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Showing Celery a Little Respect at Cafe Pinot Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

Cafe PinotCafe Pinot, offering a serene outdoor garden setting behind the public library in downtown Los Angeles, has launched a new farmers' market dinner menu. Inspired by Executive Chef Kevin Meehan's trips to the local farmers markets and their abundance of fresh local produce, the menus change weekly based on what is in season and include three courses for $39/person. A recent dinner included such highlights as an amuse bouche with ahi tuna, compressed cucumber and tomato mousse; a wild mushroom risotto; and John Dory butter basted with lemon verbena and served with cherry tomatoes and melon balls (never would have occurred to me to mix the two and I have to say it really worked).

What really impressed me, though, was what Chef Meehan managed to do with celery, a -- let's face it -- somewhat neglected vegetable when it comes to fine cuisine. He created a cold-smoked celery soup poured over an alfalfa-sprout nest and served with chevre and olive oil. Even better, he was kind enough to share the recipe (see below). A home gardener himself, Chef Meehan said that for fall, he's looking forward to growing Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, beets, chives (which he always grows and says he puts in everything) and tea-oriented herbs for his wife.

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Sharing a Passion for Produce (and a Gazpacho Recipe) at Napa Valley Grille Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   
Chef Joseph of Napa Valley Grille

The passion that Napa Valley Grille Executive Chef Joseph Gillard has for local seasonal produce extends beyond the fare he picks up at the farmers market or purchases through partnerships with local farmers for his guests at the restaurant. Gillard has partnered with Country Fresh Herbs in Tarzana to run a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program that connects the farmers directly with busy professionals who don't have the time to shop farmers markets. Gillard has been partnering with Country Fresh Herbs since 1997 and one of the things he's learned is that participating is a lot easier than people think. "More restaurants and organizations should be doing it," said Gillard, shown here presenting a CSA basket to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "It is easy to have vegetables delivered even to where you work. Our guests are as passionate about their deliveries as we are."

Through both his work at Napa Valley Grille and with the CSA, Chef Gillard's main focus is sustainability -- the need to support local farmers so they can continue doing their work. The menu at Napa Valley Grille changes with what's available at the markets and from the local farmers. Currently that includes petite heirloom zucchini and flowers, lemon cucumbers, little gem and butter lettuce, kale, peaches, radishes and, of course, heirloom tomatoes. 

Since many of us currently have an abundance of tomatoes (yea!), Chef Gillard shared with us a recipe for heirloom tomato gazpacho. He said he keeps some in his refrigerator at home as a "healthy fulfilling snack to be enjoyed anytime." (Click "read more" for recipe.)

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Apple, Avocado and Arugula Amuse from San Francisco’s Newest Star (Michelin, That Is) Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

Chef Sri of Taj Campton PlaceThere’s something wonderful about traveling through a farmers market with a chef. You can almost see the little gears ticking as they make their way through the produce stands making decisions for that night’s menu. A few weeks ago, I got that chance at the farmers market held each Saturday morning at the Ferry Building in San Francisco (already a great hub for artisanal products) with Chef Srijith Gopinathan (left) of the Taj Campton Place San Francisco. Chef Sri hit at least a dozen stands for everything from baby beets to stone fruit. Some of the lessons learned: greens that will be used raw need to be more perfect looking than those that will be cooked, and borage flowers make a beautiful edible garnish.

Chef Sri’s Campton Place Restaurant recently received a Michelin star and it’s easy to see why -- the farm-fresh food is expertly prepared and the service is impeccable. Not to mention civilized: The meal starts with Master Sommelier Richard Dean coming by the table with a cart filled with a choice of four types of champagne as an aperitif. The spring tasting menu we enjoyed brought to life everything we’d seen at the market, including a baby beet salad with fennel ice, Andante Dairy goat cheese and lemon-infused olive oil; maine lobster butter poached with coconut curry, green peas and cilantro; sous-vide Angus beef with wild morels, cippolini onions and petit bok-choi; and caramelized chocolate cake with yogurt, pear and blood orange sorbet.

But the highlight (at least for me) was an amuse-bouche made with apple, avocado and arugula, not flavors I would think of putting together but blended in a way that was simply amazing, with each sip bringing out the best flavors of each. Chef Sri was kind enough to share the recipe. Now, many of you may not have N2O chargers and syphons (I know I don’t) but I’m sure it’s just as tasty as a gazpacho-style cold soup. Enjoy!

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Peach & Tomato Gazpacho from Hadsten House Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

Hadsten House restaurantIf you're like me, it's pretty much impossible to even say peach-and-tomato gazpacho without drooling or making that mmm-gurgling sound that Homer Simpson makes. Luckily -- especially with both peaches and tomatoes in season -- Chef Aaron Dixon of Hadsten House Restaurant (right) in Solvang was kind enough to share his recipe. I met Chef Aaron a couple weeks ago when I ate at the restaurant, which is part of the recently renovated and re-launched Hadsten House Inn & Spa, and can attest that his homemade mushroom-and-spinach ravioli is simply amazing (not to mention the baked brie with port-wine-infused apricots and figs). Okay, I'd better stop before I start making the mmm-gurgling sound again -- enjoy the gazpacho!

Peach & Tomato Gazpacho

By Chef Aaron Dixon
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:
4 cups chopped vine ripe tomatoes
2 cups fresh peaches pitted & chopped
1/4 cup crushed ice
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
 
Blend together until smooth 2/3 of the tomatoes, 1/2 of the peaches, with the ice, all shallots, 1/2 of the olive oil, 1/2 of the vinegar, 1/2 of the tarragon and 3/4 of the salt & pepper. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, discard the solids and mix in the orange juice.
 
In a separate bowl, mix together remaining ingredients to create the salsa. To serve, ladle soup into chilled bowls and top with the peach & tomato salsa. Note: A good wine to serve with this soup is a Santa Ynez Valley Pinot Grigio (for instance, the 2009 Di Bruno Pinot Grigio).

 
Tortilla Soup from Vallarta Botanical Garden's Hacienda de Oro Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   
Hacienda de Oro at Vallarta Botanical Garden

Ingredients:
1 quart chicken broth
2 tomatoes, roasted and peeled
2 large cloves garlic, peeled
1 small white onion, peeled and chopped
2 guajillo chiles, seeded and deveined, soaked in hot water until soft
4 epazote leaves
1 tablespoon corn oil, plus enough to fry the tortillas
4 corn tortillas
crumbled queso fresco or mild feta cheese type
sliced avocado
Mexican crema or crême fraiche
Chicharron (pork rinds) or shredded cooked chicken
Strips or rings of guajillo chile

Preparation:
In a large saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a simmer. Meanwhile, place the tomatoes, garlic, onion, chiles and epazote in the blender with just enough broth to allow the blades to turn, and puree.
In a separate saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon corn oil, add the puree and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the simmering broth, cook another 15 minutes; add salt to taste.
Cut the tortillas into Frito-size strips, fry in hot oil until crispy, and drain well.
Serve the soup with the tortilla strips in the broth and pass the cheese, avocado, crema, chile strips and chicharron or chicken separately, to be added by each diner.
Serves 4.

 
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