Ahead of the third annual Produce Playoff to benefit No Kid Hungry at Betony on August 24, 2016, the players gathered in New York’s bustling Union Square Greenmarket to “draft” the stars of the dishes and drinks they’ll be creating next week. “Competing” chefs and beverage experts, including event founders Bryce Shuman and Eamon Rockey (Betony), Bo Bech (Geist), Daniel Burns (Luksus), Flynn McGarry (Eureka), Danielle-Innes (Cosme), Mina Pizzaro (Betony), Leo Robitshcek (The NoMad), Caleb Ganzer (Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels), and Dean Fuerth (Betony), spent the morning dashing around the market to stake their claim to the season’s best bounty in two lively rounds.
Looking back over all the thousands of meals they’ve ever eaten, chefs can often pinpoint those that had the greatest impact. These epiphanic moments might inspire them to cook, profoundly alter their culinary philosophy, unveil a deeper revelation about the human experience, or instill a deep-seated love of a particular dish. Here 4 top chefs share the meals that changed their lives.
Cindy Wolf, Charleston, Baltimore, Maryland
“My dad was in the restaurant business, so I got to eat in a lot of fine dining restaurants growing up. In 1984 in Charleston, I dined with my parents at Morton’s in the Vendue Inn – no relation to the steakhouse – a 35-seat restaurant helmed by chef Marcelo Vasquez. I remember he personally prepared a number of dishes tableside: steak tartare, rack of lamb, and côte de boeuf with chimichurri, which no one was doing at the time. It was French-based cooking with Argentine influences. I was so excited after I ate there that I wanted to work with him. I went to culinary school in 1985 at the CIA and did my externship with Vasquez the next year. He became my mentor. He did one dish he called Shrimp Beaufort – named after a nearby town – made with sweet corn, green onions, lemon, butter, and salt. It was super simple. Local everything. It was so fresh. Simple, fresh, and local defined the rest of my career. He also taught me a deep respect for the product. One day, he bought a New York strip steak for us to have for dinner, which cost a lot of money and was a very extravagant thing to do at that time. I didn’t get it cooked in time for employee meal, so I cut them it into steaks and grilled them individually. I can still feel how disappointed he was in me. I’ll never forget that. But he instilled a real respect in me.” Make a reservation at Charleston.
Cathal Armstrong, Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Virginia
“My dad was a tour operator in Ireland, so he sold airline tickets and hotel rooms as packages. His firm bought tickets in bulk and sometimes there would be a couple of seats left over. We’d be sitting around the dinner table and my dad would say, ‘Wanna go to Portugal tomorrow?’ He loved cooking, so food was always a part of our family and our trips. When I was six-years-old, we went to Alicanté in southeast Spain. One of dad’s travel agents took us up into the mountains to meet his grandmother. The men went out into the fields and caught rabbits, which they skinned alive. They dug a pit and hung the paella pan over it. It was incredible and made the longest lasting impact as a food memory. Since then, paella has been one of my favorite dishes to eat. However, my father prepared the best paella I’ve ever had in my life. Only about five years ago, I asked him to teach me the way to make it the way he does it. Similar to bouillabaisse or cassoulet, there are layers and layers of flavor in paella, which make a symphony. It’s everything food is supposed to be.” Make a reservation at Restaurant Eve.
The Pacific Northwest produces some of the finest local ingredients for cooking and drinking. It also has some of the finest chefs and mixologists in restaurant kitchens and bars doing magical things with those products. Here are a few of our favorite Pacific Northwest culinary stars to watch. Book a table to taste excellence this summer.
