The Shack’s Rib Cook-Off

Hey readers! I know it has been a while, and I hope you are still with me. As you know, I have been writing regularly about positive restaurant experiences for The Beach Reporter. However, I’ve decided that I miss blogging and want to devote more time to getting back into “Megan’s World of Food”. Obviously my voice has changed since I started publishing my writing online at age eight, but I intend to keep updating the blog for as long as possible.

The experience that inspired me to write today is one that you have not yet seen on my blog. Last Saturday, my dad and I entered a rib-making contest at Playa Del Rey’s The Shack, along with our friends Ken and Eric. Our team of four had never entered a BBQ competition before, but we were excited and ready to take on a challenge!

The way this competition worked was that competitors would get supplied with nine racks of ribs on Friday night, and would come to the bar the next morning to actually smoke them. The winner was decided by judges, but a “People’s Choice Award” was given to the BBQ team with the most votes from visitors. If interested in the rib contest, a customer could buy tickets and go around to the teams. A ticket per rib, visitors would taste their way through the parking lot and decide on their favorite.

However, like all good competitions, there are ways to cheat. But at this one, bribing and getting on the voters’ good side are actually encouraged! Each team made treats for throughout the day to make a good impression on the voters. Ours consisted of homemade New Orleans Chaurice sausage, my dad’s grilled wings, and pralines.

Preparation for the “big day” started days in advance; my dad stayed up late making sauces and I assisted in making the pralines. My dad’s new smoker was painted (with the face of former University of Iowa football coach Hayden Fry, of course) and our friend Travis’ truck was ready to transport our supplies to the bar. Everything was in place, it seemed, but I knew so much could go wrong…

My dad told me weeks in advance that my job on the day of was to smile, pass out bribes, and get the voters on our side. Well, that would be easy if I were the least bit charming. Naturally, I woke up on Saturday and put on a waitress’ attire: jean shorts and a black shirt with converse and, of course, a fresh coat of sunscreen. I was convinced I was ready to face the day!

The morning of the competition, Eric, Ken, Travis, and my dad were all standing in front of our garage loading and packing. At 7:30, we got the truck ready and piled in three cars to head to the bar.

Our team’s name was Tailgate Trail, so aside from focusing on BBQ (obviously), our theme revolved around sports (mostly college). Besides the painted smoker, we also advertised a love for sports in our clothes. With Eric’s University of Virginia shirt, Ken’s Kansas City shirt, and my dad’s Delta State University hat, we were supporting plenty of teams!

my dad's spicy New Orleans Chaurice

my dad’s spicy New Orleans Chaurice

The first thing we did after we set up under the tent we were given was to light the smoker and get things started. At 10:00, we were allowed to put the ribs on, and we let those cook until about 3:00. Next to the ribs, we put on my dad’s homemade, hand-ground spicy New Orleans Chaurice sausage, shaped into small bites for sample sizes. When they were done, Eric stuck toothpicks in each individual sausage and I cut them apart. We served them alongside little cups of garlic aioli, and they were a crowd favorite for sure. A friendly competitor from the tent next to us was named Antonio, and he loved our sausage so much he said we should sell them!

Next up, my dad grilled some wings on our make-shift grill (the smokebox– see left) and tossed them in his home-made buffalo wing sauce. A wing per plate, we handed them out as samples and got just as good feedback as we did on the sausages. People chose between Ranch and Bleu Cheese dressing on the side, because the wing sauce definitely had a kick to it.

My pralines were given out last, a sweet reminder to “vote for Team Tailgate Trail”. It was a nice treat to have after standing in the sun for a few hours, and the crowd seemed to like them a lot. The leftovers went to me and Emma, a girl I met at the event and really liked.

Finally, it was time to get the ribs plated and to the judges! We took the foil off of them and sliced up all nine racks, putting 8 ribs on a single plate to give to the judges and keeping the rest for customers. A ticket per rib, we gave away every single rib except the last one (which we ate). People chose between our South Carolina mustard-style sauce or our original Red, and both were well-liked. My personal favorite is the mustard-style, but my dad’s friend Ken (being from Kansas City) preferred the red BBQ sauce. All we were waiting for now were the awards!

After we cleared up a bit and socialized, the owner of the bar decided to announce the awards. Antonio’s team, next to us, won the People’s Choice Award, which I think was the real winner. Another group, who we hadn’t talked to, won the judges’ pick. Last up, the host chose his own favorite… “Team Tailgate Trail”. He said that our team was what The Shack was all about, and that he was glad we had come and hoped to see us next year! We may not have really won anything… but we weren’t there for a trophy. We were there to make good food that the people enjoyed, to have this experience as a memory and (hopefully) the first of many rib trials, and just to have fun! What can I say, we did just that.

