Gavin’s the kind of chef that you can’t help but be amazed by. It all started for him back when he was 19 and he tasted a beet that was just pulled out of the ground. Mindblowing experience. Up until then, he hadn’t tasted fresh food and didn’t know the differences in flavor you could get when you take it right from nature and put it on your plate. This passion for food spilled over to him being executive chef at mecca of French restaurants, Cafe Boulud in NYC. Yes, that’s cool and all, but he also went up against other chefs in The Next Iron Chef. He didn’t win then, but he came back and beat his rival and Iron Chef, Michael Symon.
In 2007, he competed against chefs from across the world and represented America at the Bocuse d’Or. He spoke to us about the dish his team made: a super creative version of a tomato and onion salad, but brought down to something you could eat in one bite. Huh? Yeah! They created a sphere of brandywine and cherry tomatoes puree that had an onion puree center and basil to resemble the seeds. Problem: it didn’t smell like tomato so they enlisted the help of scientists who gave them the “smell” chemical called lycopene from tomatoes to dilute and put on their dish. Well, it only took 4 1/2 months to perfect this! See the results on a two part show called “The American Chef” that will show on Discovery.
The dish that he prepared for us was a Maine Peekytoe crab with orange and pepper gelee that had shaved fennel and tangerine-vanilla vinaigrette. It was light, fresh, and the gelee on top added great flavor and just enough citrus punch. He made the gelee in front of us and showed us that it took just a few minutes to sit. Think of it like a soft sheet of liquid that is held together like a jello by agar. Really light, fresh and pretty darn stellar.
We knew we were in for a treat when Ben welcomed us to his “Dungeon of Desserts” as we sat down. He then told us how there was an explosion during his last session and he was just trying to compose himself. Does it get better than that? Ben Roche is the pastry chef at Moto in Chicago, one of the most cutting edge restaurants in the country. He met up with executive chef Homaru Cantu and both agreed that they wanted to do something different in the culinary world. What happens at Moto is insane, edible genius. For example, you’re served items with your menu. You don’t touch those items until you’ve finished ordering. Put those items on your menu, roll it up, then eat it and you’ve got your first trip into the crazy cool world of Moto. Also, after many people begging for sushi, they printed out flavored edible sushi paper that’s in the shape of sushi. OmNomCt’s gotta make a road trip to Chitown! We’re set for a 16-20 course menu and to stay for probably 4 hours: no exaggeration here.
Unfortunately, we only had about half an hour with Ben, but he captured everybody’s attention with a few magical words: bacon, maple syrup, and sage ice cream. People gasped, Kristien cried, and I knelt down and prayed to Baconius, Greek god of swine. Ben beat up his mixture, making sure that no one flavor would stand out more than any other. Then he poured in the liquid Nitrogen and stirred away. Using liquid Nitrogen actually makes the ice cream smoother and creamier because smaller ice crystals are formed. The ice cream was a bit smoky, but also had the maple syrup and sage coming through. Probably some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had.
He paired that with his Smore’s Bomb, a blazingly good treat involving some insane culinary innovation. First, he made a graham cracker puree, put it into little spherical ice trays, froze it up, then scooped out the globes. He then stuck a skewer into the sphere, dipped it in chocolate, let the chocolate sit, then removed the skewer. He then took a glass noodle that he had fried, and put it on top like a wick. With a flick of the lighter, that bad boy was lit and within seconds the graham cracker puree inside had melted into gooey goodness. So awesome.
One of the most knowledgable wine experts in the whole country, Michael Green is bubbly and you can’t help but smile at his loud and goofy antics. He told us that there are five things to consider for every bottle of wine: 1) the grape 2) the region 3) the soil 4) the weather 5) how it was made. Then, there’s the six s’s of wine making: see, swirl, smell, sip, swish, and spit. He told us that we had his permission (for today only) to swallow (or savor), not spit. We had three nice glasses that he paired with cheese and crackers for us. If you ever get the chance to hear him speak at an event, it’s a must.
Is it me, or does Michael Psilakis look like Kratos from God of War? That’s always bugged me and kept me up at night. Well, we saw him, just a few feet away from us, cooking and sharing his philosophy on life and cooking. The Food Network star and award winning chef of NYC and Long Island restaurants grew up in a Greek household that shared a love of food. His father taught him to value the meat on the plate because an animal gave its life so that you could get nutrients. His start in cooking? Michael was working the front of a house at a restaurant one day and the chef didn’t show up. Michael took over, began to cook a storm, and the rest is culinary history. From there, he earned a Michelin Star, the first ever for a Greek restaurant. Right now, he has three restaurants and is in the process of building four more. One is MP Taverna on Long Island, another is Fish Tag in NYC, and the other is EOS in Miami. You also might remember his battle against Cat Cora or his triumphant victory with his other doppelgänger Michael Symon against the Carro brothers in Kitchen Stadium.
That’s pretty impressive, so we couldn’t wait to sample his keftedes, AKA Greek meatballs. He made them light and fluffy by using a “milk bread pudding” as the base. ”It should splat against the wall if you throw it,” he joked. The trick behind the meatballs is that milk bread pudding, but you might not guess the bread that he uses: Wonder Bread! He then added some garlic confit, some spices, then pork and beef. What you have to do is fry those up so you get a nice crispy outside so that it’ll hold up to the braising. Oh, and that sauce. Just the perfect amount of everything resulted in the lightest, fluffiest, and most flavorful meatball that has ever been created since the tomato existed. Kristien said it was the best meatball she’s ever had, and she’s a meatball snob so that’s an endorsement you can take to the bank!
Michael Psilakis Signed Cookbook Giveaway, Courtesy of Buick!
Buick then rocked our socks again when Michael announced that everybody was getting his cookbook, How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking, free compliments of Buick. ”They chained me up, too, and made me sign them all for you,” he joked again. So, thank you to Food & Wine and Buick for putting together a fun event. Also, it’s great that this event was not only free, but a donation was made to The Feed Foundation for every person who attended. We’re looking forward to next year!