Tag Archives: chef

Guy Fieri, vegetable fan? Sure, says Food Network star

Of all the celebrity chefs out there, there’s one you’d least expect to sing the praises of spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts. That would be Guy Fieri.

The spiky-haired champion of American comfort food is more associated with greasy chili dogs than salad — the fryer over the fig. But are you sure you know all the sides of this guy?

“I’m a big greens fan. I’m a big vegetable fan. I’m a big whole grains fan. And I exercise a lot. That’s how I keep this petit dancer’s figure,” he said, laughing. “A lot of people misinterpret what I do.”

Fieri has built a food career on a certain amount of flash — a rock star image complete with tattoos and jewelry, a fleet of yellow muscle cars and high-octane dishes including Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese Burgers.

But he’s also raised a family in the same Northern California house for the last 20 years, eats a burger maybe once a month, considers culinary innovator Jose Andres a hero, and says things like “I cannot get enough farro.”

Both sides are on display in his latest cookbook, Guy Fieri Family Food, with recipes that range from Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza to Quick Cracked Bulgur Wheat Salad. It’s what his family eats, with tips on how to stretch leftovers into several meals.

“It kind of moves all over the board,” said Fieri, who started with 200 recipes and whittled down to 125. “It was a full-blown family project with everyone involved and picking what they liked and didn’t like.”

Finding his role in the food world

Fieri broke into the mainstream after winning The Next Food Network Star. He went on to put his name on more than 30 restaurants across America and Mexico.

His best-known Food Network show is Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which celebrates small eateries that make dishes from scratch.

“I pick the restaurants and I pick the menu and I try to pick what they do best and what is creative and exciting for people to see. But the last thing I really want to do is the 10-pound chili cheese fry overload,” he said.

The show has created what’s called the Fieri Effect, a boost in restaurant revenues after he shows up. “I feel like the guy that gets to bring the Publisher’s Clearing House check to the door, you know?” he says. “It changes their lives. It’s not just giving them money. It’s giving them recognition.”

But as much as Fieri is cheered by fans for his down-home approach to unfussy fare, he’s also dismissed by foody elites who find his manner brash and culinary skills lacking. The New York Times in 2012 had a scathing takedown of Fieri’s Times Square restaurant, asking: “Is the entire restaurant a very expensive piece of conceptual art?”

“I have to take the high road,” responds Fieri. “Everybody has their role in the food world and what they choose to appreciate. I’m not a fine dining chef. I appreciate it. I think Thomas Keller is amazing,” he says. “But I really like where I’m at, I like what I do. I like how it makes people feel.”

Fellow Food Network chef Alton Brown sees professional jealousy as the fuel of the anti-Fieri fire: “There are people who have plied their trade for a long time in the culinary world that might see a guy that won a food competition show and, all of a sudden, is a superstar. They resent that. They want to guard the turf and the purity of the turf.”

Taking liberties

Fieri is not exactly hunting for the next food trend. “I try to keep my eyes and ears open. I don’t feel that I have to be the first one to the dance,” he said.

He embraces a laid-back, communal approach to cooking and also encourages cooks to take liberty with his recipes, saying, “There’s not one way to play the song.”

Fieri has expanded his repertoire to include gluten-free options and organic foods, especially after the death of his younger sister.

Morgan Fieri died of skin cancer in 2011 — she is memorialized with a color tattoo on his left arm — and she pushed him to come up with delicious meals while juggling severe dietary restrictions.

“It really opened my mind. I think it was the last gift she gave me. It changed me as a chef,” he says.

With the holidays coming up, Fieri hopes to spend time with his family — wife Lori and their two sons — and he had this advice about big meals: slow down, put the phones away and have lots of courses.

“I say to folks all the time, ‘Watch what you’re eating. You don’t have to eat it all. Make conscious choices. It doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself and eat carrots all day,’” he said. “Have an awareness.”

On the shelves

Guy Fieri Family Food by Guy Fieri and Marah Stets (William Morrow Cookbooks, 2016), $30.

On the Web

www.guyfieri.com

Dish to WiG

Have a favorite restaurant to recommend for a WiG review or a favorite recipe or cookbook to share? Email lmneff@www.wisconsingazette.com.

Guy Fieri Family Food. Photo: Food Network

Doing the impossible: Make a vegan Caesar worth celebrating

I’ve heard that many restaurant chefs despise making Caesar salads, but I don’t understand why. Who wouldn’t love making lemony-cheesy-black-pepper-salad dreams come true?

