Food Allergies and Preferences Put Even the Best Chefs to the Test

Food Allergies Food Allergies and Preferences Put Even the Best Chefs to the Test Lately it seems as though you can’t dine out (or in) with a group of friends without dining with someone who has food allergies — or strong food preferences. Be it an allergy to dairy, gluten, nuts, or seafood or a preference for raw foods or vegan cuisine, diners are testing the mettle of many chefs with extreme special requests. Janny Hu, of the San Francisco Chronicle, visits the issue, talking with chefs at Coi, La Mar Cebicheri­a Peruana, and Saison to find out how they handle multiple special requests — often from the same individual.

Find out if the diner is ALWAYS right, and let us know what you think about folks who make multiple special requests relating to ingredients. Should someone who is allergic to dairy and gluten expect to be accommodated at a pizza place? Should chefs be ready to prepare raw foods on a moment’s notice? Weigh in here or over on Facebook.

Michael Bauer Defines Fine Dining; Colicchio Recommends It; and More

This week in dining trends…

* A reader asks San Francisco Chronicle restaurant reviewer Michael Bauer talk about what “fine dining” means  — leading him to wonder if it means anything anymore. [SF Gate]

* Tom Colicchio (Colicchio & Sons) is (shocker!) a fan of fine dining, and he debunks some myths about the experience to CNN. [CNN]

* The stroller set has plenty of eating options in the Big Apple, as high-end restaurants embrace little foodies. [The New York Times]

* Speaking of kids, child and parenting behavior expert Priscilla J. Dunstan has her own tips for taking the little ones out to dinner. []

* The size of your server is directly related to the size of your order. [Slashfood]

* Your server’s tableside manner is directly related to your enjoyment of your order. [Seattle Times]

Chef Michael Mina Talks About His Mother’s Middle Eastern Recipes on His Menus

Chef Michael Mina Chef Michael Mina Talks About His Mothers Middle Eastern Recipes on His Menus
Photo: Courtesy of Mina Group

It may be hard to picture some of today’s most influential chefs in tiny toques, but they, too, were small children at one time, with big appetites and big dreams, both of which were likely fed by their mothers. This week, OpenTable checked in with four famous chefs to find out exactly how their mothers have influenced their careers, their kitchens, and even their menus. Our series concludes with the gifted Michael Mina, whose restaurants include the eponymous and Michelin-starred MICHAEL MINA as well as RN74 in San Francisco.

Born in Cairo and raised in Ellensburg, Washington, chef Michael Mina’s mother helped shape his palate early in his life. Says Mina, 42, “My mom is a fantastic cook of traditional Middle Eastern cuisine, and a couple of the recipes I use in my restaurants are hers, from my childhood meals at home.”

Of these very personal dishes diners can delight in, Mina, reveals, “A few of my mom’s recipes that I incorporate into some of my restaurants include the falafel recipe for my falafel burger, which has been on the Bourbon Steak bar burger menus for more than a year, as well as a traditional Middle Eastern dish of chickpeas, lentils, rice, peppers and onions, called kusheri, which has been served at my Seablue restaurants for many years.”

Falafel Burger1 Chef Michael Mina Talks About His Mothers Middle Eastern Recipes on His Menus
Photo: Courtesy of Mina Group

He continues, “Both of these dishes she made for me, and our family, when I was young. I loved them so much and am so pleased to be able to use them today in my restaurants.  It really is to honor her.”

“Iron Chef” Jose Garces on Inheriting His Love of Cooking from His Mother

Chef Jose Garces Iron Chef Jose Garces on Inheriting His Love of Cooking from His Mother
Photo: Courtesy of Garces Restaurant Group

Jose Garces wasn’t born an “Iron Chef” but this top competitor, James Beard award-winning chef, and master of Latin cuisine’s culinary ambitions took shape from an early age. An American chef born to Ecuadorian parents and raised in Chicago, Chef Garces began his culinary training in the kitchen of his paternal grandmother and mother.

The winner of “The Next Iron Chef,” Chef Garces, whose Philadelphia restaurants include Amada, Distrito, and Tinto, notes, “My introduction to food came in our family kitchen, growing up in Chicago. My mother was always an amazing cook, and she loved to involve us in preparing meals. That was doubly true when her mother-in-law, my Mamita Amada, for whom my first restaurant is named, came to visit from Ecuador. She would stay for a week or longer, and it seemed as if she never left the kitchen.” He continues, “I was always drawn to the warmth of working beside the two of them to create hearty meals for our family, and that love of cooking is what eventually led me to culinary school and my career.”

