Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wild Abalone

I paid a visit to Catalina Offshore Products today to buy black cod for a dinner party tomorrow night. But, I seem to have abundant good luck with timing because all the guys at the warehouse were circled around a new delivery of wild-caught abalone from Baja.

Now people who have lived on the coast of California may have childhood memories of catching abalone but recently local red abalone has been suffering from withering abalone syndrome, a disease that attack's the mollusk's digestive track. The bacterium inhibits the production of digestive enzymes and to keep from starving, the abalone consumes its own body mass, which makes its "foot" wither (hence the name) and atrophy. That, in turn, keeps it from being able to adhere to rocks and makes it more vulnerable to predators or simply starvation.

So, more common now is commercially farmed abalone. In Baja California, withering abalone syndrome hasn't been an issue, according to Catalina Offshore Products' Dan Nattrass, but China has been a huge customer and that's what the Mexican market has been catering to. They buy it canned and frozen for import. But, says Nattrass, China has been backing off and now the Mexican government has opened up the live production market to the U.S., if only in small amounts.

While most of us have experienced abalone as a pounded out steak, Nattrass had a transformative encounter in Baja in which the fisherman cleaned the mollusk, then scored the muscle like a mango, sprinkled it with salt, drizzled lime juice and chile sauce on it, and then downed it raw.

Lucky me, as I said. Nattrass just had to replicate it at the warehouse. So, he picked one from a huge assortment that were being salted to send them to their deaths and preserve them.

He then pulled it out of that gorgeous irridescent shell and started pulling off the guts and cleaning it.

Then came trimming. There's a fringe of tissue around the body that Nattrass cut away. He says it's great to include in chowder.

I won't share the photo of the mouth. We'll just move on to the now beautifully cleaned meat. This is the point at which it's usually pounded to remove the chewy toughness.

But, watch how Nattrass scores it.

He then pulled apart the pieces. There was no lime in the office but there were oranges and the juice actually worked very well with the meat, the sea salt he sprinkled on, and then the dabs of sriracha sauce he topped it with. Yes, the meat is chewy but it's sweet and it was a delightful little mouth surprise.

Catalina Offshore Products is located at 5202 Lovelock St. just off Morena Blvd.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blazei Mushrooms: A Little Almond in Every Bite

I paid a visit to Specialty Produce last week to get some pasilla chiles, but while I was there I asked, as always, "what do you have that's new?"

Glad I asked because Richard Harrington grinned and brought over a bag of dried mushrooms that they had just gotten in. Blazei mushrooms grown locally in Escondido by Mountain Meadow Mushrooms. These fungi have quite the unique flavor profile: almonds.

Now sometimes you hear these kinds of descriptives: a note of peach, overtones of citrus. And, you have to strain to get them. Sometimes you just don't. In the case of the blazei mushrooms, there's no stretching. I opened the bag, took a breath, and thought I was breathing in marzipan.

Then, the fresh mushrooms were brought out. The almond flavor is less pronounced, of course, but still there, enveloped in a beautiful meaty texture.

I took some home and used them that night -- pretty much mandatory because they have a very short shelf life. Since I wanted to see if the almond flavor was still evident after being cooked, I decided to keep it simple. I looked up flavor profiles in one of my favorite resources, The Flavor Bible, and figured I'd stick with the ingredients that complement almonds. So, I sliced and sauteed the mushrooms with shallots in butter and a little olive oil, toasted a handful of pine nuts, and cut up some goat cheese. All this was tossed with pappardelle pasta from Trader Joe's.

The dish was a fascinating and delicious combination of flavors. Yes, that almond essence came through, but gently. The texture of the mushroom was almost like a plump fresh shitake, nicely offset by the crunchiness of the pine nuts.

As for the dried blazei mushrooms, they're going to be paired this week with wheat berries in a side dish.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Vine Ripe Farmers Market: A New Look for an International Market

When I first started writing about local markets, Vine Ripe in La Mesa was on my list of places to check out. But I got distracted and by the time I was ready to make a visit, it had closed.

