Sep 5, 2014

The Good Ones Boston: Eat.Play.Love Top Chef Battle Series Finale!

I attended yet another fabulous culinary event hosted by Carolyn Kim and Jennifer Brooke Co-Founders of The Good Ones, Boston!  This was the grand finale in a series of four different chef battles featuring Boston's best culinary talent.  The event took place on Sunday August 24th at Michael Schlow's Tico restaurant in Back Bay. The event was themed as a modern take on Machiavelli and raised awareness for Cape Ann Fresh Catch, to encourage and promote our local sustainable seafood market in order to benefit the economy, environment, and overall health of our community. The Red/Purple/Yellow color theme brought out costume creativity among the guests who were dressed to impress. 

The jovial guests were greeted by the gorgeous models below, Drea Elizabeth and Miss Bulgarka in the USA, Elena Kollarova both wearing dresses designed by Carlos Villami of Zero Waste Fashion. The festive floral head pieces were created by Jimmy Guzman of JNG Design plus the hair and make-up by Kashmir of Viselli Santoro Salon was impeccable.  

Tico restaurant did a wonderful job of hosting the brunch crowd prior to the start of the battle.  They passed around everything from pork belly corn dogs to mushroom quesadillas, as well as the savory lamb sandwich. The vibe for this well organized event was smooth as the throwback hip hop tunes by Team Sayles played in the backdrop and the sun shined bright on this perfect August day.  Guests sipped on craft cocktails by resident bar tender Greg Neises, brand ambassador for Cazadores and Corzo Tequila, and the diligent restaurant staff graciously passed drinks around.  

 No event would be complete without some entertainment, and since the hip hop music took control of the dance floor, these uber talented hip hop hula dancers found themselves shaking things up with their rhythmic dance moves. They danced, they spun, and twirled those hula hoops all around inspiring many of the guests to play along as well.
 Meanwhile back in the kitchen the  two talented chefs work meticulously to prepare three courses a piece for the anxious guests.  The reigning champ, Chef Brendan Burke, known as the "Silent Chef", is a California native.  He made his way over to the east coast about 3 years ago with his first position as an Executive Chef at Gem's Restaurant and Lounge.  Soon after, Chef Brendan worked his way into the local culinary rankings and is currently the Sous Chef at one of the newest hot spots in town, Bastille Kitchen.

 The challenger pictured below is Resident Sous Chef Ben Harwood of Tico restaurant.  Also hailing from the West Coast, Chef Ben started his career at Farmshop in Santa Monica, CA.  It is there where his love of the farm to table concept grew.  Having access to an ample amount of local sustainable produce, Ben tapped into his creative culinary side and carved his own niche cuisine.

 Now onto the battle!  Whole Foods sponsored the food supplies for the event, and in addition to that, both chefs had a budget of $150 to feed around 100 guests quality cuisine with their signature trademark.  The chefs were also asked to incorporate the Machiavelli theme into their dishes whether it be the Italian Renaissance stylings of the original or the modern day interpretation through the music of the late Tupac Shakur, also known as "Makaveli"......

The first course (pictured below) by the competing chefs was superb!  Artisan Italian cheese was the common ingredient for this round, supplied by one of the event sponsors, The Mozzarella House.

On the left is Chef Brendan Burke's creation, a crostini topped with delectably creamy Stracciatella, a confit of cherry tomatoes, shaved asparagus, pesto hollandaise, all topped with black salt. A relatively simple dish, but it all comes down to the execution of each ingredient which makes the difference.

On the right is Chef Ben Harwood's seasonal fig and burrata salad served with a hazelnut pesto, crispy pancetta and arugala. Chock full of flavor and textural components, this was a party on a plate! Staying true to his style Chef Ben was able to highlight the beauty of the mission fig, an abundant summer fruit, who's season is slowly coming to an end.
 (The chefs worked non stop through out the afternoon as the guests gobbled up course after course of the tasty goodness pouring out of the Tico kitchen.)
 Course number two followed soon after, Pictured on the left is Chef Brendan's Blini topped with a summery seafood sausage consisting of lobster and other fruits of the ocean served with an apricot gastrique, chive sabayon, and balsamic "caviar".  This dish really demonstrated the skill of this talented chef, who delivered the technically better dish.