So my resourceful little self has always had a solid Caesar salad game going at home. My original recipe was rooted in the classic for years: raw egg yolk, umami-laden anchovies, nutty Parmesan cheese, tart lemon juice. I then top that basic Caesar salad with almost any protein to turn it into a truly satisfying meal. Steak, shrimp or chicken work well, but so do turkey meatballs, roasted pork tenderloin and — my secret weapon —  just about every kind of canned fish available.

Over time, I’ve adapted and adjusted my beloved Caesar salad recipe to account for changes in my family. When I was pregnant, I avoided raw eggs. My daughter’s gluten intolerance kicked the sourdough croutons to the curb. And my vegetarian niece and nephew had me searching for a worthy umami substitute for anchovies.

Recently, I faced my greatest challenge: a completely vegan Caesar salad for some dinner guests. No Parmesan cheese? I thought it would be impossible. But you guys, here is the impossible: a totally tasty vegan Caesar salad.

This salad gets its rich umami flavor from a cool combination of miso paste and nutritional yeast (not to be confused with brewer’s yeast). The croutons are back in for this recipe, but I just leave them out for my gluten-free daughter. To turn this salad into a fully vegan meal, top with nuts, seeds, lentils, white beans or tofu. And a note to my carnivore friends: Don’t let the word vegan scare you off this recipe. It’s also great topped with a few ounces of meat.

 

VEGAN CAESAR SALAD

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 6

1/3 cup raw unsalted cashews

Boiling water

1/4 cup toasted walnuts

1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes

1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons white miso paste

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 tablespoons cool water

3 hearts romaine lettuce, roughly chopped

2 cups bread cubes, brushed with olive oil and toasted

In a small bowl, combine the cashews and enough boiling water to cover them. Let sit for several minutes.

Meanwhile, in a blender, combine the walnuts, nutritional yeast and granulated garlic. Pulse until the mixture has the texture of sand. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

Drain the cashews and transfer them to the blender. Add the lemon juice, fresh garlic, mustard, olive oil, miso, pepper and cool water. Blend until the mixture is mostly smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.

In a large bowl, toss the lettuce with the dressing, then top with the bread cubes and the ground walnut mixture.

Nutrition information per serving: 220 calories; 140 calories from fat (64 percent of total calories); 16 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 330 mg sodium; 16 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 7 g protein.

 

About the author

Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, “Supermarket Healthy.”

Fall harvest flavors, with a Mediterranean twist

Harvest time calls to mind bountiful baskets of produce, meats, cheeses and other foods of the season. It’s nature’s way, or so it seems, of rewarding us for having survived another year.

But harvest time means different things in different parts of the world. Hire a chef from a country or culture not your own and you are bound to wind up with culinary interpretations that are unique and, in many cases, better than the same old roasted turkey, baked squash and apple brown betty.

That was our goal when we tapped Sami Fgaier, the chef in Madison-based Le Personal Chef, to create a harvest dinner for seven family members. Fgaier, who lives in Madison and has been working as a personal chef worldwide for almost a decade, grew up in Tunisia’s Kerkennah Islands, off the mainland coast in the Mediterranean Sea.

Harvest time in northern Africa yields a different array of foods than, say, northern Wisconsin. Fgaier’s task was to blend the best of both worlds in interesting and complementary new ways to make our event special.

Add to that the classic influences of Fgaier’s time spent at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and we knew we could expect a rich culinary experience seasoned with more then a dose of elegance.

An account of our evening follows — if you’d like to replicate it, we’ve included some of Fgaier’s recipes for you to test for yourself.

The Setting

The dinner took place in the formal dining room of our west side Madison home. Cocktail hour dovetailed with the fourth quarter of the Green Bay Packers’ victory over the dreaded San Francisco 49ers. 

In addition to Fgaier, his wife, pastry chef Chaima Sakka, and his assistant, Omar Guevara, arrived at 4 p.m. to help prepare the meal. Dishes were prepared in our kitchen using a combination of pots, pans, kettles, glasses, plates and utensils from Fgaier’s collection and from our own stock. 

The Opener

Utilizing a large, heavyweight cutting board, Fgaier served a charcuterie and cheese selection that was a meal in itself. Handcrafted uncured Creminelli salami and 2-year-old Black Label prosciutto, both from Italy, appeared beside Pave du Nord Herve Mons and Délice de Bourgogne, two distinctly different French cheeses — the latter of which was topped with quince marmalade. Handfuls of salted nuts, cornichons (little French pickles), Kalamata olives, pickled Cipollini onions and crackers rounded out the selection.

“The charcuterie and cheese board offered an array of flavors and textures,” Fgaier says. “I wanted to bring the sweet, spicy, sour, creamy, crunchy and mild tastes all together.”

Fgaier topped off the appetizer course with savory squares of crustless quiche made with Gala apples, Camembert cheese and caramelized onions.