Then one of my "Twitterati," told me it was back. Sure enough, it turns out it had reopened in January with  two Palestinian businessmen as the new owners. I stopped by recently, wandered around, impressed with the variety of products under one roof.

The entrance is one of the most welcoming I've seen at a local market, with carts and stands covered by colorful umbrella and filled with beautiful produce and flowers.

But, it's hard to figure out the store's cultural groundings. Let's just call it "international." I had expected Middle Eastern, and, yes, there's that, from the beautiful display of Palestinian olives with oil and fresh Iraqi Gamar cheese to the dairy case filled with yogurt and labne.

But, well, then there's that display across from the yogurt case of Russian kvas, which were also alongside cans of Fanta, young coconut juice, and pomegranate juice.

And, while we're at it, there's the delightful array of products from India. Udad flour, moong dal, besan flour (made from garbanzo beans), chutneys, mango pickles, lime pickles, durum alta flour for chaptatti, parantha, puri.

In fact, it does seem that the primary ethnic groups being served at Vine Ripe are Middle Eastern, Russian, and Indian, which means that shoppers can choose from a crazy wonderful selection of exotic products and even some unusual produce, like the fresh green almonds that were sitting at the store's entrance or stalks of cardoons, Indian eggplants, Persian cucumbers, bitter melon, and lemongrass in the produce department.

Like one of my favorite local markets, Balboa International, there's an entire aisle dedicated to pickled everything--fruits and vegetables alike. There are jars and cans of black olives, green olives, Seville olives.

You can find endless varieties of beans and rice, an assortment of bulgur and other grains, an aisle of oils -- coconut, olive, almond, and even castor. Plus, ghee and even Crisco.

The deli counter is fascinating. You can pick up several types of halvah, several types of feta, hummus, tzaziki, baba ganoush, vinegar beet salad, dolmas, okra with lamb, and mixed torshi, a vibrantly colored dish of what looked like cauliflower, cabbage, and beets. It was all fushia and orange and yellow and red, a garish dish that I assume is the Iranian dish of pickled vegetables.

At the front of the store are two intriguing sections. On the right when you enter is what looks like an old-fashioned candy counter but with baskets of Russian candies on display, along with a coffee bar and shelves of dried fruits and nuts winding around.

Across from the candies is the bakery. I started up a conversation with a young man at the counter who turned out to be the son of one of the owners. Odeh Odeh explained that much of what is sold is made on the premises, from the baklavah and date fingers with sesame to the traditional flat breads. There was schawarma as well so you could get a delicious shaved chicken or beef sandwich with housemade pita or a pizza-like dish topped by zaatar, a blend of sumac, sesame seeds and herbs.

Vine Ripe is located at 8191 Fletcher Parkway in La Mesa. The phone number is 619-362-7800.

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Eat.Drink.Read. on KUSI!

Chefs Anthony Calamari of Suite & Tender and Bernard Guillas of The Marine Room were featured this morning on KUSI to talk about Wednesday's Eat.Drink.Read. event supporting the San Diego Council on Literacy. The organization's exec, Jose Cruz, was there as well. But the real stars were the gorgeous dishes they had on display which we'll be enjoying at the event! You've got to take a look at them -- and then go to Eat.Drink.Read.'s website to buy tickets.

See you there!

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tabe BBQ Truck: Introducing Street Fusion to San Diego

In San Diego, we’ve been experiencing food truck envy. Yes, we have a fleet of great taco trucks in and around the region. My favorite is Mariscos German. But, how about other foods, other ethnicities? Where is the "Kobi BBQ" -- an L.A. hit -- in San Diego?

Well, along comes Todd Ichinaga, who in February, with partners Matthew Gorton and Rich Morris, launched mobile eatery Tabe BBQ. Tabe (pronounced tah-bay)—a shortening of the Japanese word taberu or “to eat,”—is a fusion of Mexican and Asian cuisine. As in familiar Mexican dishes with a winning spin of Asian flavors.