The Shack’s Annual Rib-Off– see you next year!

My New Writing Opportunity

You might have noticed that I have not been updating my blog recently. This is because I have been spending my time writing as a published columnist at my new job! For the past year or so, I have been writing a food column for one of the South Bay’s newspapers: The Beach Reporter. Once or twice per month, I review a restaurant in the south bay area and write a 500-word article on my experience at the restaurant. Look for them online at The Beach Reporter’s website, http://tbrnews.com or pick up a free paper copy in the South Bay. Below are the links to a few of my recent columns:

http://tbrnews.com/lifestyle/poulet-du-jour-mediterranean-made-to-order/article_db089da2-d34a-11e4-976c-c7bce68fcba1.html

http://tbrnews.com/beachcitiesdining/baby-g-s-ice-cream-cookies-and-cakes/article_2841837e-bd2d-11e4-aed9-9f31dcb5d04a.html

http://tbrnews.com/beachcitiesdining/big-wok-mongolian-bbq-will-never-leave-you-hungry/article_eefc28bc-b223-11e4-bfe1-9316a703e77a.html

 

A Different Kind of Stadium

Dream Team Photo

Dream Team Photo

It was dark outside when we woke up, but I’m used to that. I’m definitely an early bird and I love the mornings, but today I awoke with the feelings of someone who had stayed up late last night. To tell you the truth, one thought and one thought only occupied my head: I don’t want to get out of bed! Nevertheless, I got up, packed my bag, and jumped in the car, excited for the day ahead of me. I couldn’t wait to see the stadium and the stars, to eat, and to write. This would be spectacular.

But today, we were not tailgating at the Rose Bowl or the Coliseum. This was a different kind of stadium… what I might call a “food stadium”. The first annual All Star Chefs Classic was hosted on Sunday, March 23, from noon to 2:30 at the new “Restaurant Stadium” at LA Live, and both local chefs and nation-wide foodies came to cook at an event not to be challenged.

The All Star Chefs Classic

The All Star Chefs Classic

A bar lit up the center of the large room, and around it sat tables surrounded by ten food booths. At each station, one fantastic chef or another would whip up an amazing sample, and you would be able to try it without a wait. The decor was classy and prestigious, and it made me nervous even to be in this foodie’s paradise. At the same time, however, it was almost laid-back and an awesome DJ kept us all on our toes.  Everyone was trying to balance a plate, a cup, and a camera, and yet I didn’t feel that it was touristy at all.  You were close to the chefs, but there weren’t too many people and we never had to wait more than two minutes for anything. Oh, here I go. I won’t be able to find anything wrong with an event featuring spectacular food AND Han Solo’s grandson.

Chef David LeFevre and His Creation

Chef David LeFevre and His Creation

First up, Chef David LeFevre. If you’ve followed my blog site before, you’ll recognize him as the genius behind the restaurant I spent my eleventh birthday at: MB Post. (http://www.southbayfood.com/?p=1795).  At his booth, creamy mashed potatoes were complimented by grilled asparagus, speck, mushrooms, and a delicious potato puree on top. It was adorned by crispy leeks, and I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. The flavors melded together perfectly but were still distinct in the best ways, and each thought back to it made my mouth water for more. Overall, it was an astounding first dish and I was extremely happy with Chef LeFevre’s creation.

 

Then, we slid over next door to Chef Vinny Dotolo’s station, where beef tendon with kolrabi salad was being presented. The beef tendon had a really nice texture, and it was soft but chewy. A perfect amount of what seemed to be a peanut sauce was drizzled over the top, and it was subtle but noticeable and definitely sweet. Overall, it might not have been my favorite dish of the night, but it was extremely impressive nonetheless.

By Wylie Dufresne

By Wylie Dufresne

Next, we walked to Chef Wylie Dufresne’s booth, which revealed a creative new idea: edamame gazpacho. I loved the textures with the milky gazpacho and the crunchy chunks to top it off. It tasted fresh and you could tell that a lot of effort was put into the making of it.

 

 

Lamb Sweetbreads, there's nothing better

Lamb Sweetbreads, there’s nothing better

Chef Alex Seidel’s dish blew me away. It was lamb sweetbread confit (otherwise known as lamb organs :)) but it was fantastic! The lamb had a beautiful texture and a great flavor, and it was overall very impressive. I’m so glad I got the chance to meet him, because this was the spectacular outcome of the work of a man who knows what he’s doing. The dish had an amazing “mushroom marmalade” and the mushrooms paired outstandingly with the creamy sheep’s milk ricotta. Also, Chef Seidel let us try his cheese, which was aged for two years in his home of Denver. Overall, Chef Seidel came and left us all awaiting the next time he can come to LA to cook us some more of his delicious food.