However, Chef Ben's second course, a duck heart arancini served with mushrooms and pickled cherries was a robust and hearty medley of flavors.  This dish incorporated seasonal fruit and paired it with other powerful ingredients, the combination really stood out to me. An original spin on an Italian classic, which really tapped into the whole Machiavelli theme in more ways than one......
  (Chef Ben feeling at ease in his kitchen as his team helps him plate up the next course.......)

The third and final round delivered by the chefs was the deciding factor.  Up until this point, both Chef Burke and Harwood have been consistent in quality and execution of each dish.

Chef Harwood served up a flavorful dish consisting of yet more seasonal produce like the braised chard and pork belly hash along with a poached egg topped with pork belly shavings. The runny yolk smothered all the deliciousness on the plate and proved to be a memorable combination of flavors, but could it match up the the reigning champ's dish.....

Chef Burke decided to go with a dessert for his final course, a chocolate and mascarpone tortellini with espresso whipped cream.  Clean, quaint, and perfect! This was the best way to wrap up the event, and clever on the part of the chef to deliver a dessert against his competitors heavier final course.    
 (Chef Brendan calling the shots as he plates up his final dish......)
Another fabulous component to the event were the signature cocktails sponsored by St.Elder, a "remarkably versatile" elderflower liqueur used to add floral sweet notes to festive drinks.  Modeled here by the lovely model Drea Elizabeth in another bespoke dress designed by the talented Carlos Villami of Zero Waste Fashion.

The final touch that puts The Good Ones event a step above the rest is their attention to detail.  They think of everything from arts to entertainment and sometimes both wrapped into one.  The fantastic caricature board below was created by the uber talented Mark Penta. He can quickly capture the very essence of someone's personality and create a unique cartoon version of them.  Needless to say this was a very popular station for the afternoon, I was fortunate enough to make the cut this time around, can you spot me in the mix?
Overall there were no complaints as the event wrapped up towards the late afternoon.  The music was playing, people were eating, drinking, dancing, and enjoying every aspect of this well organized affair.  Alas, the battle was complete, and there had to be one winner.  Hats off to both chefs who went head to head through the entire competition, but it was Chef Brendan's dessert, that put him a nose ahead of Chef Ben Harwood.

A hearty congratulations to the Chef Brendan Burke of Bastille Kitchen for  a job well done, and to Chef Ben Harwood of Tico restaurant for being such a strong competitor.  Looking forward to more culinary events and battles throughout the year as the busy season begins here in Boston.

Jul 29, 2014

The Good Ones Boston: Grecian Roof Top Celebration

This past week I had the pleasure to attend a fabulous event, a third in the series of Top Secret Top Chef battles, host by the talented team behind The Good Ones, Boston.  The event boasted passionate culinary enthusiasts and seasoned industry professionals at a roof top penthouse in the Seaport area. The theme for the evening was a modern interpretation of Greek Gods and Goddesses, which was enjoyably displayed by all the attendees. 


Among the talent for the evening was super mixologist Tenzin Conechok Samdo from Trade restaurant who prepared specialty libations exclusively for this event.  The unique drink menu consisted of concoctions such as Titan's Punch, Gaia Punch, Aphrodite DTO which all incorporated Crop Organic Vodka!  Motto sparkling matcha tea, much to everyone's liking was also used in the first of it's kind cocktail, the Olympian Collins.  Other beverage sponsors included Cisco Beer, Naragansett Beer, Hint Water and Zoos Greek Iced Tea.   

And as the sunset over the beautiful Boston skyline, the competing chefs prepared the Greek inspired feast for the evening.  The colorful culinary cast of characters included three teams of the area's best chefs: Brendan Burke and Tico Huyn of Bastille Kitchen, Jonathan Moriera of Post 390, and Brendan Smith of Uni Sashimi Bar. 

