Football food: A Game day tradition

With the Superbowl just around the corner, I wanted to re-post one of my favorite pieces from the past.  This originally appeared on www.ciaopittsburgh.com on January 31, 2013.

finishes calzonesI have a great Dad. While I was growing up, he was the best Dad any kid could ever ask for. He could put my hair in braids, play games with me and bring me a glass of juice while I was sitting on the couch watching my favorite TV show.

I guess you could say I was Daddy’s little girl. Yes, he spoiled me. How could he not, I looked like a mini version of him growing up. Even now I still look just like him, nothing really has changed. The only difference is that we have aged a bit and have gotten a few more grey hairs.

From my parents, I inherited the best traits each from them. I look like my mellow, Portuguese Dad but I have my mother’s fiery Italian personality.
I would say it is a healthy combination of the two, I guess I have the best of both worlds.

The other familial trait that was passes along to me from my parents was the ability to cook. Both parents cooked meals in our house growing up; they were equally adept in the kitchen.

I was a lucky to have this experience as a kid growing up. It explained why I always loved to be in the kitchen with them.

One of my fondest memories of my Dad in the kitchen is of him cooking his famous football food. As a child, I liked football season. Not only did I get to hang out with my Dad and watch football, but there was a shift in the type of cooking that went on in the house.

We called it football food. This genre of food that my Dad would make that only came out during football season, hence the term football food.

My Dad would help cook throughout the year but all that changed when football season started. During this time, my Dad began to cook the “Sundays Dinners”. Sundays were usually reserved for big Italian dinners, but not during football season.

My Dad is a huge football fan. He would watch his favorite team, and also would like to watch other games. On Sundays, the TV went on after lunch and stayed on most of the day. He just liked to watch football and eat good food.

We still ate our big dinners together as a family, that was a must and that never changed. The cuisine was different, it was football food. We went about our business on Sundays and life went on, however there was always the din of the football game in the background.

It was always fun to help my Dad cook on game days. We would be in the kitchen preparing the food and the football game was on the TV, there was just a hint of excitement in the air. I loved the way the house smelled on these days.

My Dad could make almost anything and it would be incredible. He could cook some Italian dishes, but Ma did most of that type of cooking. Dad’s pot roast is mouth wateringly fork tender, his BBQ spare ribs are mind blowing, he makes a mean beef stew and his chicken soup is to die for. My Dad is the master of the crock-pot, the czar of grilled sausage and the tycoon of tacos.

When the play offs came and during the Super Bowl, my Dad stepped up his game. He then brought out some favorites that only came out during these types of games. He would make his special game day chili and chicken wing, nachos, assorted dips and chips.

Sometimes we had a large crowd and other times it was just the immediate family. No matter the amount of people, the food portions never changed. My Dad’s worst fear was that half time would come and he would run out of food.

My Dad would always have his favorites stand by foods during these big games, but he would always like to add a few new dishes as well. That was always exciting because you never knew what he would make until it was game day.

I always think about how much fun the Super Bowl was for me growing up, and now I try to the same for my family. I do enjoy a good game of football but I think that I enjoy the football food a little more.

cooking in the kitchenMy Dad recently came in for a visit and I had to have him make one of his specialty football foods while he was here. It was so much fun to cook with my Dad; it reminded me of being a kid in the kitchen again with him.

It was a special for me to do this again, and my children loved coming in from school having these delicious snacks waiting for them.

He shared one of his recipes for a great game day snack

I hope that you enjoy it.

Buon Appetito,
Nicky

Dad’s Mini Italian Sausage Calzones

Ingredients:

1lb Italian Chicken sausage- removed from casings
2 small onions- finely diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups shredded mozzarella
2 cans large of refrigerated biscuits
Marinara sauce or pizza sauce for dipping
Directions:

Preheat oven according to biscuit directions. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat and add the sausage and the onion.

Cook it until it is golden brown, season with salt and pepper to taste and drain off any excess oil. Let it cool.

cooking-sausage-copy-150x150

Roll out biscuits into a large circle. In the center of the biscuit add a heaping tablespoon of the sausage, and then add a heaping tablespoon of shredded mozzarella cheese to that.