Ichinaga comes to San Diego from L.A., where after a career in pharmaceuticals, he dove into the culinary world, first studying hospitality and restaurant management at the California School of Culinary Arts and then working at the restaurant of the  five-star Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. It was all well and good to cook for L.A.’s elite, but Ichinaga wanted to start his own place and that brought him down to San Diego, where he and his partners launched the Tabe BBQ taco truck, which he prefers to call “mobile cuisine” or “street fusion.

“My whole intention is to create food made from scratch in the mobile kitchen using traditional recipes but bold, layered  flavors that complement tacos,” he explained.

In fact, Tabe’s food is nothing like your corner taco stand. The flavors are fresh and distinctive, from the Spicy Pork taco to the BBQ Beef and BBQ Chicken tacos. The pork is marinated for 24 hours in a traditional Korean spicy marinade and then grilled. A flour tortilla envelopes the meat, topped with julienned romaine lettuce, fukujin zuke, and one of Ichinaga’s salsa, which includes papaya, tomatillo, pineapple, and toasted seaweed. Be sure to grab a bunch of napkins. This is juicy, kind of sloppy eating, but oh so delicious!

The fish taco is a delight to bite into. Beer battered and then fried, the fish is then topped with romaine, Ichinaga’s Maui Sweet Onion Salsa (onions, roma tomatoes, jalapeƱos, and ponzu sauce), and a cream sauce of mayonnaise, sour cream, pineapple, and whole-grain mustard. The salsa also tops the BBQ chicken taco, which has a tangy homemade teriyaki glaze.

I was tickled by the French fries, too. Slender and crispy, it's topped by Ichinaga’s five-spice seasoning. All it needed was a squeeze from the bottle of spicy aioli that sits next to other bottles of Roja Salsa (roasted tomatoes and tomatillos with sesame oil), and Sambal, a Thai garlic chili paste.

Each of the tacos can be ordered as burritos. And, Ichinaga is now working on creating a line of salads. He described the dressing he’s already created as a riff on Chinese chicken salad dressing, using an orange juice reduction and adding Sriracha, soy sauce, canola oil, and peanut butter.

I also love that as customers of Specialty Produce, the partners are using many local ingredients. You can taste the freshness. Plus, with all those fresh fruits and vegetables in these tacos, you won't have the usual 2 p.m. logginess that often comes after a fatty, carb-loaded food truck experience.

Currently, the partners have the one truck, which you can find at different locations on different days. Tuesdays, for instance, you can dine with them at Towne Center Dr. in UTC. Fridays they're in an office park in Sorrento Valley. You can look up locations on the website or follow them on Twitter to learn where they’ll be on a given day or time. And, they’re hoping to attach themselves to local farmers markets, including the UCSD market, where Ichinaga says many Asian students have requested their presence.

They hope to bring in more trucks to cover more geography and, no surprise, establish a permanent restaurant. After all, it’s admittedly hard for a guy who trained at a premiere white table cloth restaurant to be satisfied with mobile cuisine alone.

But for now Ichinaga is having fun developing new sauces and dishes and literally seeing where the truck takes him. “I want to bring gourmet food to the streets of San Diego,” he said.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Chef Celebration: Great Food Collaborations & Educating Chefs

Our San Diego chefs are tremendously generous by contributing time and dishes to scores of San Diego events. Now it's time to support them and the nonprofit scholarship fund they have for young chefs to further their education. The 15th annual Chef Celebration Dinner Series has just launched and continues on Tuesday nights through the end of May with a mighty collaboration of local talent showing their stuff at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, NINE-TEN, Kitchen 1540, Karl Strauss Beer Gardens, and Urban Solace serving up five-course meals. Already, on April 13, Pamplemousse Grille's Jeffrey Strauss and Ryan Harris hosted Bernard Guillas (The Marine Room), Jeff Thurston, and Hanis Cavin (Kensington Grill).


