooked over a campfire.  Go West, pioneer, if you want the High Mesa Peach and Blackberry Cobbler.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Chocolate Pecan Pie

There are exciting new changes on the horizon for the café – an expanded retail operation was successful last Thanksgiving with guests able to purchase whole dinners for takeout.  As of this writing you can take home several in-house baked goods including Sweet Potato Pie, Banana Nut Cakes, Corn Loaf Cakes and cornbread.  I’m particularly partial to the mouthwatering Chocolate Pecan Pie.

Though it’s a challenge to secure a timed ticket, I have been fortunate enough to have eaten at the café three times, trying nearly every main dish and a few of the desserts too.  The dishes are inspiring and rich with the history of African influences on the American culinary culture.  And though I’m certain you will find your personal favorites, mine is the best version of Shrimp and Grits (made with Anson Mills grits), I have ever wrapped my mouth around.  Soon everyone will be able to avail themselves of all these delicious dishes without timed entry tickets.

Cookbook Corner ~ Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken

Jordan Wright
November 22, 2016

 It’s a tricky proposition to categorize Monica Bhide’s new novel, Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken under ‘Cookbook’.  Strictly speaking, it is not.  There are no indulgent recipes to swoon over as in her 2015 cookbook, A Life of Spice or the two before that, Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen in 2009, and The Everything Indian Cookbook in 2004.  A prolific writer, Bhide has penned short stories, fiction and inspirational books, tailoring the latter to an audience eager to follow in her footsteps.

Her pieces have appeared in such prestigious journals as Food & Wine, Saveur, Bon Appetit, The Washington Post and the New York Times.  As a local author, she is a frequent lecturer on the topic of food blogging for the Smithsonian Associates programs and has been a guest speaker at Georgetown University.  Equally as impressive, she has been featured in four of the annual Best Food Writing anthologies along with some of the finest food writers in the nation.

Author Monica Bhide

Author Monica Bhide

In her latest novel Bhide offers up a sensitive, utterly hilarious portrait of a sweet, idealistic, and somewhat hapless, Indian teenager, Eshaan, whose secret love for a beautiful young woman, Kitt, leads him down a convoluted path to achieve his life’s mission.  Eshaan’s altruistic dream is to feed the poor, but until he wins a local TV chef’s competition, he has to navigate major life hurdles with the aid of a page-turning collection of both friends and foes.

Bhide brings us into her world to experience the scents and flavors of India, the heady aromas of frangipani and curry, by offering up these memorably quirky, endearingly fascinating characters in the literary tradition of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.  One can only hope this is just the start of an ongoing series about the adventures and misadventures of Eshaan, Lama Dorje, a wise Buddhist monk, Radio Rani, an orphaned servant living in the monastery, and many others who dwell in the blessed aura of Buddha’s Karma Kitchen.

Monica will appear at an upcoming Indian dinner featuring her recipes at The Fourth Estate restaurant in Washington, DC on December 12th.  Some of the recipes are central to the plot of Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken.  A signed copy of the book and a compendium of recipes are included in the price.  To view the menu and purchase tickets for the dinner, click on this link.  www.press.org/events/karma-and-art-butter-chicken-dinner

To learn more about Bhide, order one of her books or view her line of art jewelry visit monicabhide.com.

butter-chicken

Monica Bhide’s Butter Chicken

Makes 4-5 servings

1 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon peeled, grated ginger

1 tablespoon peeled, minced garlic

2 tablespoons Indian tandoori masala (I recommend Shan Tandoori/ Tikka mix)

1⁄4 cup canned tomato puree

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons melted butter or ghee*

8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into small pieces

Salt, to taste

  1. In a large bowl, mix together yogurt, ginger, garlic, Indian tandoori masala, tomato puree, salt, lemon juice and butter. Add the chicken and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken in a single layer in a roasting pan.  Pour all remaining marinade over the chicken.  Roast 20 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and the juices run clear.
  3. Remove the chicken from the oven and place all the pieces on a platter. Reserve the cooked marinade in a bowl.

For the Sauce

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon peeled, grated ginger

1 tablespoon peeled, minced garlic

2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

Salt, to taste

1 serrano chile, finely minced

1⁄2 cup heavy cream

  1. To make the sauce, in a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic.  Sauté for about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring constantly. Use the back of a spatula to mash the tomatoes as you go. Continue until the tomatoes are completely mashed and soft, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the reserved marinade.
  4. Add the salt, chili pepper, and chicken and mix well. Simmer covered for about 10 minutes.

Add the cream and simmer for another minute.  Serve hot.