Let’s travel over to Chef David Myers’ dish: tuna with sesame tofu and a kumquat fava bean salad. Chef Myers prepared this cool dish for us in the booth right next to Chef David LeFevre’s. Although I didn’t enjoy the tofu very much, that’s probably just because I’ve been a carnivore since birth. The kumquat fava bean salad was strongly flavored and very citrusy, but in the best way because it was a great match with the tuna. I’m glad that Chef Myers included it. The tuna was the bomb; pink, silky, and impeccably prepared. I can’t say I’ve ever had such perfected,  melt-in-your-mouth tuna, and I only have one thing to say to that… yum.

Chef Ben Ford

Chef Ben Ford

Scrumptious Sea Bass Crudo

Scrumptious Sea Bass Crudo

And guess who I met next? One of the friendliest chefs ever, good in the kitchen, and he has a famous history. Chef Ben Ford, son of Harrison Ford and father of Indiana Jones’ grandson, happens to be madly talented, as I figured out as I practically inhaled my serving of sea bass crudo. The fish itself was smooth and tasty and it disintegrated in my mouth with a lingering taste of lime. The chilies on top added a nice spicy kick at the end and the avocado, which was also enriched by citrus, I think, was fantastic paired with the sea bass. It just overall showed a great knowledge of food and I’m really glad Chef Ford made it. I also got to see his son, an adorable little blond boy that seemed to be all smiles. (The Force is strong with that one.)

Chef Josiah Citrin: A Legend

Chef Josiah Citrin: A Legend

A legend held up the next station with a focused expression and hardworking hands. I could tell that Chef Josiah Citrin took his job seriously, and it definitely paid off. The wild monkfish cheek reminded me a bit of scallops, and monkfish might be known as the “poor man’s lobster”, but this was anything but insufficient. I hadn’t tried very much monkfish before this event, but I really enjoyed it and I look forward to trying it again soon. Though I didn’t know exactly how it was supposed to be cooked, I thought that it tasted great. The fish wasn’t too tough but it wouldn’t fall apart, with a great texture, and the herbs, like fennel, paired nicely with the monkfish. I was very happy with what I tried from Chef Josiah Citrin’s booth and I hope to eat more of his food soon!

My mother’s dentist, local foodie Dr. Gary Warburton, had suggested this event to us in the first place, and all throughout it, we had stopped around to talk to him and his wife Terry. What was really cool was that he knew a lot of the chefs, so I met a lot of them and I was so thankful that Dr. Warburton included us. Thank you!

Chef Ludo!

Chef Ludo!

I also met Chef Ludo Lefebvre, the famous chef who stars in TV show “Ludo Bites”. And although his persona on TV is definitely intimidating, he was really patient and friendly in person and I am very grateful for him for letting me waste his time. 🙂

Dr. Warburton, Chef David LeFevre, and a few others were having a conversation as we walked up. Chef LeFevre raved about the event, its great kitchens, its reserved parking, and just its atmosphere in general. It was nice to know that not only did the guests love the event, but the chefs enjoyed it as well.

 

Chef Elliot:  Salad Pro

Chef Elliot: Salad Pro

After a quick break, my dad and I returned back to our food

Deconstruction Site

Deconstruction Site

sampling. Next up was Chef Graham Elliot’s twist on a classic Cesear salad, otherwise known as his “deconstructed Cesear salad”. It was a lettuce wedge with a fantastic crunch and doused in crumbled parmesan cheese. On the side came a crispy toasted bread slice with a white dollop of soft spread on top, which was almost buttery, and I’m not sure exactly what it was but it was addictive. It was a fresh spin on a classic dish, I really enjoyed it, and I was very glad to try it. Nice job, Chef Elliot!

Pork Belly Not To Be Forgotten

Pork Belly Not To Be Forgotten

Two words could be used to describe this next station, and that’s all you need to know that it was a positive review: PORK. BELLY. The cardamom brined meat had a great texture and really stood out for its creativity with spices and flavors. A creamy coconut asparagus veloute topped it off and the flavors matched each other very well. I enjoyed this dish, and I thought that it was a great way to prepare pork belly.

 

Chef Silverton and Me

Chef Silverton and Me

Lastly, Chef Nancy Silverton’s booth stood next door with a black sign sporting kale salad. Being a meat-lover, I thought I would be disappointed to end on this, but boy was I wrong! The kale salad was served with ricotta salata, pine nuts, and an anchovy on top, and although I was not a fan of the anchovy, the nuts and cheese went well together and the kale was perfection. In all, it was a great way to end the event and the salad definitely left you craving more.