Fold the edges over and bring together to seal. Use a fork to seal the edges together. calzone-making-copy-150x150Bake according to directions or until golden brown.

Serve with warm marinara sauce

These mini calzones work well will pizza dough or readymade pie crust, just cut into desired mini size and roll into circles, bake @ between 350- 375 for 20-30 min or until golden brown (oven times and temperature may vary depending on the size and thickness of the dough)

inside calzone (3)

Check out Nicky D Cooks on Cookspeak

profile picHappy New Year!

Please join me this Sunday January 4th at 11am for another podcast adventure with the Cookspeak host Tom Totin. This is my second time talking with Tom and I am really looking forward to another fun interview.

We will talk more on my favorite subjects- food, cooking and kitchen life. Of course we talk about my comical life being an Italian and coming from in an Italian American home.

You can listen to the interview by going to talkshoe.com a few minutes before the interview. The Cookspeak icon will appear on the screen and you can then access the podcast. Or if you want to listen by phone, call the same number that you will call to access the show- 724-444-7444. If you miss the live broadcast, the archive of the podcast will be on this webpage as well.

For more information on Tom Totin and his podcast, check him out on twitter @cookspeaktom or on talkshoe.com

I hope that you join in with me this Sunday.

Italian Style Fried Cauliflower

cauliflou1

Originally appeared on ciao Pittsburgh, December 19, 2014

My Italian Grandmother decided to bestow some advice to me when I entered adulthood.

The first tidbits came in the form of kitchen wisdom; when you are cooking always bless your food, cook in odd numbers and throw the salt over your shoulder for good luck in your kitchen. These were pretty much straight forward and easy enough to follow. I still do these to this very day.

The second piece of advice came before I met my future in- laws and their extended family. As I was getting ready for my trip out to Pittsburgh, my grandmother told me, “don’t be nervous…..you will never be alone in a crowd if you find a couple of Italians (Italian Americans)…they will always make you feel welcomed”

The latter piece of advice was so heartfelt and sincere. I knew that she was a wise woman and would not steer me wrong.

I just had never thought that some twenty years later, I would hear my Grandmothers words echoed when I embarked on my professional career.

When I started out blogging and writing, I set out trying to preserve a piece of my family’s culture and history. Italian American peasant food is about a life style, a reflection of a group of people ( mostly immigrants) who endured hardships yet managed to feed themselves and their families with what they had available.

When you meet a fellow Italian American, you feel a connection or a bond with that person because you have similar backgrounds and shared stories. You have walked a mile in their shoes, you know where they are coming from.

Talking about food creates an instant connection to people. This is especially true in the Italian American community. If you gather a few of us together, inevitably the subject will always will come around to the subject of food.

So much of our lives is dictated by food- holidays, family gatherings and celebrations. I know other cultures do emphasize food, but I can only speak for my ever loving crazy Italian family. It was always about the food and the important role that it had in our lives.

One of the greatest things in writing about food is hearing from people that read my blogs. I love to hear the stories about how Italian American peasant food relates to their lives. So many times I have had people tell me that a recipe I wrote about has triggered a memory of a dish that they had grown up with, or that it reminds them of a dish that their grandmother used to make.

I find that food and recipes do connect people, and I am so happy to be the conduit to which make this happen.

The holidays are by far my favorite. I enjoy the cooking and baking chaos that goes with this holiday season. I also truly enjoy hearing what others are doing to prepare for this holiday.

I especially look forward Christmas Eve and La Vigilia or the Feast of the 7 Fishes.
The Feast of The 7 Seven Fishes is a truly spectacular event. People dusting off recipes and don their buffet pants. It is a meal that comes once a year, filled with much anticipation and festivities.

When I moved to Pittsburgh several year ago, I had found that there was one dish that was continually being made that for the Christmas Eve Feast, one that I had never heard of.

It was Italian Fried Cauliflower.cauliflour2

This dish was served as part of the dinner and it seemed that many Italian Americans in Pittsburgh were making it or eating it. I was very curious about this dish; it sounded absolutely delicious.