Garces, who is now appearing on the 2010 season of “Iron Chef America,” says, “Even today, many of the dishes that we serve at my restaurants are inspired by their recipes. My mother was something of a wizard with empanadas, and I’ve re-imagined them on the menus of many of my restaurants, including a signature ‘Amada’s Empanada at Amada that has been a top-selling menu item since we opened in October 2005. It’s a plantain pastry stuffed with manchego cheese and spinach, served sliced open over an artichoke escabeche.  I also serve a jumbo lump crab-stuffed version at Chifa, with sweet chile reduction and shaved cucumber.”

“I’ve been privileged to work with some of the finest chefs in America and Spain,” says Chef Garces, “but my passion for cooking comes from my early memories…. Even when I was a child, I was drawn to the joy of cooking a great meal. I have always loved the way that food can transform a person’s whole outlook and really make their day.”

Chef Daniel Humm on What His Mom Taught Him About Sourcing Ingredients

Daniel Humm Chef Daniel Humm on What His Mom Taught Him About Sourcing IngredientsA native of Switzerland, Daniel Humm, executive chef at Eleven Madison Park, knew from an early age that his true passion was cooking. The son of an architect, Daniel took his inherited sense of structure and design and applied it to the kitchen, but he learned the importance of sourcing ingredients from his mother, Brigitte. “My mom was a stay-at-home mom and a great cook. Living in a small town surrounded by farms, she always paid a lot of attention to where she purchased ingredients. She knew who had the best milk, the best carrots, and the best eggs,” he says. “On rainy days, the farm-fresh lettuce would be kind of dirty, and, as a child, I didn’t understand the point of getting this lettuce you had to wash five or six times, and she would say, ‘When you taste it, you will it understand the difference.’ At an early age, then, my mother helped me understand the importance of where and how you shop — and today I appreciate that even more.”

While there’s not a particular dish on his current menu that comes from his mother, Chef Humm, who helped Eleven Madison Park earn its first Michelin star and who recently won a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: New York City, says, “It’s the whole thing my mother showed me. We are so focused on letting individual ingredients shine. If a carrot or a leek is on a plate, we want to source it the best way and make sure that it really tastes like a leek. It’s about the pure taste of food.”

Growing up, Mother’s Day was a day for dining out. He remembers, “For Mother’s Day at our house, that was the only day when my mom wouldn’t cook. That was the day we would go out and enjoy a meal at a restaurant. My brothers and sisters and I would make breakfast that day, and then we would go out for lunch or dinner so that way my mom had nothing to worry about.”

James Beard Foundation Awards 2010 Winners: Congratulations!

James Beard Awards 2010 nominees James Beard Foundation Awards 2010 Winners: Congratulations!Earlier this week, the James Beard Foundation announced the winners of their prestigious awards for 2010. They include:

* Marea, New York, New York
Chef/Partner: Michael White; Partner: Chris Cannon

* Tom Colicchio, Craft and Colicchio & Sons

* Nicole Plue, Redd, Yountville, California

* Daniel, New York, New York
Chef/Owner: Daniel Boulud; Owner: Joel Smilow

* Jean Georges, New York, New York
Wine Director: Bernard Sun

* Timothy Hollingsworth, The French Laundry, Yountville, California

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic
* Jeff Michaud, Osteria, Philadelphia, Pennsyvlania

Best Chef: Midwest
* Alexander Roberts, Restaurant Alma, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Best Chef: New York City
* Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park

Best Chef: Northwest
* Jason Wilson, Crush, Seattle, Washington

Best Chef: Pacific
* David Kinch, Manresa, Los Gatos, California

Best Chef: South
* Michael Schwartz, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Miami, Florida

Best Chef: Southeast
* Sean Brock, McCrady’s, Charleston, South Carolina

Chef José Andrés Shares a Recipe and Memories of Cooking with His Mother

Chef Jose Andres Chef José Andrés Shares a Recipe and Memories of Cooking with His Mother
Photo: Courtesy of ThinkFoodGroup

A native of Spain, lauded culinary superstar José Andrés is chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup, the team responsible for Washington’s popular and award-winning dining concepts Jaleo, Zaytinya, Oyamel, Café Atlántico and the critically-acclaimed minibar by josé andrés, as well as Los Angeles’ exciting award-winning destination, The Bazaar by José Andrés, part of the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills.

His passion for food began when he was but a child. Andrés says, “From the time I was a little boy, I always loved being in the kitchen. Growing up, my mother always cooked; we did not go to restaurants much as money was tight, and I was often at her side. She was a simple home cook, but at her side I learned the power of food to evoke memory  — in my parents’ case, of Asturias and the family they left behind when we moved to Barcelona. I am no different. Today I prepare Spanish food not just at the restaurants but at home for my children. It is a way of reconnecting with home through food memory.”

His mother’s influence continues to be felt – and can be tasted at one of his restaurants. He shares, “I serve my mother’s flan recipe at Jaleo. It is my version of Proust’s Madeleine. One spoonful never fails to take me back to that apartment kitchen in Santa Coloma de Cervello.”