In all, this amazing culinary event was a great way to spend my Sunday, and not only was the food delicious, but the chefs were friendly, welcoming, and, above all, inspiring. I have been slow to post recently because I’ve been very busy and I had been putting other activities before this (mainly soccer). This spectacular day reminded me how important it is to continue my blog and put in that extra effort, and I am so glad that I got to experience such an extraordinary event.

Thank you especially to Gary Warburton for encouraging me, showing us around, and keeping us laughing all day. Also, thank you so much to the chefs that I met: Ben Ford, Josiah Citrin, David LeFevre, Nancy Silverton, Wylie Dufresne, Alex Seidel, Graham Elliot, and Jennifer Jasinski. They were all so inspiring, kind, and, of course, spectacularly talented!

And, last of all, thank you Dad for a memorable opportunity and an experience I will never forget.

Chef Jessica Jordan, FISHBAR Manhattan Beach: Past, Present, and Future

As a kid, Jessica Jordan took after her mother, a chef, and learned to love the kitchen at a young age.  Growing up, Jessica decided that cooking was a dream she wanted to pursue.  After going to the Art Institute of Santa Monica for two years, Jessica had her culinary school diploma and she set out to find a place to work. After putting the weight of cake decorating on her shoulders for years, Jessica moved to North End, a seaside restaurant in Hermosa Beach.  She began by only doing Wednesday night dinners, but she eventually took charge of some Monday night tapas as well.  Soon, chefs and customers alike were following the talented, young chef like crazy!  Jessica Jordan was a star!  And she deserved it too!

A Restaurant Established!Meanwhile, a man bought a big bar on Highland Avenue in Manhattan Beach.  He wanted to open a restaurant in the building, but he had no chefs.  Not surprisingly, the landlord heard about Jessica Jordan, so while he was thinking up hundreds of themes for his restaurant to be, he sent spies — watchful eyes, you might call them — to monitor Jessica’s incredible work like hawks.

Jessica knew the whole time that people were watching her and reporting to someone, but for what?  To who?  She didn’t know.  She just kept doing her best and pushing these visitors out of her mind.  A while later, the landlord walked up to her with a proposal.  He asked her to come be his Executive Chef!  After much thinking, Jessica took up his generous offer.

The landlord decided that FISHBAR was going to be in his building.  He wanted his bar/restaurant to be seafood-based!  And don’t get me wrong, Jessica loves seafood, but at first, everyone was a little shaky about the idea.  A fresh seafood place in an old Sharkeez building?  No one was sure, but Jessica came up with a menu anyway.  It consisted of not-too-pricey, but unbelievable dishes, and everyone’s thoughts were changed when business began.  People love FISHBAR, and soon lines were forming around the soon-to-be-famous restaurant.

**********

Chef Jessica JordanAs Jessica Jordan, Executive Chef of FISHBAR Manhattan Beach, told me her story, I listened with fascination.  I had never heard anything like that!  As I complimented Jessica on her phenomenal accomplishments, we started to get into her life now.  The same landlord that owns FISHBAR owns a place called Katella Deli in Orange County.  We talked about why she likes it there at FISHBAR and her favorite foods.  Her favorite dish at FISHBAR is her crispy fried chipotle calamari, and her favorite restaurants in the South Bay are Charlie’s in Redondo Beach and Gjelina’s in Venice.  She loves Mexican food and seafood.  We talked about other careers we would like to have.  Jessica told me: “Well, if I wasn’t a chef, I would be a food blogger.  It gives you the opportunity to eat, write, and travel.”

“I’d love to be a chef,” I told her, “but what I would also love to do is judge on a cooking reality show, like Food Network Challenge or Chopped.  I’d get to eat and compliment such good food,” I explained.  She nodded.

“Do you have any hobbies other than food blogging?” she questioned.

“I like to sing,” I told her with a smile.  She nodded again.

After I asked her pretty much every question I could think of, I thanked her for her time, and she drifted over to have lunch with the restaurant manager, Jacqueline Leanza.  “I’ll cook you up some of my favorite dishes.”  Soon afterward, crispy fried chipotle calamari was on the table.

An Amazing Suggestion“Yum!   I love that!  Maybe we will get crispy-fried calamari next time, instead of our usual sautéed calamari,”  I exclaimed to my mom.  She agreed.

“This is delicious, and so nice of Jessica,” Mom added.  Next, Jessica herself brought her sweet and sticky shrimp.  They were delicious beyond belief!  I’m telling you, Jessica Jordan is a chef you will want to check out.

I would like to thank Jessica Jordan for being so generous and giving her time to meet me!  We love FISHBAR, and I really enjoyed interviewing a chef like her!

