According to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, Americans consumed 464 pounds of vegetables and melons per capita last year. That figure represents a 2% increase over 1999 consumption figures. And with all that vegetable-eating, it’s no surprise that restaurants around the country are choosing to focus on vegetables in various creative ways. At Caliterra in Chicago, chef John Coletta is featuring an heirloom tomato menu during August, with specialties that incorporate tomato varieties such as Purple Cherokee and Plum Lemon. Offerings range from chilled soup to pizza, salads, risotto and accents such as tomato marmalade.
If you’re looking for meatless menu ideas, turn to this month’s recipe pages. From executive chef/owner Richard Sandoval of Maya in San Francisco comes a mushroom-rich strudel recipe. Also, at Dempsey’s Restaurant & Brewery in Petaluma, Calif., chef/owner Bernadette Burrell menus an Indian-Style Lentil Cake with Curried Onions. She grows organic fruits and vegetables at Red Rooster Ranch for use in Dempsey’s kitchen, a gardening activity which allows her to use the freshest locally grown products available. You’ll find her recipe, and others, on the following page.
World Spice Tour
There are two kinds of foodservice junkets: The first is the overblown, in your ear, nose, and palate promotion swamped with so much chit-chat and fanaticism about the sponsors’ products and missions, that the basis for the tour–to learn of foods and how they’re used–is lost amid the din and bother of the pitch.
The other is the junket as expedition, organized skillfully and executed with such finesse that one cannot help but marvel at the ingenuity of its implementation, pulled off with a singular purpose: to educate and inform with nary a peep of sponsor hustle.
Such was the event "The Spice Islands World Cuisine Expedition," sponsored by Durkee, November 2000, that took journalists on a 10-day trip to Cochin, India; Bali, Indonesia; and Istanbul, Turkey, where, as we dined on epicurean amusements laced with marvelous palate-invigorating spices, we came to appreciate how their zest and zing fused rather than confused the dish.
Durkee exposed us to three cultures as ethnically disparate as any in the world, while arranging for us incredible tastes of local foods, some of which we ate with knife, fork and spoon, some of which we ate with our hands (such was the ritual) at a mock-wedding reception in Cochin.
Often at mealtime or at interludes between meals, we heard experts talk of spices; of their migration and acceptance and adaptation from one country and culture to another; and how, inevitably and happily (as they migrated), they came to influence the preparations of dishes and cuisines throughout the world. That their influence has been felt in the U.S. comes as no surprise: melting-pot foods have invaded the kitchens of darn near every restaurant. And, yet, according to our experts, except for certain ethnically pure communes where adulteration of the original is viewed as sacrilege, the melting-pot versions concocted everywhere else, for the most part, bear little resemblance to the genuine article.
CIA president Ferdinand Metz spoke about spices, called them "the catalyst of global cuisine; part of the fabric of American cuisine." He alluded to the hodgepodge of menu items one is likely to find in many of our restaurants, blaming (in a nice way, of course) spices as the channel for what he called, "the cross-fertilization of cuisines. Like it or not," he said, "it is part of our culinary fabric, part of our culinary future." He cautioned us to use spices commonsensically. "They should support the dish, not dominate it. The difference between a good and extraordinary dish is the way the cook uses spices. Too often, spices overwhelm a dish, masking the intrinsic flavors of the meat, fish, fowl, or vegetable they are supposed to enhance. Yes, we need spices to elevate a dish that otherwise would be bland; but, we need not overdo it."
Jim Reiter, managing director of San Francisco-based Center for Culinary Development, admonished the group to dump cliches from their recipes and their thoughts and consider that where Indian cooking is concerned, curry is not the end all and be all; and that the one million Indians who have emigrated to Silicon Valley would probably appreciate a little deviation from what certain Indian restaurants perceive as standard. Continuing with his demographic considerations, Reiter went on to let us in on a little-known secret: "In the Dearborn-Detroit area live 300,000 Arabs, the largest settlement outside of the Middle East. They will not be happy with variations on hummus and couscous."
And finally, if sadly, Charles Corn, who passed away earlier this year, regaled us with his love of spices and spice islands, embellishing tales plucked from chapters of his remarkable book, Scents of Eden.
Eggs At The End Of The Meal
Customers might not think of it as eating eggs for dessert, but some of today’s popular meal-enders are certainly egg-rich recipes: créme brûlée and bread pudding are just two examples.
Créme brûlée in all its flavor variations can be seen on menus around the country. At Tantra in Miami Beach, pastry chef Ceci Seitz’s menu includes vanilla créme brûlée, while Caprial’s Bistro in Portland, Oregon, offers orange créme brûlée. Meanwhile, créme brûlée comes in triplicate at Mantra in Boston and Sonora Cafe in Los Angeles. Mantra executive chef Thomas John offers a tropical trio of mango, passion fruit and coconut créme brûlées. By contrast, at Sonora Cafe, chef Felix Salcedo’s trio includes vanilla, coffee and chocolate versions.
Bread pudding, with its comfort food connotations, is also appearing on more menus. Sonora Cafe offers capirotada (brioche bread pudding) served with warm caramel sauce and creme chantilly. All desserts at the restaurant are $7. At Caliterra in Chicago, executive chef John Coletta’s dessert menu includes hot chocolate panettone, a bread pudding with chocolate ice cream. Also from Chicago comes banana bread pudding served at Grace, where Michael Gaspard is executive chef. And speaking of flavors, Dan Staats of The Wellington Restaurant in Green Bay, Wisconsin, won Grand Prize in the Bruce Foods Corporation Sweet Potato Pancake Mix Recipe Contest with his recipe for sweet potato bread pudding. The recipe calls for diced sweet potatoes, dried cranberries and chopped pecans, and the bread pudding is served with a maple-flavored sauce.
At Pico, a Portuguese-inspired restaurant in New York City, executive chef John Villa’s dessert menu includes toasted almond and raisin bread pudding with Portuguese brandy ($8).
Herein, we provide a recipe for Portuguese-style bread pudding from Tony Rocha at Gala Ristorante in Arlington, Mass. Other egg-rich desserts on the menu at Gala include créme brûlée and Spanish flan.