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

Jordan Wright
May 22, 2017 

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.

Blue Star Families Neighbors Organization Benefits from Top Area Chefs’ Partnership

Jordan Wright
April 18, 2016
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts 

Chefs with their military chef partners

Chefs with their military chef partners

Chefs from some of our area’s leading restaurants participated in a fundraiser last week for Blue Star Families, pairing up with military chef counterparts to prepare some scrumptious nibbles and sips.  With a view of the White House across Lafayette Park as backdrop, guests were treated to an array of fabulous food.  The splashy red carpet event was filled to capacity with the extraordinary Americans who donate their time to support military families.  Guests recorded the moment in selfie photo booths, using patriotic-colored bead necklaces to place around the necks of the chefs whose dishes they liked most.

Just to give you a little background on this amazing organization, there are over 50 chapters around the world serving military families and providing assistance through education, empowerment and employment programs in civilian communities.  Chapters partner with the general public and other services to address the challenges of military life and reach over 1.5 million military families every year.  Can I get a hooray?

Hosted by Co-Chairs Sheila Casey and General George Casey, prominent members of the organization along with high-level military and politicians and their families, gathered in the grand reception room of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce for the celebration.  The evening’s emcee, author, TV and radio host and speaker, Mary Matalin, joined in the tastings before the ceremony began.

Chef Robert Wiedmaier with military chef Jennifer Medeiros

Chef Robert Wiedmaier with military chef Jennifer Medeiros

Partnering with and representing the Air Force was TSGT Jennifer Medeiros who created a dish with Robert Wiedmaier of Marcel’s restaurant.   Wiedmaier’s father was a “Full Bird” Colonel in the U. S. Air Force.  Together they served up Chicken and Pheasant Meatballs with Creamy Polenta and Tomato Red Wine Sauce.

Cathal Armstrong (left) with military chef partner Marine Sargent Joseph Hale

Cathal Armstrong (left) with military chef partner Marine Sargent Joseph Hale

Representing the Marine Corps was Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve, named a “Champion of Change” by the White House, who partnered with Marine Sgt. Joseph Hale to prepare Northern Thai Flank Steak Salad reflecting his recent attention to Asian cuisine.

Northern Thai Flank Steak Salad

Northern Thai Flank Steak Salad

From the Coast Guard, FSC Derek Johnson was paired up with Nicolas Stephanelli of Masseria to prepare Burrata with Rappahannock Oysters and Caviar, and divinely decadent combination.  Stephanelli, whose brother-in-law is a retired Ranger, noted that he enjoyed “seeing something outside our culinary community.”

Burrata with Rappahannock Oysters and Caviar

Burrata with Rappahannock Oysters and Caviar

Representing the Navy was Derrick Davenport who paired up with David Guas of Bayou Bakery.  When asked where he worked, Davenport hinted he didn’t have far to walk from his current employment, but couldn’t say more.  Hmmmm.   Could it be the White House?  Davenport, who cooked on a submarine for six years before transitioning to the Executive Dining Room of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the 2015 American Culinary Federation USA Chef of the Year and as Team Captain for the U. S. Army Culinary Arts Team will compete at the IKA Culinary Olympics in Germany this year.

Gulf Stream Shrimp Maison

Gulf Stream Shrimp Maison

The dynamic duo made a dish of Gulf Stream Shrimp Maison to reflect Guas’ New Orleans’ roots.

Todd Gray puts the finishing touches on his dish

Todd Gray puts the finishing touches on his dish

Showing off his skills as a representative of the Army was SSG Marc Susa who along with Todd Gray of Equinox restaurant conjured up Rigatoni with Cannellini Beans, a Smoked Mushroom Bolognese, and topped it off with fermented black radish.

Beef Filet with Alaskan King Crab and Asparagus

Beef Filet with Alaskan King Crab and Asparagus

In the Guard + Reserve category were MSG Vilaykone Saynorath, Army, and Chris Morris of Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab whose dish precisely represented the restaurant’s luxury ingredients of Beef Filet with Alaskan King Crab with a soupcon of bearnaise sauce.

Macchu Picchu Roll

Macchu Picchu Roll

There was even a category for Military Brat that paired Chris Clime of PassionFish with CS1 Frida Karani, Navy.  Together they presented Frida’s Freedom Macchu Picchu Roll made with flounder, kampachi, chipotle and lime.