 

FISHBAR Manhattan Beach

3801 Highland Avenue

Manhattan Beach, California 90266

Tel:  310-796-0200

www.fishbarmb.com

Twitter:  @FISHBARMB

Twitter:  @ChefJessicaJ

Restaurant Camp, Day 2: Decisions and a Tour

Kitchen Kid Campers!When I arrived at Kitchen Kid Camp for Day 2, Kylie rushed up to me with a smile on her cute little face.  “We’re going to be deciding our restaurants today!” she told me with excitement.  I smiled back.  I was so excited!

After lots of debating (at least a half hour), Leslie called out, “So I guess our winners are … a Filipino kitchen and a dessert bar!”  Wiley, Sabrina, and I were cheering for the fact that our idea had come out as a champion!  We split into groups to decide some concepts for our restaurant.

Kylie, Wiley, Sabrina, Joycie, and I were all in the “Sugar Coma” group.  Dylan wandered over, even though her sister and best friends were in the Filipino kitchen group.  “I figured that desserts would be more fun than a Filipino kitchen,” Dylan told us.  We were fine with that!  Caryn told Stella, Max, and Alex, who were undecided, to go to the Filipino kitchen, because they had fewer employees than us.

We started on a new list of ideas – good ideas.  Our instructor announced, “So here are our winners:  Name – Sugar Coma.  Theme – Hospital.  Menu – Chocolate Fondue, Peach Tarte Tartin, and Kitchen Kid-Style Canolis with Ice Cream.  Anything else?”

“Megan and I can design the menu and logo,” Dylan exclaimed.

“Sure!”

We got to work.  After lots of brainstorming, our final logo was a big red hospital cross with “Sugar Coma” written across it.  Three scoops of ice cream were piled next to the “A” in “Coma,” and a hospital heart rate monitor was strung across the bottom.  It looked just like this:

********

Listening to a Line Cook“Time to go to MB Post!” Caryn said as she rounded us up.  We were ready for a tour of this new, popular restaurant in Manhattan Beach.  When we got there, Chef Ray (MB Post’s talented soux chef) showed us around.  First, we met MB Post’s prep chef.  This chef cuts up all of the raw ingredients and, well, prepares every ingredient before they are combined and cooked.  Next, we met the pastry chef.  He was very creative with his dishes, and the wonton-like dessert he was making that moment looked irresistable.

“Did you go to cooking school?” I asked.

He replied, “Actually, I went to pastry school.”  I was intrigued by this.  I didn’t know that there was a culinary school other than chef’s school.

Then we walked through MB Post’s walk-in refrigerator.  It was cold and felt good.  There was so much fresh produce.  I saw shelves of fruits and vegetables that had to be from the farmer’s market that Chef Ray talked about later.

When we left the sweet-smelling, mouth-watering refrigerator, we took a seat in MB Post’s family-style dining room.  “Here, I am going to talk to you about decor, menus, and decisions, as I understand you are putting on your own restaurants on Friday,” Chef Ray explained.

“Mainly, our menu is designed with the focus of fresh, seasonal ingredients.  Here at MB Post, we produced dishes made of only the most ripe components.  We take pride in the sensational feeling that comes out of our food and our spirit, so we choose menu items that not just our diners will enjoy, but also foods that we chefs are passionate about.”

“As for decor,” he continued, “this building used to be a post office.  Here on the walls, we have paint marking parcels, air, etc.  We thought it would be great to intensely get into this building’s long history as a theme.  For your restaurants, I suggest thinking of a solid theme for your restaurant.”  (“Check,” I thought in my head, as I shared a smile with Sabrina.  We had a great theme in mind!)

“The decisions are harder,” Chef Ray went on.  “Deciding jobs, dealing with money, and getting business, for example.  You have to be precise with the way you work.  Make sure you listen to what your client’s want, as well as your fellow chefs.  Just stopping to look around at what needs to be done, and admiring what you have accomplished, can boost your confidence and give you inspiration.  Also, don’t forget to praise yourself whenever possible.  Think on the bright side,” he concluded.  “But right now, it is time for ice cream.”

Sundaes!Two line cooks brought out mini-sundaes.  We were so excited!  They looked very original and they tasted luscious!  They all had a decent amount of heavenly chocolate sauce and some black cherries on top.  What a great end to the tour!

After walking back to the Manhattan Beach Neptunian Ladies Club building, it was time to leave.  We had Wednesday off because of the Fourth of July, but I was so excited to return!

 

(Photos courtesy of Samantha Barnes, Founder of Kitchen Kid.  Thanks!)

I’m Gonna Be On TV!

Me and Mama in My Trailer!