Take a look at what's coming up this week on April 20 at Stone Brewing. We're talking five chefs, five courses, and 10 beers. Participating are Jim Phillips of Barona Resort, Dean Thomas of South Coast Winery, Jeff Rossman of Terra, Ryan Johnston of Whisknladle, and Alex Carballo of Stone Brewing. Proceeds from the dinner will fund a two-year scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America.

What's on the menu? Dishes like Niman Ranch Lamb Tartare with Sweet Onion Toast (Ryan Johnston), Duck Confit and Caramelized Onion Flan with beer syrup and micro greens (Jeff Rossman), Smoked Lobster, Scallop, Prawn, and Salmon with Celeriac Potatoe Galette, Leek Fondue, and Light Bearnaise-style sauce (Jim Phillips), and Braised Brant Beef Cheeks with blueberry, Chandler strawberry, and Rhubarb Chutney (Alex Carballo).

On Tuesday, April 27, Chef Jason Knibb will host a terrific group of chefs at NINE-TEN: Trey Foshee (George's at the Cove), Jeff Jackson (The Lodge at Torrey Pines), Brian Sinott (1500 Ocean), and NINE-TEN's Jack Fisher.

On May 4, it's Paul McCabe's turn to host at Kitchen 1540, where he'll put on a dinner with Amy DiBiase (The Glass Door), Anthony Sinsay (Harney Sushi), Chris Kurth (The Grant Grill), and Jim Phillips (Barona Casino).

Then Victor Jimenez opens up The Cowboy Star to his colleagues Colin Maclaggan (Avenue 5), Brandon Perry (United States Navy), Brian Freerkson (The Shores), and Christian Graves (J-Six).

On May 18, the Chef Celebration moves to Karl Strauss Beer Gardens in Sorrento Mesa, where Gunther Emathinger and Correy Rapp welcome Ed Glebus (Qualcomm), Larry Abrams (Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club), Kevin Lissy (KnB Wine Cellars), and Kyle Bergman (The Lodge at Torry Pines).

Urban Solace hosts the final dinner of the season. Matt Gordon, Norma Martinez (El Vitral), Joe Magnanelli (Cucina Urbana), and Sean Langlais (Oceanaire) are preparing a stunning meal that includes Raw Alaskan King Crab Battera, Osetra Caviar, Dashi, Ginger-Soy Reduction (Sean Langlais); Kobe Beef Salpicon Salad, Roasted Poblano Pepper, Avocado, Cotija Cheese Pickled Onion. Crisp Plantain Chips (Norma Martinez); Crispy Buttermilk Fried Sweetbreads, Mustard Seed Jus, Pickled Greens (Matt Gordon); and eared Dayboat Scallop, House Made Cotechino Sausage and "The Fam’s" Caponata Siciliana (Joe Magnanelli).

Finally, Chef Celebration and The San Diego Brewers Guild collaborate for an afternoon of food and craft beers on the last Sunday of Beer Week. From 1 to 4 p.m., guests will enjoy pairings, three 20-minute beer discussions, and a souvenir beer mug.

Cost for tickets are $65 per person with $35 going toward the nonprofit scholarship fund. To make reservations, contact the host restaurants directly by phone or email. For the Stone Brewing dinner, you can purchase tickets on their website.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Taking a Bite Out of San Francisco's Chocolate Salon

If you had a spare $25 a few weekends ago and a thing for chocolate, the place to be was at San Francisco's Ft. Mason Center for the 4th Annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon. Imagine, 50,000 square feet of chocolates. Artisan chocolates. Chocolate drinks. Truffles and bars and bon bons. Oh my.

Lucky me. I was there. And even luckier still because I was with my buddy Amy Sherman, who was a judge. She'd already received and tasted samples so she was able to send me to what she thought were the best vendors. This was good because no matter how much one loves the chocolate, the 10th or 12th or 14th starts to wear on you. I got the best of the best and still ready to eat lunch within a couple of hours.