Continue reading for a recipe from Chef José Andrés.

Continue reading…

Chef Charlie Palmer Serves Up His Tips for Taking Kids to Restaurants

Charlie Palmer Chef Charlie Palmer Serves Up His Tips for Taking Kids to Restaurants
Photo: Dan Walbridge

Our exclusive series of interviews with famous chefs who are also parents concludes today with this advice from chef Charlie Palmer.

Celebrated chef Charlie Palmer has combined his creative cooking spirit and flair for business to open 13 notable restaurants across the country, including the highly acclaimed Aureole, a growing collection of food-forward wine shops, and award-winning boutique hotels. A James Beard Foundation honoree and the author of numerous cookbooks, Palmer continues to be one of the world’s most innovative and important chefs.

A father to four boys, Palmer knows a thing or two about dining out with kids. To make sure your children remain engaged, he recommends, “Remember to take something with you to entertain the kids. A fun activity between courses or after you order can really improve the overall experience. When my family dines out, we sometimes take ‘Table Topics’ with us, and then we each go around the table with a trivia card. It takes up the time between courses and everyone is entertained.”

Until you know your kids will enjoy an extended meal, Palmer says, “Don’t take them to a high-end restaurant when the experience will take multiple hours if your child doesn’t like sitting still for that long. You would be better off taking them to a restaurant that is loud, active, and a bit quicker.” Also, he adds, “If you know your child has certain food allergies, call ahead to the restaurant and see how flexible they can be with the menu to determine if it’s going to be a good situation for you.”

True to form, this chef serves food his offspring enjoy! He admits, “My kids love all of the dishes. They aren’t allowed to order anything ‘special’ anymore, they have to order off the menu and experience the food the way the chefs intended!”

Best Restaurants for Outdoor Dining: OpenTable 2010 Diners’ Choice Winners

Best Outdoor Dining 2010 Best Restaurants for Outdoor Dining: OpenTable 2010 Diners Choice WinnersJust in time for the sunny weather,  OpenTable is pleased to announce the 50 restaurant winners of OpenTable’s 2010 Diners’ Choice Awards for Best Outdoor Dining. Derived from nearly four million reviews submitted by OpenTable diners of nearly 11,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, this list celebrates the restaurants that provide an amazing al fresco dining experience.

Often the secret ingredient to an extraordinary meal, outdoor seating creates a more social dining experience. You’re not only dining with your companions — it can feel as though you’re dining with folks who are simply strolling down the street. Outdoor dining is also a terrific option for out-of-towners looking to soak up some scenery while taking advantage of a city’s food scene.

While there are many winners in sunny California and Florida, the list includes plenty of standouts in other states, such as Arcadia Farms in Scottsdale, Arizona, Coyote Crossing in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, Hau Tree Lanai in Honolulu, Hawaii, Ovations at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia, and Red Hat on the River in Irvington, New York.

Find out if your favorite is on the list, and book your first outdoor dining adventure of the season to make the most of a great day or evening.

Chef Barbara Lynch Reveals Recipe for Raising Adventurous Eaters

Barbara Lynch Chef Barbara Lynch Reveals Recipe for Raising Adventurous Eaters
Photo: Justin Ide

With Mother’s Day and parenting on our minds, we continue our series of interviews with famous chefs who are raising children as they raise their reputations in the culinary world. Today, Boston chef Barbara Lynch discusses how she approaches dining out with her young daughter.

James Beard award-winning chef/restaurateur Barbara Lynch, whose newest restaurant is Menton, grew up in the hardscrabble neighborhood of South Boston, getting her first kitchen job cooking at a local rectory at the age of 13. Since then, she has become one of Boston’s most revered chefs — as well as a mom to daughter Marchesa, 6, and a proud stepmom to three grown children. It’s no surprise, then, that she advocates for parents to dine out with their children at an early age. She urges, “Take them out! The sooner they are taught table manners and included in dinners out, the sooner they will behave and maybe even become more adventurous eaters.”

For your first trips dining out with your child, “Start with places that you know the kids will love or that are particularly child-friendly and then work your way up to other types of restaurants. Eating together should be a fun experience and a chance to enjoy each other’s company.” Lynch and her friends would include her daughter in relaxing Sunday brunches with nearly a dozen of friends. She says, “Marchesa could color at the table while we chatted, and the fact that she absolutely loved the chocolate cake helped, too.”

Lynch says of her daughter’s developing palate, “From the time she was a baby, she adored gnocchi with Mimolette, which is like REALLY, REALLY good mac and cheese! These days she can’t get enough of the fried calamari at B&G Oysters…loves them!” If your child isn’t ready for these flavors, she suggests, “I think every child goes through phases where they hate all green things or will only eat macaroni and cheese, but they are usually just that — phases and short-lived. I think the trick is to encourage them to have a bit of everything—just try!”