                      Brendan Burke                          Jonathan Moriera                     Brendan Smith

 Food and drink was celebrated throughout the evening by the guests and hosts.  In addition to the gorgeous seasonally inspired menu being prepared by the three fantastic teams,  nibbles were available throughout the roof top venue. With a focus on healthy eating and an organic lifestyle, Krave Jerky and Organic Living Super Foods supplied a variety of delicious snacks.

Krave Jerky is gluten, nitrate, MSG, and corn syrup free, making it the healthier jerky! Made in sunny California, these all natural meat snacks take things to the next level with the hand sliced cuts marinaded for 48 hours then baked for a tender jerky unlike any other. The extensive variety of jerky includes: pork, turkey, and beef, a couple of my favorites were the Sweet Chipotle and Chili Lime Beef Jerky,  moist and packed full of flavor.

"Health is essential for happiness" this is the philosophy Organic Living Super Foods lives by and I couldn't agree more.  Their range of  organic, raw, vegan, gluten free, and dairy free, living superfoods is impressive! Locally made by the passionate hands on owner, these products were created on the premise that allowed superfoods into ones diet to naturally aid in curing and preventing diseases such as cancer, heart disease, depression, inflammatory diseases. It really is as simple as that, take care of your body, and it will take care of you! The organic coconut fig superfood energy squares and raw organic sprouted pomegranate pistachios & almonds were some of my top picks from the uber healthy selection.


The evening was eventful all around and as the crowd began to stir, the appetites began to grow. The smells, sights, and sounds from the kitchen excited the guests as the anxiously waited in anticipation for the food to come.  The chefs were meticulously in the zone as they prepped and cooked all the wonderfully fresh produce, seafood, and cheese supplied by The Bees Knees and Mozzarella House, and Cape Ann Fresh Catch a culinary trifecta.  

The first course of the evening was served by Chef Jonathan Moriera of Post 390.  He started off the night with a Scarmoza wrapped with grilled zucchini ribbons served with balsamic marinated strawberries, an eggplant puree, and pistou (pictured left) and completed his set with this oven roasted haddock topped with an olive caponata (pictured right).  Both dishes were prepared well and set the bar high for the remaining two competitors of the evening.   

Chef Brendan Smith of Uni Sashimi Bar was up next. He took advantage of the gorgeous seasonal stone fruit and paired the grilled peaches with a delectably creamy Burrata and a squid ink reduction (pictured below).

His second dish tapped into his culinary seafood skills as he prepared a skillet fried monkfish with oven roasted salsify paired with grilled zucchini and a hazelnut crumble.  An interesting approach in execution and distinct flavors inspired by the modern Japanese cuisine he prepares at his respective restaurant.

Last up was the reigning champ from the previous battle, Brendan Burke and his sous chef Tico Huyn of Bastille Kitchen. Also known as the silent chef, when Brendan is in the kitchen he is focused and driven.   His culinary vision can be seen on the plate when he delivers gorgeous food balancing subtlety of flavors in a memorable way. His first dish (pictured below) is the Grilled Japanese eggplant stuffed with stracciatella cheese, dill and lemon. zucchini and sunflower seed pesto, fennel and pickled cauliflower salad.
His second dish and one of my favorites of the evening was the Striped bass crudo, olive oil, tarragon. apricot creme fraiche, grilled peach and cucumber relish (pictured below).

 The Good Ones were the perfect hosts for the evening and not only threw a fabulous party, but allowed each competitor to shine in their own light.  The guests had no complaints as the evening went from great to greater as they noshed and drank all the original event inspired food and drink. The results of this battle are yet to come.....we look forward in anticipation to hear about the winner and the next exciting culinary event!

Jul 4, 2014

Club Noor: Cumin Crusted Eggplant with Spicy Tomato Sauce and Savory Yogurt Topping


This dish is inspired by culture, history, and regional ingredients. The traditional name for this dish is  Borani, which refers to the eggplant with a garlicky yogurt topping.  It has ties to Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and India, so the origins are vague.  However, because of the use of local flavors and easy preparation, this is a dish that can be consumed on a regular basis, as a filling snack or meal.