So, let me tell you my favorites and where you should be able to find them. These several are truly extraordinary.

Amano Artisan Chocolate: Amy steered me to them first, declaring they're the best chocolate bars in the country. They are, indeed, fine. And they won Gold for Best Dark Chocolate and Best Dark Chocolate Bar at the Salon. Made in small batches near Salt Lake City, Amano is inspired by French and Italian chocolate makers, sourcing beans from around the world and creating a dark chocolate confection that is smooth with concentrated flavors. You can order their chocolates online or your local Starbucks may carry their Madagascar and Ocumare Milk bars.

Her Coconess Confections: If you love Rocky Road, toffee, and caramels, you'll love the products made by Shelly Seward. These unpretentious confections are utterly delicious with pure flavors that are irresistible. Try her cocoa bean and vanilla bean caramels for a dreamy, melt-in-your mouth sweetness. The Rocky Road is crunchy and chocolatey and salty. And, her toffee has the crisp crunch with sweet and salt that just teases the taste buds. Currently, she sells at local farmers markets and online on Etsy.

William Dean Chocolates: It's not like I want to live in Largo, Florida, but I'd love to be close to these folks. Really close. Amy directed me to them breathlessly telling me to try their tropical caramel sample. The line was long, nobody wanted just one taste. But, finally, I was able to snare that gorgeous bon bon and one bite created a rush of fruit flavors that made me imagine relaxing under a swaying coconut tree drinking some divine mango/pineapple/papaya elixer. Then I took a bite of the peanut butter and jelly chocolate. I don't even like PB&J sandwiches, but I loved this. It doesn't taste like a  synthetic version of the PB&J. It tastes just like it only improved, the best you've ever eaten. And, so beautiful. You can buy online or at their shop in Largo, Florida.

Clarine's Florentine's: Do one thing well, right? Clarine has achieved this with a delicate cookie featuring thinly sliced almonds, butter, sugar, honey, and cream. It's light, it's brittle, a little salty, a little sweet, thanks also to Guittard bittersweet chocolate. These fragile confections are made in Berkeley and sold in Northern California, but you can email or call to place an order.

Vice Chocolates: This chocolate has attitude. From the multi-tatted young woman in a purple bodice handing out the chocolates at the booth to the flavors of these confections. With truffles named "Domina," "Rasgasm," "PunkN," and "Vixen," you've got to have some attitude yourself. For the money, you must try the Fig + Anise Seed bar. All that flavor and then a nice crunch at the end. If you're not in Oakland, buy these online.

Alter Eco: Chocolate for a cause, and marvelous chocolates. Amy asked me if I enjoy Nestle's Crunch. Uh huh, sure I do. I grew up scarfing those bars down. Well, meet the dark chocolate quinoa Midnight Crunch, a grown up version made with toasted quinoa. That's right. A healthy chocolate bar with protein. Plus, Alter Eco brags that all of their products are fair trade and cultivated using sustainable farming methods by small farmers. So, now you can eat healthy chocolates that are sustainably produced and support small farmers. Win, win, win! The site has an extensive map showing where you can buy them. In San Diego, it includes Whole Foods, Jimbo's, OB People's Food Co-Op, and Barons.

Did I mention that I love hanging out with Amy? I tend to eat extremely well. (Insert smiley face here!)

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Eat.Drink.Read. Celebrating and Supporting Literacy

If you can read this, you're far ahead of a surprising number of adults in San Diego. More than 450,000 grownups in San Diego County have a below-standard level of literacy. On top of that thousands of our children have difficulty picking up a skill most of us take for granted. They need help and the San Diego Council on Literacy, which provides services and resources that fuel that help, needs our assistance to do it.

So, the San Diego Council on Literacy is holding its first fundraiser and it's going to be terrific. I know because I'm on the planning committee! Join us on Wednesday, April 28 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Sushi Performance & Visual Art downtown for Eat.Drink.Read., A Culinary Event for Literacy.