Hailey Pasemko, Bar Manager, Wolf in the Fog, Tofino, British Columbia
Hailey Pasemko is making a splash at the bar — by running it. For her, that means choosing wines and creating cocktails that complement what’s coming out of the kitchen and also pioneering new ways of spotlighting the unique local ingredients that can be found on Vancouver Island’s rugged and stormy west coast. Pasemko’s method: start with a classic cocktail that’s already stood the test of time and then experiment with different flavors, such as including local salal berries (an earthier blueberry) in a Sloe Gin. “That’s where the magic happens,” Pasemko says. Pasemko also tips her hat to the seasons by offering spirit-based drinks in the winter, and long, refreshing versions in the summer. So, as we head into the warmer months, expect some interesting light florals—Pasemko’s feminine touch—like nasturtium to make an appearance in the Wolf in the Fog’s aperitifs. “Sometimes I feel the pressure to be more conventional,” admits Pasemko, “but when I tone it down, things are never actualized the way I intend them to be.” Make a reservation at Wolf in the Fog.
The crew at Salty’s Waterfront Seafood Grill, Des Moines, Washington
The Salty’s kitchen in South Seattle’s Redondo Beach is literally teeming with talent. The salads and sushi stations, the buffet, dessert preparation — all are being handled by what Executive Chef Josh Green calls “the right people,” who just happen to be women. Detailed-oriented Alissa Bilderback creates dishes that look “perfect on the plate, but not forced.” Janice Rabiteau uses her sautée pan to bring out the color and flavor of Salty’s fresh, local seafood. Adela Gomez is responsible for Salty’s chowder (which is a Big Deal since a seafood restaurant is its chowder.) And Leanna Spillner, who started at Salty’s three years ago, when she was just 15, preps sushi, salads, and desserts. Explains Spillner, “It’s a great time for women to be in the kitchen because women bring an indescribable small difference to cooking — and that goes a long way.” Make a reservation at Salty’s.
Melissa Mayer + Maylin Chavez, owners/chefs, Olympia Oyster Bar, Portland, Oregon
Melissa Mayer and Maylin Chavez are well aware that lots of folks either have no experience with oysters — or have had a negative one. They also know the way to develop a taste for the bivalves is through curation and comparison. That’s why they launched an oyster bar with a selection of oysters from various regions and with different flavor profiles instead of opening a restaurant that simply had one oyster dish available on a larger menu. “Once people try them in our kind of setting, most of them feel changed forever,” jokes Chavez. Also on the menu (which is currently being broadened): housemade linguine with clams and Chilpa Chole, a mussels dish prepared in a shrimp consommé base that also includes cinnamon, fresh herbs, and chunks of radishes and avocado. At some promotional events, their male friends have mistakenly been presumed to be the restaurant’s owners. ‘This is a boy’s industry,” says Mayer, but she doesn’t let that cloud her vision or goals for Olympia Oyster Bar. “It’s always a good time for women to be doing this and to be leaders,” she concludes. Make a reservation at Olympia Oyster Bar.
Want to check out a new restaurant or squeeze in some al fresco dining in the waning days of summer? Dine Out Boston Summer 2016 — August 14-19 and 21-26 — is the perfect opportunity to keep you and your wallet full with two-course lunches for $20 and three-course dinners starting at just $28. Here are some menu highlights courtesy of some of the city’s top chefs.
Though the Innovation District may be called such because it’s the epicenter for many of the city’s tech companies, the neighborhood also is home to some of Boston’s most creative restaurants — including Bastille Kitchen. Chef Adam Kube gives diners something to cool off with this August with seasonally appropriate avocado gazpacho and also serves up some special Dine Out fare, such as oat and quinoa-crusted chicken breast with a refreshing asparagus and grapefruit salad. “I wanted to offer guests dishes that are delicious and satisfying, but also bring a sense of lightness and freshness and aren’t too heavy,” Kube said. “I also wanted to offer guests the opportunity to try a few signature dishes that have been top sellers since day one, including our tea-smoked mussels marinière — our homage to the Boston Tea Party — and prime skirt steak frites, our interpretation of this classic French dish, which flies out of the kitchen every night.” Top it off with such Dine Out desserts as black forest torte with port wine and cherry reduction and vanilla crème brûlée with a pistachio butter cookie. Make a Dine Out Boston Summer 2016 reservation at Bastille Kitchen.