Me and Mama in My Trailer!

A few months ago, I got to film something for TV!  It was my aunt who made it all possible.  She works for Disney, and at work, she showed one of her co-workers Southbayfood.com.   The co-worker really enjoyed it (or so I heard) and presented a particular blog post (Farmer Eric’s Garden of Fruit – http://www.southbayfood.com/?p=888) to her production company.  The company films something on Disney Channel called “TTI” commercials.  “TTI” is short for “The Time I…”  Kids get to describe an experience that they’ve had.  They decided to film a “TTI” on my trip to Farmer Eric’s and I was so excited!

On the day of the shoot, we drove to Eric’s house, where they filmed the entire thing (with  his permission, of course).  They did some “movie magic” as well, but I can’t tell you all of the secrets!  When we arrived at Eric’s, the company had a huge trailer waiting for me!  Wow!  We met the on-set teacher, Phil, and I played “RushHour” until they called me to the set.   They blocked and filmed the 90-second feature in 8 whole hours!  Of course, we did things over and over again.

First, we set off into the fruit trees, looking around at all of their wonders.  Dad stayed back a little bit to pick figs, while Mom and I ran over to the grapefruit tree.  (Poor Tabs didn’t get to come help.)  With the help of a little bit of “movie magic,” we picked two grapefruit.  They looked delicious!

In awe, we walked over to an apricot “tree” and picked three apricots.  After, we joined Dad washing fruit.  On camera, we each took a big, juicy bite from our apricots and decided that we definitely wanted to make a treat out of them.  “What about a tart?”  my dad exclaimed.  It sounded like a great idea to all three of us, so that is what we decided to make.

We walked over to Eric’s kitchen and made a tart.  Originally, I was going to just open the oven and say:  “Look what I made!”  The tarts were going to be pre-made, and we wouldn’t actually be cooking, but due to some minor mistakes, Dad and I ended up making the actual tarts!  They were real, and super delicious!

Guess what?!  My “TTI” might be airing on Friday, October 14!   I’m not sure what time, but I will post and tweet as soon as I hear.  (I hope to hear Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.)   I am so excited about this experience, so please be watching out for it on Disney Channel.  If you happen to catch a glimpse of the “TTI,” please tell me what you think!  Don’t be afraid to be honest.  (I haven’t seen it myself yet.)

Thanks to Disney Channel and my extremely helpful and supportive Aunt Suzy!  I couldn’t have done it without them.

My Dream Come True!

My Heroes and Me!

My Heroes and Me!

Mom, Dad, and I signed up for a cooking demonstration by famous chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, and I was very happy to be there.  As we walked into Border Grill downtown on a rainy Saturday morning, a server handed us quinoa fritters.  Simply delectable!  What a great start to the day!  They were crunchy and spicy, and they were topped with a creamy sauce made from aji amarillo paste.  The fritters were filled with the best quinoa I’ve ever had!

Appetizing Quinoa Fritters

Appetizing Quinoa Fritters

I walked into Border Grill in awe.  The walls were so kid-friendly, and were covered with cool, artistic drawings.  We received our table number, and we walked into the demo room.   Wow!  Table 31, our table, was right smack in the middle of the front row!  We were so surprised that my dad went back to the counter to make sure the table was ours!  Once we were reassured it was our table, I paid attention to our surroundings.  As I looked around, my eyes landed on the demo stage.   OMG!  There was Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger.  They are both cooking legends, and I am a huge fan of Mary Sue from “Top Chef Masters”.  I mean HUGE!  I stood there for a few seconds, just staring.  It was really her!  Susan Feniger noticed me and walked toward our table.  First, she asked me if I would help in the kitchen if they needed me during the class.  I was too shocked to say yes, so she moved on to another question.  She asked me if I would help her pass around food, if she needed me.  Very timidly, I said OK and sat back down.

Susan Feniger was so nice!

Susan Feniger was so nice!

I walked over to the bar for some pomegranate lemonade.  The nice server from before offered to bring it to our table, so I thanked him and sat back down.  Mom and Dad were talking and sipping their margaritas when I came back.  As I started to take pictures of the two chefs, Susan Feniger called me over to take a picture.  I was soooo happy!  She gave me a hug!

After a while longer, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger took the stage.  The server brought me my lemonade, and I whispered:  “Thank you.”  Everyone quieted as they started the demonstration.  Susan Feniger started:  “Today, Mary Sue and I will be cooking for you a lunch about five courses long.  We are very excited, and we hope you are too!”  She said something like that… I can’t remember her exact words.  All I remember is the absolute pleasure of being there.