My version of this dish incorporates a little extra protein by introducing the chickpea element to the tomato sauce. This makes it more substantial, but also adds texture and color in the presentation. The element of nigella sides also enhances the rich deep flavor of the tomato sauce, which pairs so beautifully with the cumin crusted eggplant.  The medley of spices also enhance each element of this dish to the next level, it’s one of this meals that will become a staple part of the menu, and one you will enjoy preparing as much as eating.

               Cumin Crusted Eggplant
               1 large eggplant
                sea salt
               cumin seeds
              1 TBL Noor Oil
Spicy Tomato Sauce
3 large local tomatoes
1 medium white onion finely diced
1 clove of crushed garlic
1 TBL crushed ginger
1 ½ tsp nigella seeds
pinch of garam masala
1 tsp. coriander Powder
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp. chili Powder
½ crushed red chilies
1 cup of chickpeas soaked, seasoned and cooked through
Salt to taste
5 fresh curry leaves
fresh chopped coriander
1-2 TBL Noor Oil
Yogurt Topping
1 medium container low-fat yogurt
2 tsp cumin powder
1 clove of crushed garlic
1 tsp dried mint leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Serves:  3-4 ppl  Preparation Time: 1 hour (+ a couple of hours to1 day ahead of time for the eggplants to drain)


First step is to slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch Rounds sprinkle with salt and set aside for a couple hours or overnight. This will bring out all the bitter juices in the eggplant and result in a tastier eggplant.
Pre-heat the oven to 200 C, After you’ve patted the eggplant dry, place in a bowl cover with Noor Oil, sea salt, and cumin seeds. Bake for about 20-30 minutes depending on thickness of eggplant. Turn once during the baking process. Remove from oven and keep warm. 

While the eggplant is cooking prepare the tomato sauce. In a medium sauce pan heat 2-3 TBL Noor Oil. Once it reaches a medium high temperature, add the nigella seeds to release all the aromatics and oils. Now add the onions, ginger and garlic cook until soft and all the flavors have melded. Now add the tomatoes and seasoning (coriander powder, chilli powder, turmeric powder, garam masala, crushed red chillies, salt). Stir until mixed thoroughly, If it starts to dry out, add a little water. Bring sauce to a boil, then reduce heat to low add the curry leaves and chickpeas. Simmer for 5 minutes and lastly add the fresh coriander leaves, stir, and remove from heat. 

Now make the yogurt topping by emptying the yogurt to a medium bowl. Add garlic, mint leaves, cumin powder, salt and pepper. Mix and keep in the fridge until ready to use. 

When you’re ready to serve place all the cooked eggplant slices on a large platter, then top with tomato sauce, and last with a dollop of yogurt. You can also garnish with fresh coriander or mint of you like.

Club Noor: Chocolate Banana Samosas with Chai Spiced Creme Anglaise


Desserts are a weakness for most people, especially after eating a spicy wholesome meal. There’s no better way to cleanse the palate than with a bite of a little sweet something.  When entertaining guests, it’s always best to plan ahead, which means taking the right steps to save time during the party.  These easy samosas are quick to make and store easily in the fridge or freezer for a crowd pleasing dessert everyone will love.
The key to making these delicious little desserts is using the right ingredients.  Over ripe bananas (when the skin is almost black) are the best to use, because they will mash easily and they are super sweet.  The chocolate will also make a difference in this, so I go a step above and use Lindt milk chocolate, but it’s really personal preference. 

I came up with this dish when I wanted something fun for the whole family to enjoy.  It takes the best of the east and west and puts it all together into the perfect little bite. 

2 Ripe Bananas
1 Lindt Milk Chocolate Bar, broken into small square/rectangle pieces
pinch of chai spice
1 package frozen samosa wrappers
1 tsp sugar
1 Egg (whisked)
Noor Sunflower Oil (for frying)

Chai Spiced Crème Anglaise
2 cups heavy cream
½  tsp vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
½ tsp *Chai Spice Mix
     *combine the following ingredients
       (reserve the remaining)      
 1 tsp Cinnamon
1/3  tsp Cloves
 1/3 tsp Ginger
 1/3 tsp All spice
 1 tsp Cardamom

Servings: 4            Prep Time: 1 hour


Make samosas ahead of time and chill.  Remove the springroll/samosa wrappers from the package, and place under a damp paper towel.