We're creating an evening of food, wine, and beer pairings that you'll enjoy, with wine and beer experts to give you tips on what you should keep in mind when pairing drinks with dishes, and, oh, the dishes themselves. Here's who's cooking: Urban Solace, The Marine Room, Starlite, Ono Sushi, Cafe Sevilla, and Suite & Tender. Each of their dishes will be paired with a wine and local craft beer. And Cafe Moto will have plenty of their delicious coffees and teas to accompany dessert.

We'll also have a silent auction with some tremendous offerings, plus Chefs Bernard Guillas and Ron Oliver will have their wonderful cookbook, Flying Pans, available to purchase and they'll happily sign the book for you.

Tickets are only $60 per person and can be purchased at

Please help the San Diego Council on Literacy help adults succeed in their efforts to read and write and children just starting to learn these skills. These are people building a foundation for success and by doing that, a better future for San Diego.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Q & A with Rick Bayless in San Diego

Chicago-based chef, restaurateur, TV host, and cookbook author Rick Bayless was in San Diego recently to do a cooking demonstration at Macy's Cooking School in Mission Valley. I spoke with him before the sold-out demo about American misconceptions about Mexican food, Diana Kennedy, his new book--Fiesta at Rick's--and how to encourage kids to cook. Later, at the demo, he regaled the audience with stories about his Top Chef Masters experience (he won, of course) and made a couple of delicious dishes: Grilled Skirt Steak Torta and Roasted Tomato Shrimp Cocktail. Bayless is a terrific teacher. Almost every step was accompanied by fascinating and useful explanations of various ingredients and how to buy and use them. He also spent a lot of time answering audience questions before finally signing books. If he comes to your town, be sure to attend one of these demos. You'll get a lot out of it. (And follow him on Twitter: @Rick_Bayless)

Q: What do you think defines Mexican food? Is there a common thread despite the regions?
RB: The whole notion of sauces work. You could probably find a roasted tomato sauce in every region but it would be different chiles, treating the tomatoes a little bit differently. Coarser in one area, smoother in another. Flavored with different kinds of herbs and all that. Could you find tomatillo sauce? No, you wouldn’t find that in every region. Could you find a guajillo chile sauce? No. So while sauces are really defining to Mexican cooking there’s not one sauce, other than that tomato sauce, that you could find everywhere in Mexico.

Q: Why are the sauces so important in Mexican cooking?
RB: They’re actually the names of the dishes. You don’t go home and have pork. You have a tinga poblana, which is a roasted tomato sauce with chorizo in it. Now you could have it with chicken. You could have it with pork. So they wouldn’t even say what they were having it with whereas everything in our cuisine is all based on meat. Theirs is based on the sauces and the vegetables that go with them.

Q: How did that develop?
RB: It developed out of the fact that it was basically an all vegetarian cuisine before the Spaniards arrived.

Q: So that leads to the question, what is the biggest misconception Americans have about Mexican food?
RB: That it’s real simple and based on tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and nachos. First of all, nachos and burritos aren’t even known in Mexico. Things that everyone thinks of as Mexican in the United States, certainly U-shaped tacos, crispy tacos, things like that, were all developed here on American soil.

The biggest misconception is that tacos, enchiladas, and food in that category is the thrust of Mexican food. I have to say that even in a place as sophisticated as San Francisco, only recently have people dared to make a real restaurant with real Mexican food as you’d find it in Mexico because everyone says, "I love Mexican food. Those taquerias in the Mission District are just the best." That would be like someone saying, "I love American food. We eat hot dogs at every meal." Taco trucks are like hamburger joints. They’re fun. I love eating hamburgers but I don’t eat them very often. For me, it’s simple brash food and seasoned in a way completely different than what you would eat sitting at a table.