Teaching Us Tips and Recipes

Teaching Us Tips and Recipes

Avocado Tostadita Salad and Spanish Gazpacho

Avocado Tostadita Salad and Spanish Gazpacho

As they started cooking and explaining the quinoa fritters, we sampled the Avocado Tostadita Salad and Spanish Gazpacho.  The avocado salad was lettuce, avocado, jicama, and some other fun ingredients, over a crispy tostadita shell.  Right on top of everything was a fried avocado, smothered in quinoa, amaranth (which I think is a seed), sesame and black sesame seeds, and some poppy seeds.  It was tangy and delightful.  Under the tostadita shell were some refried black beans.  They had the perfect melty texture that makes your mouth start to water.  The smooth gazpacho was filled with fragrant herbs, fresh vegetables, and homemade mayonnaise.  I don’t usually like mayonnaise, but it was amazing, and it slid down my throat easily like a fresh raw oyster!

Teaching Us Tips

Teaching Us Tips

Meanwhile, we were intrigued by the cooking tips they gave us.  “It drives me crazy to see people buying egg separators,” Mary Sue Milliken informed us.  “Everyone has one — their hands!” added Susan Feniger as she showed us the separated yolk on her palm.  Mary Sue started talking about sharp and dull knives:  “Always use a sharp knife when you are cutting, because if you cut yourself, a sharp knife will make a nice clean cut, but a dull knife will make an ugly cut which is hard to stitch.  To make sure you don’t even cut yourself, always keep your thumb behind your other fingers.”  Mary Sue told us that her thumb crept up under the knife when she was nervous, so she was always growing back thumb tips. 

After a few more tips on peppers and grilling corn, we got to try yet another satisfying dish.  This one was our main meal.  When I was told what it was, I was very excited!  Rib Time!  Tomatillo-glazed baby back ribs were placed in front of me.  It was one of the best things I had that day!  The pork was so tender and juicy, and the gravy-like tomatillo glaze was full of flavor.  It was a bit spicy too … and it contained pork fat, which I liked.  The portion size was big, but I polished it off with a smile on my face.

Meat and Potatoes (Don't Forget the Corn!)

Meat and Potatoes (Don't Forget the Corn!)

On the side of the baby backs was Esquite, a corn dish, and “Smashed Potatoes”.   The Esquite was too sweet for me, but it had the perfect corn texture:  crunchy and a bit juicy, but not too much that it was soggy.  The Smashed Potatoes were easily related to twice-baked potatoes in the sense that it melted in my mouth and gave me that comforting flavor.  It was a great companion with the ribs.  You know what they say, meat and potatoes makes a perfect meal!  (My mom doesn’t say that!)

Churro Tots and Coffee!

Churro Tots and Coffee!

The last course, dessert, was Mary Sue’s Dulce de Leche Churro Tots and a luscious chocolate mousse.  It was the winning dish on an episode of “Top Chef Masters,” which is probably why she chose to make it for us.  I devoured the crunchy, sweet churro bites in seconds, and then I licked the dulce de leche caramel and chocolate mousse off of Mom’s, Dad’s, and my plates.  Yum!

After the fabulous meal, we waited in line to get the two chefs’ autographs and a picture.  When it was our turn, I told them and their publicist, Leah, about my blog.  They were very interested and really, really friendly.  They asked me to email it to them when I was done, and I agreed. (I am very excited to have famous chefs reading my blog!) 

Notes and Recipes from the Cooking Stars!

Notes and Recipes from the Cooking Stars!

They signed our cookbook and our recipe books from the class, and on my recipe book, they wrote some nice comments.  “Megan, you’re gonna be a kitchen star!” wrote Mary Sue Milliken.  “Wow, so excited to see your blog!” wrote Susan Feniger.  I was elated!  We took a picture together, and then I left, reflecting on all the things I had done that day.

I left the restaurant screaming:  “I’m overjoyed! I’m overjoyed!”  Literally.  What kind of drama queen does that!?  Oh, I forgot, I’m the drama queen.

When we got home, my dad and I made the dulce de leche syrup they taught us how to make.  We drizzled it over our homemade ebelskivers, and it was fantastic!

Trying the Recipes at Home

Trying the Recipes at Home

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the finale of “Top Chef Masters,” and Mary Sue is a finalist.  Be sure to watch her compete against Floyd and Traci.  It will be exciting!

I just want to thank Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger for giving me an amazing day!  Thank you!

 

 

Border Grill – Downtown LA

445 S. Figueroa Street

Los Angeles, CA 90071

(213) 486-5171

Twitter:  @BorderGrill

www.bordergrill.com

Susan Feniger’s Street

742 North Highland

Los Angeles, CA 90038

(323) 203-0500

Twitter:  @eatatstreet

www.eatatstreet.com

 

Behind the Scenes at Paciugo Gelato!