In a medium size bowl mash up the banana into a paste, add the dash of chai spice and the  1tsp of sugar.
Take the samosa wrapper, one at a time and fill with 1 tsp of banana filling and a small piece of chocolate towards one end of the strip.  Fold over one corner to form a triangle; continue to fold the wrapper all the way through.  Repeat until you have used all the filling. (You will have about 8 samosas per banana) Chill until ready to use or freeze for future use.

Next make the crème anglaise.  First, place a medium size ceramic/metal bowl into the freezer. Now in a sauce pan combine the cream, 1/8 cups of sugar, and the vanilla extract, bring almost to a boil.
In a separate heat proof, non-reactive bowl whisk the egg yolks, chai spice, and remaining sugar until smooth. 

Next temper the eggs with a tablespoon at a time of the hot cream. Then pour the egg mixture back into the pan with the cream and stir constantly at a medium temperature until thick.
Pour through a strainer/sieve into the chilled bowl to stop the cooking process and allow to cool.

When ready to serve, deep fry the samosas in medium hot Noor Sunflower oil, drain and serve with chai spiced crème anglaise.

May 6, 2014

Enjoy Convenient Meals at Home with DinnerTime ME

The DinnerTime concept has been around from one busy cosmopolitan city to the next, and it now caters to the residents of Dubai with creative meals using the freshest of ingredients delivered right to your door. With options ranging from daily to weekly deliveries, DinnerTime meets your meal requirements efficiently.  DinnerTime also has a Gluten Free dinner package option for those with dietary restrictions.   I received my weekly box delivery consisting of four meal options: Smoked Salmon and Spinach Risotto, Curried Chicken Noodles, Baked Cabbage Rolls, and Quick Cottage Pie. One large cardboard box was delivered with all the fresh vegetables and additional ingredients.  The proteins were delivered in a thermal food bag in order to keep everything as cold as possible.   
 The first meal prepared out of the four was the Smoked Salmon and Spinach Risotto. After reading the description of the dish, I knew I had to get my hands on that arborio rice and do some damage in the kitchen. The quality of the ingredients was top notch, with the exception of the cubed seafood stock of course.  I prefer to make my stock from scratch, but this is a convenient shortcut when time is a factor in the process.  Like all meals whether you buy your own ingredients or they are delivered to you, the most time consuming part is in the preparation.   After carefully reading the directions I organized my ingredients into ready to go portions for an easier execution. Cooking can become burdensome if your kitchen doesn't stay organized, keep these top tips in mind for a cleaner and more productive cooking space!
 The final outcome of this recipe is pictured below. The arborio rice was perfectly al dente based on my personal preference and the spinach tendrils delicately woven through the rice gave it that wholesome touch I always enjoy in my meals. The rosettes of salmon placed on top of the rice offered another dimension of smokey flavor, and according to the recipe supplied, the goats cheese here was the final touch. I would have omitted the cheese in this particular dish as there were so many other robust ingredients used, but it comes down to an individuals taste.  Some of my guests enjoyed the dish as is and  others concurred with my sentiments.  Nonethless the meal was tasty, I just felt the portion was a little small.
The following meal prepared was the Curried Chicken Noodle. A generous serving of carbs and minced chicken along with red bell peppers and heaps of fresh herbs. The red curry paste used in this recipe had some heat, so make sure you proceed with caution if your tolerance for chili is low. I also thought it could have used a touch of cocount milk or something sweeter to balance the powerful taste of the curry and spice.  The recipe also states the fish sauce is optional, but it needs the salty seafood touch to round out the other pungent ingredients.  Aesthetically pleasing and  easy to prepare, this plentiful mound of noodles was prepared in under 30 minutes.
The Baked Cabbage Rolls and Quick Shepards Pie were less popular among my guests for dinner options. Although both were hearty and filling for a family/party of four, the appeal wasn't as enticing as the first two. Every week the menu changes, so make sure you check out the DinnerTimeME website for the most up to date info and delivery times. With choices ranging from pumpkin salads to eggplant pizzas and even a Thai cashew chicken, meal time  never sounded so good!  Now all that's left is dessert.....