I finally had a chance to learn a lot about this dish from Chuck Johnston, a local Italian guy who grew up in Western Pa.

Chuck traces his Italian heritage to his mother’s side. Her family is from Abruzzi in a town called Pescocostanzo. On Christmas Eve, there were always fish dishes (a favorite of his is Tuna in Spaghetti Sauce) and always lots of Italian cookies and nuts rolls for dessert. There was also Italian Fried Cauliflower.

Chuck told me about his family and the tradition of eating the Italian Fried Cauliflower on Christmas Eve. He was kind enough not only to answer my questions, but shared his family’s recipe for amazing dish.

Chuck no longer lives in Pittsburgh, but his roots still run deep here, especially when it comes to celebrating Christmas Eve. He told me that the Italian Fried Cauliflower was always a favorite part of the Christmas Eve Dinner, and he still makes it to this very day.

The cauliflower is really delicious and straightforward. Chuck says that if he could convince his mom, he would ask her to make it for other holidays as well. He explained that the key to a successful Italian Fried Cauliflower is that you need to steam it so it is cooked, but not cooked fully because you will be frying it again in the oil.

Once the cauliflower is steamed, you bread it and fry it. He also suggests that you have salt, pepper and grated cheese available for your guests for serving this dish.

Chuck has solution for any extra breadcrumbs that you might have leftover. According to him “if you have any breadcrumbs and bread left over….mix them together and fry it…. I know it’s bad for you – kind of like hush puppies”.

Thank you Chuck for sharing his family’s recipe. I have tried this several times already and I will be making this on Christmas Eve this year.

I hope you enjoy it.

Buon Appetito,

Nicky
Chuck Johnston’s Italian Fried Cauliflower

Seasonings are arbitrary. That is, ultimately you will make it the way you like it. This is the way we like it. The great thing is, you’ll have to make it more than once to see how you like it best! We love this!

Ingredients:

Cauliflower – one large head should make enough for eight or ten people (or depending on how greedy they are….haha!)
Flour
Eggs
Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
Oil – we use a combination of Safflower and olive oil.
Onion salt
Black pepper
Parmesan Cheese

cauliflour5Cut the cauliflower into smallish pieces (not bite-sized) and steam for a very short time; maybe five minutes, but you don’t want it too soft, because you will be frying it for ten minutes or so.

Mix salt and pepper into the flour (or you can add it to the breadcrumbs if you want) – not too much. Add Parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs (we use a good amount – you will probably have to experiment a little).

Scramble the egg.

Get the oil hot, but don’t keep the heat too high – you don’t want the cauliflower to burn.

Dip it into the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. Put it in the pan, and fry until golden brown. When done, put it on a plate with paper towels to soak up any extra oil (you can keep it in a warm oven if you’re not going to eat it right away).

Have plenty of salt, pepper and grated cheese for your guests to season their Italian Fried Cauliflower.

Feast of The 7 Fishes Class

heins logo 14I  am very excited to be cooking with my friend Mary Menniti from The Italian Garden Project, this Saturday at the Heinz History Center, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014.

Join us at the History Center as we share our knowledge about the rich Italian tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Learn the origins of this holiday tradition as well as samples of some of the foods prepared for this feast.

This program is presented in partnership with UPMC Health Plan and the History Center’s Italian American Collection.

At this point the event is sold out; this Healthy Heritage program is at capacity.
Please contact Melissa Marinaro at 412-454-6426 or memarinaro@heinzhistorycenter.org with any questions.

http://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/events.aspx?EventID=466

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Shorty’s Lunch

First appeared on eatpgh.com on October 29, 2014

“So you have never had a Short’s Hot Dog?”

That was the question posed to me when I first moved to Washing County. Every local spoke so highly of this luncheonette, I needed to go in search of this place and have a Shorty’s dog. I do adore a good hotdog and places that are frequented by locals are usually spot on.