“Love Thy Neighbor” and “We Are Family” killer cocktails crafted by "Mixtress"

“Love Thy Neighbor” and “We Are Family” killer cocktails crafted by “Mixtress”

Gina Chersevani, of Buffalo & Bergen and Suburbia, who calls herself a “Mixtress”, crafted killer cocktails for the special occasion, titling them “Love Thy Neighbor” and “We Are Family”.  To echo that sentiment and cap off the evening’s award ceremony, Sister Sledge sang her chart-topper, “We Are Family” to the assembled guests.

Awards were presented for Civil Leadership to Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Richard Burr; as well as Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr.  Dr. Peter Long, PhD, President and CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation, received The Connie Milstein Philanthropic Award and Joy Goulette accepted The Blue Star Neighbor Award.

For more information about the organization visit www.BlueStarFam.org

Photo credit ~ Jordan Wright

The Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show Pleases The Palate Once Again

December 6, 2013
Cary Pollak for Whisk and Quill

Held at DC’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show has seen an annual increase in attendance since Denise Medved first introduced the event in 2001.  Featuring a vast selection of products related to both the food and entertainment industries, the show’s success has recently allowed Medved and her Tiny Kitchen, Inc. production company to expand into the Houston and Dallas markets.

Throughout the two-day run attendees enjoy face time with more than 200 local and national vendors, attend “Tasting and Entertaining” workshops, talk to cookbook authors at book signing stations, wander through countless aisles to sample tasty tidbits from some of the finest local restaurants at the “Grand Tasting Pavilion”, shop for gifts at the “Holiday Bazaar” and watch cooking demos on the “Food Lion Cooking Stage”.  This year some of the country’s leading chefs gave demonstrations featuring recipes from the National Beef Cook-off Recipe Contest.  All these activities were included in the day’s admission charge.  Additional ticketed events showcase live culinary performances by celebrity chefs.

A colorful display of smoked seafood products from the Neopole Smokery of Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC

A colorful display of smoked seafood products from the Neopole Smokery of Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC

A local luminary who has previously demonstrated at the show is Francois Dionot whose L‘Academie de Cuisine has distinguished itself over the past thirty years as the premier training ground in our area for avocational and professional chefs.  Listening to the celebrated chef’s stories about his experiences at well-known restaurants in Europe and the U.S. and about developing the distinguished cooking school, was worth the trip.

L’Academie de Cuisine founder Francois Dionot, with wife Patrice and daughter Claudine

L’Academie de Cuisine founder Francois Dionot, with wife Patrice and daughter Claudine

The ever-charming Hugh Acheson, whose easy and friendly manner seemed almost incongruent with the entrepreneurial and culinary skills that have brought him to the top of his profession, was one of the chef demonstrators. Acheson is Chef/Co-owner of the former Five & Ten and The National restaurants in Athens, GA, along with Empire State South restaurant in Atlanta.  He is also an occasional judge on Bravo’s Top Chef and holds the honor of being nominated six times for a James Beard Foundation Award.  In the past he won “Best Chef Southeast” for his work at Five & Ten.  He is the author of the James Beard Foundation Award winning cookbook, “A New Turn in The South”.  At this year’s show he dazzled the audience with his version of Frogmore Stew.

Television chef and restaurant owner Hugh Acheson

Television chef and restaurant owner Hugh Acheson

Joe Yonan, Food and Travel editor at the Washington Post, was also on board.  Yonan, who has led his paper’s food writers to two awards by the James Beard Foundation for the nation’s best food section, put his professional chef’s diploma from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and journalism degree from the University of Texas to good use by demonstrating a Kale and Mango Nicoise Salad recipe from his recent cookbook, Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook.  He showed us how to massage raw kale leaves so as to soften them for a salad. He pointed out that this technique avoids other harsh methods of softening, such as drenching them in oil and acidic liquids until they wilt.

Washington Post Food and Travel editor Joe Yonan

Washington Post Food and Travel editor Joe YonanWashington Post Food and Travel editor Joe Yonan

Whether you run into Chef Luigi Diotaiuti at a cooking demo or at his acclaimed DuPont Circle restaurant, Al Tiramisu, you know you will be in for good food and good fun.  The affable Italian teamed up with food historian, culinary anthropologist, cookbook author and television personality, Amy Riolo, to make pistachio nut baklava.  Off stage onlookers were so close they were asked to participate.  We all helped to pile on layers of phyllo dough and watched as the chef drenched the dessert in lemon-infused sugar syrup.