Have you ever tried Dinner Time ME or a similar service?  What are your thoughts? 

May 4, 2014

Southern Food Done Right at Novotel's Cravin' Cajun

The Cravin' Cajun concept  at The Novotel hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road was introduced to me by some media colleagues, who keep their ear to the ground about all the happenings in the region.  Long story short, they only highlight the best of the best, and persisted until I made my way over to this unique concept in Dubai. I am so glad they did because as far as REAL soul food goes in the UAE, it's virtually non existent, until the introduction of this funky new joint. With a head chef recruited straight from the bayou, this was a promising culinary adventure deep into the southern wild.
The menu was chock full of southern classiscs, creole, and cajun style dishes. The first on the list of "Must Haves" according to Chef Jeff, a Louisiana native, was the gumbo. Scented with the signature ground sassafras leaves, also known as gumbo file powder, this strong flavored soup with home-made Andouille chicken sausage and okra has a nice kick. The medley of southern flavors really stood out as we dissected this soup bite after delectable bite. Chef Jeff Whitfield had executed one of the most delicious gumbos I have ever tasted outside of New Orleans.
Another pleasant surprise from the appetizer menu was the baked brie en croute smothered in a honey maple pecan sauce.  Anything described as en croute means has to be ordered as far as I'm concerned, how could one resist anything wrapped up in a pastry dough and baked in an oven? The combination of the sweet sauce and savory cheese was perfectly balanced along with the buttery pastry dough which brought everything together beautifully. This treat along with many other of Chef Jeff's creations accurately represents Cajun cuisine, a touch of French-Canadian influence melding with the best of the Southern region.
All of the items at Carvin' Cajun are created with a signature New Orleans touch, I recommend going with a group of at least four in order to try a little bit of everything . The entrees feature everything from blackened catfish to a jambalaya, however the hands down favorite was the southern classic chicken and waffles.  It could be that this item is novel outside the Southern US, but the combination of Fried chicken, cornbread waffles, sauteed cabbage, and  potato puree, smothered in a turkey gravy and drizzled with a chili-spiced maple syrup knocked it out of the park. By no means was this a dish to calorie count, in fact after sharing it among our party, we considered ordering another round because it was so addictingly good.  However the waitstaff were savvy enough to remind us about the desserts, so we decided to hold off and save the little space we had left.    
Everything on the sweeter side of the menu was enticing my curiosities.  It had been a  while since I had seen peanut butter pies anywhere in the UAE.  In addition to this Southern favorite was a classic Pecan Pie, Nola's signature Beignets, and the ever so popular Bananas Foster French Toast.  Needless to say our task was a difficult one here, which one to order? So we did ourselves a favor and tried them all!  Everything we tasted was good, but the highlight of the evening was the nutty chocolate treat, peanut butter pie. I am generally a fan of this combination of flavors, but because of the density of the ingredients used, it can often go very wrong.  Cravin' Cajun's version of this dessert was light and tasty, the exact formula to make you want to go back for more.
Not only was the food absolutely fantastic, the ambiance was uber cool with smooth jazzy tunes from the live band which made the evening with friends a memorable one.  The Cravin' Cajun experience is not for the faint hearted, but one I encourage those with an appetite for rich Southern soul food to try.  It is an affordable food memory that will stay with you for years to come. Make sure you wear your elastic waist pants and be prepared to indulge in a calorie fest like no other. Cravin' Cajun is open Mon-Sat for dinner from 7:00 pm-11:30 pm. For more information, click on the link below.

                                                         Novotel hotels

Chicken and Waffles are a classic, what's your favorite Southern Dish?