If you have never heard of Shorty’s Lunch, well that is because they don’t advertise. Everything is word of mouth, and they have been a thriving business since in Washington, PA since the 1930’s. They have 2 locations, the original shop on West Chestnut St in Washington and another newer location in Washington on Jefferson Ave, Wolfdale.

Both places have their own unique charm with a strong lunch counter vibe to it. The food is equally delicious and it is served quickly. So it is a matter of preference where you would like to eat your Shorty’s Dog.

The menu at Shorty’s Lunch is not extensive, nor terribly expensive! There is only about a dozen of items to order from on the menu board on the wall. They have a couple of sandwich choices like Roast Beef and Fish both for under $3 dollars, as well as hamburgers ($1.60) and hotdogs ($1.55). The French Fries come with or without gravy and in two sizes, the large is around ($2.05) and the gravy will have an additional charge of 30 cents.

They are known for their hotdogs and most people are there for these tasty morsels of goodness. So don’t fret because about the lack of choices because the taste of these hotdogs will make up for it. Yes, they are that amazing.

shortydogsHow can I best describe these hotdogs? It is like comfort on a plate, nirvana on a warmed bun with a layer of blissful chili sauce on top. Your mouth will taste every delicious morsel, while you mind will slip into a state of ultimate enjoyment. It is a true eating experience!

The hotdogs have a unique chili sauce that is not overly meaty nor overly spiced, it is just right flavor combination to go with the hotdogs. I like mine all the way with onions, mustard and chili sauce. You can get them any way that you would like.

The perfect accompaniment with your Shorty’s Dog, a warm plate of French fries with frieswgravy (1)gravy. I balked at first, but eventually I came around. It is like Poutine or Disco fries sans the cheese, it is a must while you are dining here.

Shorty’s Lunch is a friendly and welcoming place. At any given point the lunch counter seats filled with a melting pot of individuals, from chefs, attorneys, construction workers and families with small children. It has a wonderfully eclectic feel about it, and has that buzz that only a small town eatery can have.

Even though is where all the locals go to eat and visit, everyone is treated like they are returning customers. That is a hard concept to achieve, but Shorty’s Lunch does do a nice job of it.

It is Washington, PA best kept secret. I highly recommend you make the trip and get yourself a Shorty’s Dog.

Shorty’s Lunch (the original location) 34 W Chestnut St, Washington, PA (724) 228-9919 and Shorty’s Lunch 2301 Jefferson Ave, Washington, PA (724) 228-1327.

frieswgravy (2)

eatPGH latest and greatest

first appeared on the Food Tasters Guide, October 22, 2014

eatpghBookWell, the amazingly talented writers at eatPGH have done it again. They have come out with the second edition of the Food Lovers’ Guide to Pittsburgh. This is the quintessential food book for all the best places to eat, drink, and buy food in and around the city of Pittsburgh.

The eatPGH bloggers are a dynamic team of writers who keep their readers updated on Pittsburgh’s ever evolving food scene. These bloggers are great at keeping abreast of what is happening in and about the city with all things related to food.

The second edition of the book has everything the first book had but with updated information; restaurant reviews, highlights of food festivals and events, noteworthy specialty shops and local libations. It still features sidebar stories, and they are now updated with new food places that highlight interesting Pittsburgh foods and notable Pittsburghers in the city’s culinary industry.

The newest addition includes a bakery section, it is a rundown of where to get the best baked goods in the city. If you want to find great homemade donuts, pies, cookies or bread in Pittsburgh, let this list be your guide.

I was also happy to see that there was still a recipe section in the book. Several Pittsburgh chefs have recipes in here, and the newest one comes from the downtown restaurant Grit & Grace. Chef –Owner Brian Pekarcik and Chef de Cuisine Curtis Gamble have come up with their take on the side dish of peas and carrots: Roasted Carrots, Fresh Cheese, Toasted Edamame, Little Gems Lettuce, and Chili Vinaigrette. I am putting this on my list of recipes to try because not only does it looks really good, but the list of ingredients sound just amazing in itself.