Food Writer Cary Pollak makes baklava with Chefs Amy Riolo and Luigi Diotaiuti

Food Writer Cary Pollak makes baklava with Chefs Amy Riolo and Luigi Diotaiuti

Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos, the husband and wife team who star on the cooking show, Extra Virgin, on The Cooking Channel, were also at the show.  Debi is an American actress who counts the iconic movie Goodfellas among her credits, and Gabriele is a musician from Tuscany.  They are both consummate entertainers who love to cook.  Together with their young daughter, Giulia, they put on a lively demonstration of Tuscan cooking, preparing seared grouper over Israeli couscous.  At one point things got a bit racy when Debi admitted that they argue when they cook.  Gabriele agreed that they resolve their disagreements by drinking wine … or by “making kids”.  Realizing that the discussion was getting off topic, seven-year old Giulia drew laughs from the audience by asking, “You guys know I’m here, don’t you?”

Debi Mazar, Gabriele Corcos and daughter Giulia on the Celebrity Stage

Debi Mazar, Gabriele Corcos and daughter Giulia on the Celebrity Stage

The Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show is great family fun for those who enjoy learning more about food and entertaining.  There are culinary delights of all types from chatting with vendors and sampling their wares, to meeting cookbook authors, to enjoying cooking demonstrations by notable American-based chefs.  Plan on visiting this exciting open-to-the-public show when it returns in the fall of 2014.

Chef Diotaiuti and his partner Amy Riolo are planning a culinary tour beginning in Istanbul and continuing to Athens and the Greek Isles next October 2014.  They have graciously consented to share their recipe for Pistachio Baklava with Whisk and Quill’s readers.

Baklava is enjoyed throughout much of the Mediterranean and Middle East thanks to the influence of the expansive Ottoman Empire that ruled much of the region for centuries. This version is most popular in Turkey. During our upcoming culinary cruise from Istanbul to Athens, we’ll experience hands-on phyllo making at Istanbul’s most legendary confectionary shop.

Pistachio baklava

Pistachio baklava

 

Pistachio Baklava/Fistik Baklava
Recipe by Amy Riolo and Luigi Diotaiuti.

Makes approximately 24 pieces
Ingredients

For the syrup:
3 cups granulated sugar
2 large strips of lemon peel
Juice of 1 small lemon

For the baklava
1 (1 pound) box phyllo dough, thawed according to package directions
1 cup clarified butter
1 pound shelled unsalted pistachios, finely ground
¼ cup granulated sugar 

 

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Butter a 13×9-inch baking pan.
  2. Make the syrup by combining sugar, 3 cups water, peel, and juice in a medium saucepan.
  3. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Discontinue stirring and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 10 minutes and set aside to cool.
  4. To assemble the baklava, remove phyllo dough from package. Trim it with a sharp knife to fit the pan you are using, if necessary.   Wrap excess dough in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.  Cover bottom of baking pan with 1 sheet of phyllo dough.  Brush clarified butter evenly over the top.  Stack another sheet over the top. Brush with more clarified butter.  Continue stacking and brushing with butter until half of the phyllo dough is used.
  5. Combine pistachios with sugar in a medium bowl. Mix well to combine.
  6. Sprinkle ground pistachio mixture evenly across the top, reserving a few tablespoons for garnish.  Continue layering remaining phyllo dough and brushing with clarified butter.  Brush top layer with clarified butter.
  7. Position the pan as if it were a rectangle.  With a long, sharp knife, cut phyllo into 6 strips vertical strips across the wide side of the pan(three-quarters of the way down).
  8. Cut 4 equally spaced vertical lines over the strips (three quarters of the way down) to create 24 squares.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes total, or until golden.  Rotate pan every 20 minutes to ensure even browning.
  9. Remove from oven and drizzle with one ladleful of syrup at a time – allowing syrup to absorb in between ladlefuls. Once baklava has a glistening top and has absorbed syrup, discontinue adding more. Reserve additional syrup for a garnish if serving baklava at a later date. Syrup can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
  10. Once cooled, sprinkle tops of baklava pieces with a few ground pistachios. Baklava can be covered and stored at room temperature for a day, or in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Always drizzle with additional syrup before serving.

To find out more about Amy and Luigi’s upcoming tour visit – http://www.yourcruisesource.com/two_chefs_culinary_cruise_-_istanbul_to_athens_greek_isles_cruise.htm.

Photo credits: Cary Pollak