The Dinner

Three types of homemade bread were served with European-style (aka high-fat) butter dusted with espresso salt crystals. Fgaier’s signature turchi, a blend of mashed carrots, roasted garlic, Italian parsley, olive oil and harissa (a North African chili pepper paste designed to be spread on the bread), inaugurated the formal part of the evening.

The breads and spreads led to a first formal course of Coquilles St. Jacques, prepared Normandy style. 

Large plates with single small cuplike indentations in their centers appeared with single large sea scallops nestled in a puree of carnival squash blended with Calvados butter, made with the French apple brandy, and accented with two leaves of a Brussels spout head. 

The U-10 scallops, so named because they weigh in at under 10 scallops per pound, were succulent and seared at the edge, with the squash providing subtle undertones that blended well with the surprisingly delightful sprout leaves.

The salad, served next, drew heavily from Fgaier’s Tunisian heritage. A blend of persimmon slices, pomegranate seeds, salted cashews, Medjool dates and Carr Valley Vanilla Cardona cheese were served on a bed of spicy arugula and dressed with a clementine and honey vinaigrette dressing. Each bite offered a different combination of bright, delightful flavors that teased the palate and pleased the senses.

In keeping with the meal’s quasi-European influences, those of us of age received an ounce of Calvados to sip as a palate cleanser.

The main course was duck à l’orange, a fall favorite. Prepared in the classic method, the lean duck quarters had been braised in white wine, citrus zest and Limoncello, then grilled to a golden brown. The meat was off-the-bone tender and the flavor profile clean, yet complex.

The Dessert

The meal was capped with Honeycrisp apple and Bartlett pear mini-tarts topped with almond and cinnamon Chantilly cream and served with a blend of fresh seasonal berries. The tarts, prepared by Sakka, were delightful in their flakiness and sweet flavors.

With the exception of the charcuterie, on which we admittedly gorged ourselves, all the portions were modest in size, yet broad and appealing in their flavors.

The Last Bite

The best thing about fine cuisine expertly prepared comes in its ability to blend the flavors of continents and cultures in ways that make everyone happy. If global diplomacy were half as effective as Fgaier’s cooking, the world would be a more peaceful — or at least better fed — place.

Persimmon Salad

Start-to-finish: 20 min
Servings: 4

Ingredients:

2 cups of cleaned fresh arugula 

4 tbsp salted whole cashews 

4 tbsp of fresh pomegranate seeds 

8 pitted Medjool dates, cut in half

Juice of 4 small clementine oranges 

4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil 

1 whole ripe persimmon, peeled 

4 oz Carr Valley Vanilla Cardona cheese 

1 tbsp of pure honey 

Salt to taste 

Start by making the vinaigrette. Bring the clementine juice to a boil, and reduce by half. Chill, then whisk in the olive oil and honey, adding salt to taste. 

Dress the arugula with the clementine vinaigrette and place in the center of plates. Add cashews, pomegranate, persimmon slices and date halves. Cut cheese into small pieces and add on top. 

Duck à l’Orange

Start-to-finish: 2 hrs, 15 min Servings: 4

Ingredients:

2 legs and 2 breasts of Mulard duck

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 cups of fresh squeezed orange juice

1/2 cup Grand Marnier

1 tbsp Limoncello

Zest of 2 oranges

1 cup dry white wine

2 bay leaves

5 whole toasted peppercorns

1 tbsp sea salt

2 tbsp unsalted butter

Season duck with sea salt and olive oil.

In a heavy cooking pot, sear duck meat on medium heat allowing the duck fat to melt and the skin to get crisp.

Once browned on all sides, add orange juice, white wine, Grand Marnier, Limoncello, zest of oranges, bay leaves and peppercorn.

Bring to boil then reduce heat and let simmer for about 2 hours until meat falls off bone.

Pull the meat out of the sauce and strain the sauce to get rid of the pepper corn and the bay leaves.Reduce sauce and finish with whisking the butter.

Pour 1/3 cup of the orange sauce on the plate, place the duck thigh or breast and serve with your favorite vegetable.

Start-to-finish: 40 min Servings: 5

Ingredients:

8 large fresh sea scallops 

1 sprig of fresh rosemary 

1 tbsp olive oil 

1/2 small carnival squash 

2 tbsp heavy cream 

2 garlic cloves 

4 oz Calvados, or other apple brandy 

Sea salt 

Pepper (both black and white)

4 tbsp unsalted butter 

Pinch of nutmeg 

Steamed Brussels sprouts leaves (optional)

To prepare the scallops, season them with salt, pepper and finely chopped rosemary. In a hot skillet, add 1 tbsp of olive oil. Sear scallops on both sides for one minute until nice and brown. Set aside.