One of the recipes that was brought over from the first edition, was the Spaghetti Carbonara from E2’s Chef Kate Romane. This has been an elusive dish for me, because it is not something I grew up eating. Many Italian dishes were made in my family, but this was not one of them. I recognize the peasant style elements to this dish; the ingredients are pantry staples and the cooking method isn’t complicated.
Eggs, bacon, peas, cream, Parmesan Cheese and pasta, I have these things in my kitchen but the thought of these ingredients cooking together with pasta, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

I know it will yield a hearty and amazingly tasting dish because all of those items by themselves are all so delicious. I had wanted to make this recipe, yet for some reason I had never attempted it.

After seeing the recipe in Food Lovers’ Guide to Pittsburgh again, I knew that I needed to make this dish.

I wanted a Spaghetti C4cookingarbonara tutorial, and I had the best person to show me how to do it. I called my friend Blair Hohn. Blair is a graduate from the Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts (Pittsburgh). He is the chef and Co- Owner of The Salted Pig. Blair did his apprenticeship at the Oakmont Country Club and is currently a chef at a private county club in Pittsburgh.

Who better to teach me than a chef? A Pittsburgh chef teaching me to make a recipe from another Pittsburgh chef. It was the perfect situation and it was something that needed to happen.

So Blair packed up his knives and apron, then came to my house to show me how to make a proper Spaghetti Carbonara. He is a chef who takes his craft seriously. However, he is always willing to share his knowledge and is so generous with his insights and cooking tips.

Watching a trained chef cook it is like poetry in motion. The knives move in fluid motions, the way they sauté and flip vegetables in a pan is just mesmerizing. These movements are effortless but meaningful, graceful and yet intentional.

However, if I were to copy these moves I would look like a Muppet’s character trying to dance the tango, it just wouldn’t work!

teaching me how to plate the final productTrying to write everything down was a little challenging. For you see, chefs are always several steps ahead in the cooking plans and work at such a lightening quick pace. Thankfully Blair was able to stop mid-course to make sure that I was able to capture every step in the process.

There may appear to be many steps in making this recipe, but by do each one succinctly it will guarantee the success of this dish.

We used the recipe in the book as a guide, so the measurements were basically the same. The techniques and the steps are slightly varied, and some of the ingredients are different than what the original recipe called for. For example, we used Pancetta instead of bacon, but either one will work well. Also we used organic eggs instead of the farm fresh eggs that were originally called for. The pasta we used is dried, but fresh is a great option if you can get it. For the cheese, we used Parmigiano-Reggiano, but Parmesan cheese will work too. Lastly, we used frozen peas for this recipe. If you can locate fresh peas, you need to blanch them and then drain them well first before incorporating in the dish.

2final product spaghetti carbonaraThis is such a flavorful dish, so rustic and so simple. Don’t let the numerous steps in the directions sway you from making it, because once you have done it you will be able to condense the steps.

Like any peasant dish, use it as a guide and have fun with it. It is a forgiving dish and the perfect recipe to satisfy a hearty appetite during these cold winter months here in Pittsburgh. I guarantee you will add this to your recipe collection once you have made it and you will be happy you did.

I hope you enjoy it.

Buon Appetito,
Nicky

Adapted Spaghetti Carbonara from Food Lovers’ Guide to Pittsburgh.
1/2 lb dried spaghetti
3 slices of Pancetta (chopped)
3/4c – 1c heavy organic cream
1/3- 1/2c frozen peas (defrosted)
Fresh ground black pepper & Kosher Salt
1 organic egg (cracked)
Chopped Parsley (2-3 tablespoons)
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (to taste)
Extra virgin olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)

Directions

In a stock pan, heat water for pasta according to directions. Do not add salt to the water- this will come later. Reserve some of the pasta water for later use. By not adding the salt, this will yield a pure pasta flavor to the water- trust me on this step.
In another pan, heat olive oil in a pan on medium heat, add the chopped Pancetta and cook until the pork pieces become golden brown and crispy. Be careful not to burn them. Remove the pork pieces from the pan, put them on a paper towel to drain and set aside.