Q: What is the difference between what you and Diana Kennedy do? How are your approaches different?
RB: It’s very clear to me. She’s looking for person who makes the best recipe. I’m trying to distill the cuisine of the culture. She’ll go hunting down so and so who’s reported to make the best thing and then she’ll give you the recipe, telling you that  you have to do it this way, you have to choose these ingredients, you have to cook it for this amount of time. To me there’s a way of looking at food that’s quite different than that. And that’s saying that this is a regional dish in this area so I’m going to eat it from a bunch of different people and I’m going to distill the commonalities there. And I’m going to give you what I consider to be an archetypal recipe. If you make this, everyone in the community is going to say you’ve done a really credible job with that. It’s not usually as distinctive.

And sometimes you can get into some of the Diana Kennedy recipes and they’re impossible to make unless you’re in the community where that woman is buying her stuff because if you try to vary any of the ingredients at all you’re going to have loads of trouble and things aren’t going to come out very good. I’m looking at recipes that people can easily reproduce in the United States and when you finish it you’ll have something that anyone in Mexico would recognize as a really good version of that dish.

The other thing is that I’m not interested home specialties—someone who developed some kind of recipe two generations back. I’m interested in food that people make to sell. That’s what I grew up in. I grew up in the restaurant business. I love the restaurant business and no matter where you go in the world people are making food to sell. And when you’re making it not just for your own family but for a wide audience you tend to think about things differently. I’m always really  interested in that. If you make a recipe from me you know that I’ve tasted it from lots of different people, I’ve read recipes in books. I’ve distilled what I think is the best of everyone and packed it into one thing. I do all my testing in the United States because I want the people who read my books to have great success.

Q: How many times are your recipes tested?
RB: Many of them are based off what we’ve done a thousand times in our restaurants so that gives us another basis of understanding. But then we break it down into small quantities for home use. And then everything gets tested at least three times. There was one we tested for our new book that’s coming out in July over 30 times before we got it right. It’s a wacky recipe with a cake component we were trying to scale up. I was bound and determined to get it right.

Q: So, tell me about the book.
RB: It’s called Fiesta at Rick’s and it’s something we’ve been working on for years now. It was a topic for a series of TV shows from last season. I know that when people these days are cooking a lot of the time they’re cooking for friends coming over. Food seems to be the major catalyst that creates the spark that creates the good time. Putting good food in front of people changes their perspective on everything, changes the way they think about life and friends. Almost always when you’ve had a great time with people there’s been food involved and I wanted to give people a lot of great recipes that are great for sharing with people.

The chapters are divided up more like the way you’d think of putting a menu together for a party, so there’s a whole section on drinks and guacamoles and ceviches. A whole chapter on small dishes to put out for people that can be scooped onto chips, onto soft tortillas. You could pile them on bread like bruschettas. There’s another chapter for grilling. There’s five really big parties, including one in which I teach you how to dig a pit to roast a whole animal. It’s one of the most common things that guys come up to me and tell me they’ve done. Since time in memorial, roasting an animal has been a major fiesta kind of thing. It’s what commemorated something.

Q: Do you have a go-to ingredient you absolutely love?
RB: Well, dried chiles are the hallmark of real Mexican food and the one thing most Americans don’t get at all. I think if there’s one thing we do exceptionally well at our restaurants it’s dried chile sauces. You have to know how to balance their flavors. Each one has their own very distinctive flavors.

Q:  Your daughter Lanie is on the show. What would you suggest to parents who want to teach their kids to cook and be competent in the kitchen? What did you do?
RB: First, never tell them that they should. It’s the wrong way to approach it. We cook all the time and have people over all the time. When she was little, she got real  used to being part of that whole “we’re cooking, we’re doing this stuff together.” So the first thing I had her do was make an appetizer plate. She could cut up cheese, arrange it on a plate with crackers, decorate the plate with flowers from the garden. Whatever she could do. But I let her create her own dish. To this very day, I ask what dish she wants to make when we have people over. It’s really important to me not to have kids “help you out” because they get bored with that really fast but to have responsibility for something themselves. It becomes Lanie’s dish.

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