Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Curtain Call for 2013 and Chef Encounters

I'm so looking forward to 2014. Already I have a food walking tour of downtown San Diego planned, an afternoon learning to make dim sum at the new French Concession in Hillcrest, a visit to an urban winery, and a new season of Catalina Offshore Products' terrific Collaboration Kitchens to talk about--and that's just January.

But 2013 was no slouch of a year. Before it ends, I want to take a last chance to thank the many San Diego chefs who invited me into their kitchens and taught me new recipes, techniques, and in general shared their kitchen knowledge with me so I could, in turn, pass it on to you in San Diego Foodstuff. Each of these chefs is wonderfully talented and generous--and also a lot of fun to hang out with. It's one thing to hand out a recipe--which I always appreciate--but to invite me into their sacred laboratory to give a lesson and give of themselves is a greatly savored gift.

So, thank you to Jeff Rossman of Terra and Pablo Ibarra, his sous chef at the time I came in. Pablo taught me how to make a tangy Charred Meyer Lemon Chutney. With Meyer lemons in season now, I'm going to dig out that recipe and make some jars.

Thank you to my friends Antonio Friscia and Fern Tran of the late Gaijin Noodle House. Most chefs invite me to come in before service. Antonio wanted me to help with service. He sent me out marketing to buy ingredients I'd like to see in cocktails and in yakitori, and when I came in that evening, groceries in hand, he had me visit first with mixologist Lucien Conner to turn out drinks. Then, Fern taught me her tricks for making yakitori. We had all sorts of odd yet wonderful stuff going on. Finally, Antonio showed me how to create unique Asian fusion s'mores. What fun that was. I'm still in mourning over the restaurant's closing.

Thank you to Monello chef Fabrizio Cavallini and owners Guido Nistri and Valentina di Pietro for making me so at home at their Little Italy kitchen as Fabrizio taught me to make four versions of creamy polenta. I'm still dreaming of the comforting, delicate white polenta covered in slices of rich gorgonzola.

Thank you to Joe Busalachi, a true showman who I think had as much fun as I did at his Po Pazzo kitchen in Little Italy whipping through several fish dishes in the course of about half an hour, then serving them family style to my friends and me. The cartoccho, or covered fish, is in my repertoire.

Thank you to Matt Richman of Table 926 for introducing me to salsify with his luscious cauliflower and salsify bisque. That morning also brought a lesson in smoking tomatoes (which I now do regularly) for a complex  Calabrese tomato sauce and in making a minty nepitella chimichurri sauce.

Thank you to Catherine Perez, the bread-making genius of Con Pane in Liberty Station, for not laughing too hard at me and Robin Ross of Cupcakes Squared, as we tried so hard to learn how to shape bread dough. You gave us a great lesson--and even greater appreciation of the artisans whom you've trained to create such perfection with such ease. Back to basics with your Pain Sur.

Thank you to my buddy Miguel Valdez, then executive chef at The Red Door and The Wellington and now at 100 Wines for giving me a primer in stuffing summer squash blossoms. I so need a fryer to get that delightful crispy exterior and oh-so creamy cheese interior.

Thank you to the rollicking Andrea Davis, truffle queen extraordinaire, for teaching me a new skill. Her chocolate truffles create smiles and swoons. I especially loved the Bacon and Whiskey variety we made that day, but every time I see her she surprises me with stunning flavors.

Thank you to my new friend Francesca Penoncelli of the magnificent BiCE for taking the time to teach me how to make something pretty minor given her capabilities but oh so impressive--schiacciatina and truffle cheese spread. Imagine a chef who's cooked at the James Beard House teaching you how to make a cracker. But this is some cracker and with the cheese spread and a glass of wine, it's enough for a fun evening with friends.

Thank you to another new friend, Kelli Crosson of A.R. Valentien. I love making pickles and Kelli asked me to help her make the annual batches of pickles for Celebrate the Craft. I learned so much and fell in love with a stainless steel confectionary funnel I still covet. I also am still eating my way through the pickled watermelon gherkins we made.

Thank you to Jenny Williams of Jenny Wenny Cakes. I'd written about her in the past, but it wasn't until this year that I got to play with her in the kitchen. And, of all things, she taught me how to make her great-grandmother's Christmas pudding. Dense and chewy, it's Christmas comfort food when heated and topped with Brandy Butter.

Thank you to dear friend Joanne Squires-Sherif of the cozy North Park eatery, Cardamom. She taught me how to make her annual Pumpkin Walnut Cranberry Quick Bread and a wonderfully boozy Spiced Apple Bread Pudding with Rum Rasins. Sigh... This week we're working on Dampfnudln a la Joan Nathan.

And, finally, thank you to the delightful Amber Smith of Biscuit Gourmet Biscotti, who only this month invited me in to teach me the techniques for making her light and crunchy biscotti. I've shared and shared with friends and family--but selfishly kept enough to enjoy with tea in the afternoons. But, even when they're gone, I've got the recipes--and knowledge--to make more batches!

I also want to thank Bob Harrington and Specialty Produce for their always generous support--of this space, of my Close to the Source blog for Edible San Diego, and of the the community projects I work on. You just can't applaud these folks enough. And, thanks as well to Tommy Gomes, Dave Rudie, and Dan Nattrass of Catalina Offshore Products for being my seafood gurus and just great pals. Thanks to the many farmers, farmers market managers, and artisan vendors who always take the time answer my many questions and share their knowledge and bounty with me so I can help our community better understand what they do. And, last but not least, I thank you for taking the time to read San Diego Foodstuff and sharing it with your friends. It means a lot.

I'm looking forward to more chef encounters and other San Diego food magic in 2014, but in the meantime, I wish all these chefs, vendors, farmers,  and their loved ones, as well as you, a very happy, healthy, and joyous New Year!

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