Paciugo's Showcase!

I went to Paciugo Gelato in Hermosa Beach, California recently.  Gelato is a delicious Italian ice cream-like dessert.  Paciugo Gelato also makes fresh fruit sorbet.   (The difference between gelato and sorbet is that gelato is milk-based, like ice cream, and sorbet is water-based.)

Paciugo had exactly 23 kinds while we were there, but I only tried eight.  The flavors I tried were Black Sesame, Pepe Nero (Black Pepper Olive Oil), Mamma Mia Apple Pie, Organic Maple Carmelized Bacon, Berry White (my absolute favorite flavor!), Lime Chili Mango, and Mela Verde (Green Apple). 

The Mela Verde was very sweet, but not sour at all!  I liked it, but it wasn’t my favorite flavor ever.  The Lime Chili Mango was tangy and sweet, and had a spicy kick at the end!  The Black Sesame gelato is crushed up sesame seeds, mixed with milk and uncrushed sesame seeds on top!  I loved it because it had the creamy gelato and the crunch of the sesame seeds.  The Pepe Nero tasted like olive oil with pounds of pepper ground into it.  There was no other way to describe it.  Seriously!  (I wonder if the owners at Oliovera like it or have tried it…)

Mamma Mia Apple Pie takes me to Thanksgiving or Christmas.  It is creamy Tre Vaniglie (Three Vanilla) gelato with luscious cinnamony apple slices.  It is one of my many favorite flavors, and I love the apple slices because they remind me of my dad’s special apples that he makes at home for breakfast. 

Bacon in Gelato!?!?

The organic Maple Carmelized Bacon gelato was caramel-y and bacon-y.  (My dad says these are not words, but I told him that they are “Megan words”!)  What I really noticed was the saltiness.  It was super-salty, just like I like my bacon to be.

In "Pretend Italy" With My Berry White Gelato!

Now the Berry White gelato.  It literally makes my mouth water to see it, but not get it.  (I’ll always order it anyway, if I am there.)  The delicious gelato is smooth, white chocolate gelato, with chips of more white chocolate, but it isn’t BERRY White for nothing!  The colorful raspberry swirl, made fresh, makes this gelato the king.  It the perfect combination of berries and chocolate (besides chocolate dipped strawberries).

Did you know that most people at Paciugo get gelato, instead of sorbet?  According to Brittny Burford, the owner of Paciugo, the favorite flavors are Brown Sugar Waffle Cone, Amarena Black Cherry Swirl (which is delicious with the Amaretto Chocolate Chip), Pannacotta (Wedding Cake), and Stracciatella (Chocolate Chip).  But the ABSOLUTE favorite is the Mediterranean Sea Salt Caramel.  Yum, Yum!

The Gelato and Sorbet Machine!

I love gelato and I have always wondered how they make it.  Brittny invited me to watch the staff make it one morning.  There is a huge gelato/sorbet machine that mixes the ingredients and squirts it out.  They put the gelato or sorbet in clean bins and put them in a showcase that holds up to 40 flavors.  Of course, they do not put out every flavor at the same time.  They make over 250 flavors total (all of which are described at www.paciugo.com)!  Go Paciugo!  You can also get up to five flavors in a single cup.

In my first ever interview for the blog, I asked owner Brittny these questions:  

Q:  How many flavors do you make at once?

A:  One at a time, and 32-40 per day.

Q:  What is your favorite gelato flavor?

A:  Anything including peanut butter.

Q:  If you had to mix two flavors of gelato, what kinds would they be?

A:  Amarena Black Cherry Swirl and Amaretto Chocolate Chip.  (Yum!  I love that mix!)

You don’t have to clean the machine every time to make a new flavor since each one only takes four minutes.  You build on to what’s left of the last flavor.  For example, you could make Pannacotta (Wedding Cake), then build on Sea Salt, then Cookie Dough, and so on.  But you can’t just build on anything.  For example, you couldn’t make Tre Vaniglie (Three Vanillas) out of the leftover Gianduja (Chocolate Hazelnut) gelato!  And you couldn’t make Tabitha’s favorite (Bubble Gum) out of Fondente (Dark Chocolate)!

No Bubble Gum Today, So Tabs Had Root Beer Float

A very special Thank You to Brittny and the Paciugo staff for letting me go behind the counter.   I had an amazing time, and I learned a lot.  I cannot thank you enough. 

I really LOVE gelato, and I hope you will too, because you are trying it … right?!?

A Familiar Sight for Me and Tabs

Paciugo Gelato Caffe

1034 Hermosa Avenue

Hermosa Beach, California 90254

www.paciugo.com