You will have brown bits of pancetta and rendered fat at the bottom of this pan. To this now add the cream and a pinch of salt (1/4 tsp) on a medium heat, cook to reduce the cream about 5-7 minutes. This will be done when the cream will coat the back of a spoon and has a gravy like consistency to it. Take the pan off of the heat and set aside.
Put peas in a colander and run under hot water, this get your peas to room temperature. Drain them and set them aside.

Cook pasta to before al dente (according to directions go a minute or two before the al dente time), drain the pasta and now add a pinch of salt to the hot pasta, sprinkling all around the pasta and set aside. Make sure to toss it around the colander to spread the salt flavor all around. This is a trick that was shown to me by Blair, and it works.

Get the rest of the ingredients to assemble the dish. Put the pan with the cream back on the stove top at a medium low heat. Immediate add the cracked egg, now stir it, add the peas, pinch of salt and a handful (about ½ c) of the cheese and stir. Add more cheese to taste if needed, and adjust the salt taste to your satisfaction.

The sauce will be thick now, if you want a thinner sauce, add a little of the pasta water now, a tsp at a time. You want a gravy consistence, something to easily coat the pasta.

Add the cooked pasta now and keep stirring until the pasta is coated and finished cooking in the sauce, about, be careful not to burn the sauce. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Garnish with the cooked pancetta pieces, parsley and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately, you can add more grated to taste.

Check out Nicky D Cooks on Cookspeak

First appeared on Ciao Pittsburgh, October 10, 2014biopic

Please join me this Sunday October 12th at 11am. I am being interviewed by the host of the Cookspeak podcast series Tom Totin. I will talk with Tom about food, cooking and the fun filled adventures that I had being raised in an Italian American family.

Tom Totin has been hosting the podcast series for about 6 ½ years. When he is not interviewing guests for his show, he works as a chef at Frescos in Wexford. He has worked in the culinary industry for 39 years. Tom has had a bevy of guests on his show some of which included; food writers, scientists, actors, columnists, and even a former astronaut. The home base for the podcast is the Pittsburgh Public Market.

You can listen to the interview by going to talkshoe.com a few minutes before the interview. The Cookspeak icon will appear on the screen and you can then access the podcast. Or if you want to listen by phone, call the same number that you will call to access the show- 724-444-7444. If you miss the live broadcast, the archive of the podcast will be on this webpage as well.

For more information on Tom Totin and his podcast, check him out on twitter @cookspeaktom or on talkshoe.com

I hope that you join in with me this Sunday.

Ciao,
Nicky

100 Foot Journey through a Chef’s Eyes

“Food is memories”, no truer words have ever been spoken. One smell can bring you back in time, put you in a moment. Eating a simple dish can evoke such a strong memory, which is something that we never quickly forget.

This was the thought that I had going through my mind as I sat watching the movie 100 Foot Journey.

The_Hundred_Foot_Journey_(film)_posterSpoiler Alerts Ahead! If you do not want to know about the movie, then stop reading now! If you do want to read about seeing this movie through the perspective of a chef and foodie, then continue on.

It is the story of a young chef Hassan Kadam’s culinary journey from Indian to France. He and his family finally settle in the village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in France. While there his father opens an Indian restaurant. Hassan cooks at his family’s restaurant but then begins to discover a new world of food and French Cooking.

 

Hassan Kadam is a young chef with a gifted palate. Throughout the story Hassan experiences a culinary metamorphosis. In doing so, this movie gives people an insight into what it is like to have a chef’s gastronomic passion in life.

What is most extraordinary is the food. The food, the cooking scenes and eating are as central to the story as the characters. The close ups, the way the scenes are shot, and the food are always front and center.

I know that I was enthralled, and I let out a few audible gasps of delight when the magnanimous shots of breath taking foods filled up the entire movie screen. There were so many foodie type people in the audience, we all shared in our admiration for the food cinematography.

I had one gnawing thought once I left the theater, was this an accurate portrayal of food in the film? Fusion of two distinct and steadfast cuisines are blended, but can it actually happen?