STRIP by Strega
With a new multimillion-dollar facelift that’s transformed an aging grande dame into one of the city’s coolest hotels, it’s only appropriate that the Park Plaza’s restaurants would serve as the historic property’s sexy accessories. STRIP by Strega offers up a modern feel with dark colors and sensual artistic touches, along with full steakhouse fare and a new jamming DJ brunch on Sundays. Executive chef Farouk Bazoune offers up both lunch and dinner options, focusing on sourcing seasonally and locally. “Due to the availability of so many fresh, local ingredients, summer is the perfect time to dine at local restaurants. Dine Out Boston is just one more reason to give a new restaurant a try,” he says. Look for the perfect combination of savory and sweet on the dinner menu with a melon and prosciutto appetizer. “It hits all the taste buds with light, crisp flavors coming from the lime, mint and melon that are balanced by creamy notes from the brie cheese, and sweet and savory notes from the aged balsamic and prosciutto. And personally, I love our chilled corn and crab soup, which is perfect for a hot summer day.” Meat lovers can enjoy a juicy strip twin filet with a light green bean salad and salsa verde on the dinner menu. Make a Dine Out Boston Summer 2016 reservation at STRIP by Strega.
Serafina may be known for its thin-crust pizzas, but executive chef Brendan Burke sees Dine Out as an opportunity to welcome fans of myriad main dishes into the fold. “We actually offer an extensive menu packed with plenty of salads, meat, seafood and homemade pastas, so I wanted to use Dine Out to highlight a few signature dishes and seasonal items are perfect for enjoying during warm weather,” he explained. “Guests can expect plenty of summery ingredients like watermelon, Maine lobster, and grilled organic chicken and grilled salmon. Seasonality is something we take seriously and we’re always finding new, fresh ingredients to incorporate into the menu.” Watermelon makes its way into tomato gazpacho with red pepper flakes on the Dine Out menu and there’s a “lobster salad salad” with burrata cheese, avocado, fried green tomato, and pesto aioli. For some of that homemade pasta, check out cavatelli with duck confit, too. Make a Dine Out Boston Summer 2016 reservation at Serafina.
Just right for a hot day given its origins closer to the Equator, Mexican food is prime for summer diners — especially when they’re given choices says Besito Chestnut Hill chef Sebastian Navarrete. For just $28 (at both that location and the other in Boston’s suburban Burlington neighborhood), the Dine Out offerings includes three courses from the full menu. “The culinary team stays true to [the restaurant’s] Mexican roots and incorporates only the finest, authentic chili peppers and spices to complement its carefully sourced selection of ocean-fresh seafood, marinated prime meats, and garden-fresh veggies.” Think chicken tacos with fresh-made salsas, roasted salmon Manchamanteles with mole sauce, a crispy banana slide, and pineapple salsa, or indulgent queso fundido. All lunch and dinner Dine Out specials come with tres leches cake. Enjoy a slice while relaxing on Chestnut Hill’s redesigned outdoor patio with wrought-iron lanterns and a brick fireplace. Make a reservation at Dine Out Boston Summer 2016 reservation at Besito-Chestnut Hill.
New to the Dine Out scene, chef Ryan Landry wanted to offer some of the restaurant’s signature dishes for guests in the historic Boston neighborhood of Charlestown. “Charlestown is beautiful in the summer … There’s no better time to visit,” he said of the space overlooking City Square Park on the Freedom Trail. Among the hits on the lunch and dinner menus are a white-clam pizza, Ligurian fish stew with monkfish, shrimp, squid and clams, and brick-oven braised cod. Seafood always pairs well with lemon, so expect a ricotta pie with candied lemon for dessert at dinner, and on the lunch menu, ricotta also makes an appearance in fritter form, served with spicy honey. Make a Dine Out Boston Summer 2016 reservation at Legal Oysteria.