I had a myriad of questions about this movie. So I did what any foodie would do, I went to get answers. I decided to ask a friend of mine for some help on this matter.
I asked a friend who is a chef.

blair@workBlair Hohn III is a classically train chef from the Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts (Pittsburgh). Blair is the chef and Co- Owner of The Salted Pig. He has worked in various places in an around Pittsburgh. He did his apprenticeship at the prestigious Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh and is currently a chef at a private county club near the city.

I have had samples of his food, and it is just simply delicious. He will occasionally bring me some of his homemade fudge as well as Italian sausage. Pork and chocolate, oh my goodness it is so amazing and I love it when we get together.

So I asked Blair to go to the movies with me. I know that he was curious about this because of my incessant food questions since my first time seeing the film. I did bring him some of my homemade anise biscotti as a small bribe and that made him happy.

Afterwards I sat down and hit him with a barrage of question. Blair is passionate about his craft and loves to share his knowledge. He is a kind person who doesn’t mind explaining things to people who are not in the food business or as I like to say “people who don’t speak chef”. Chefs have their own language and acronyms. Blair will explain and share helpful hints but do it in a way that is easy to understand and home cook friendly.

The premise of the movie is that this Hassan infuses his natives spices into traditional French Cooking and reaches the culinary greatness. When I asked Blair about the blending of the 2 cuisines, as it was demonstrated in the movie, he said that “it can be done”.

French Cooking “has been around a long time, it had a very strict rules to be considered classical French Cuisine”. The chef (main character) was “thinking outside of the box, I like to think outside of the box… just because (a style of cooking) it has been done for 200 hundred years doesn’t mean that it is the only way to cook something”.

He added that “this (movie) was written for chefs who have passion…. (Hassan) has passion and knows how to push boundaries and that boundaries sometimes need to be pushed”.

For example the Hollandaise Sauce scene he pointed out to me. The fat that was used was olive oil and in traditional French Cooking it is butter. Blair makes his Hollandaise Sauce with butter but if you “want to think outside the box and use olive oil, then make it that way“.

During the omelet scene Blair let out a guffaw. I questioned him about this afterwards. “It was the banging of the omelet pan that is the way they teach you to do that”. He laughed because he remembers learning that technique in school. He looked at me and then said “that is the right way to make an omelet”.

Hassan possess an extraordinary palate and this is what separates him from other chefs. Hassan has the “gastronomic equivalent of perfect pitch”.
I asked Blair if this something you are born with it or is it something you can be taught?

He pondered this for a moment and said “both”. In culinary school “you are taught how to cook and blend spices (for cooking) but that doesn’t make you a chef”.
“Cooking and knowing what goes together, how they blend and taste together though experience (and working)…. that is how you learn and become a chef”.

I gathered through our conversation that you can have an idea about how tastes blend together, and build upon that. Some people are better than others at it and know how to push the boundaries in tastes.

At one point in the movie the main character Hassan Kadam reaches culinary success. He get his Michelin Stars and becomes a chef de cuisine at a premiere restaurant in Paris. I was curious about these elite chefs.

Blair’s first response to me was that “chefs of this caliber, Michelin Star, are like no other, they eat, sleep and drink food, and they are intense”. These stars are about just more than the food, they are about the restaurant as a whole.

He has cooked dishes that are on par with Michelin Star cuisine, however these restaurants comprise only a small segment of where people go to eat. He assures me that when a chef reaches this level it is because they are very good and have a talent, but it is also their whole life.

I asked him what happens if a chef loses a star, he smiled and said that some “don’t take the news so well” and he left it at that.

We finished up and left our separate ways. I believe that I had thoroughly picked his brain and was satisfied with all of the answers.

Did I like the film, absolutely? Will I add this to one my collections of foodie favorites, most definitely? I enjoyed the feel good aspect of the film along the food cinematography. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it with Blair and discussing it with him, I guess I was able to see this through a chef’s eyes. It was an enlightening experience and I will do it again.

If you want to see a fun food themed movie, I highly recommend 100 Foot Journey. It is a chef endorsed and a foodie approved film.

Ciao,
Nicky

blair knivesSome of the knives in the photo that Chef Blair Hohn uses were made by local Pittsburgh knife company Berkhouse Knifeworks.