Peel the carnival squash. Boil the squash in a pot of water with a pinch of salt and the garlic cloves for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender and ready to mash. 

Move the boiled squash to a bowl and add 1 tbsp. of butter, the heavy cream, salt and white pepper. Whip until smooth and creamy.

Bring the Calvados or other apple brandy to boil. When the brandy has been reduced by about two-thirds, turn off the heat and whisk in the remaining 3 tbsp. until reaching a creamy texture. Adjust seasoning with pinches of salt and nutmeg. To assemble and serve the dish, start by placing the squash puree on a plate. Place the scallops on top, and top the dish with the Calvados butter. Garnish with Brussels sprouts leaves if desired.

Emeril Lagasse tells life story via recipes in new cookbook

Before there were Food Network icons and cultish produce, before farm-to-table was a philosophy and cake decorating became a competitive sport, there was Emeril Lagasse.

And his is a life story best told by the kitchens that formed and informed him. There was the Portuguese bakery where he washed dishes as a youngster, the pizzeria where he stretched dough in high school, the Asian restaurants where he learned the secrets of Chinese sauces, and of course the grand kitchen of New Orleans’ iconic Commander’s Palace, where he became head chef at 23.

It’s a story Lagasse is ready to tell. His latest cookbook, “Essential Emeril,” is his life in recipes, a collection that covers everything from Asian fusion and Tex-Mex to classic French and Italian.

“Cooking isn’t just about what ends up on the plate. It’s the journey, taking time, having a plan, being prepared, being patient, noticing the smells, being mindful of what’s going on in the pan,” he said. “(The book) is a generous slice of the amazing journey I’ve had up until now in this glorious world of food.”

Through stories and recipes that chart his course through the television and restaurant worlds, Lagasse shares the foods and people _ everyone from his mother to Mario Batali _ that shaped his career. Peppered throughout the cookbook _ Lagasse’s 19th _ are many of the New Orleans dishes he has become known for, including barbecue shrimp with jalapeno biscuits, pork candy ribs with spicy hot Creole seasoning, and andouille-crusted redfish with Creole meuniere sauce.

And through those recipes, Lagasse gives us a glimpse at another side of the chef Americans came to know best for kicking things up a notch. He reflects back on those early, nervous years when he first took over at Commander’s and spent his days off in the Louisiana country, visiting farmers and Vietnamese fishing boats, sourcing trigger fish and escolar that “no one else was bringing to the table.”

“If I could control as much of the quality of what was being served on the table for my guests, then this was what was going to be the path in building an incredible reputation as a chef,” he said in a recent interview. Eventually, “memories of my childhood started flashing back at me and why my family had a farm and why they raised animals. … The avenues connected and my love and fondness for what I was doing just grew.”

Lagasse also isn’t afraid of dropping the names of the many celebrities he has counted among customers and friends. And that’s half the fun of reading the book. For example, there are the “potatoes Alexa,” made with a portobello-truffle emulsion, named after Billy Joel’s daughter, as well as the triple truffle risotto he served to Sammy Hagar at his wedding.

Lagasse went on to open numerous restaurants of his own, including Emeril’s in New Orleans, NOLA and Delmonico. And the book is filled with tips and recipes inspired by those who helped him along the way, Charlie Trotter to Julia Child.

More recently, Lagasse’s television career has focused on Florida, where he lives with his family. When producers first approached him about “Emeril’s Florida,” Lagasse was taking a break and not interested. But the avid fisherman, who loves spending rare days off on the boat with his kids, said he started thinking about the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and all the lakes and ponds around the state. “I’m going to show people that there is so much abundance here.”

“I love the state,” he said. “I’ve met some amazing people from shacks that sell fish sandwiches to five-star restaurants.”

In the kitchen…

CHICKEN WITH CHAMPAGNE AND 40 CLOVES OF GARLIC

“The slow cooking of the garlic makes this dish sweet, nutty and creamy,” Emeril Lagasse writes in his new cookbook, “Essential Emeril.” “Some folks like to cut up a whole chicken, but I prefer all thighs. They braise well and the meat stays juicy. I used Champagne because I love the subtle flavor it adds, but any dry white wine could be substituted.”

Start to finish: 1 hour 45 minutes

Servings: 6

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 to 12 large bone-in chicken thighs (about 5 pounds)

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

40 cloves garlic, peeled (about 3 whole heads)

1/4 cup lemon juice, or to taste

1 cup Champagne or other dry sparkling or white wine

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

6 sprigs fresh thyme

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oven to 325 F. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high. When the pot is hot, add the oil.

Season the chicken on both sides with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Working in batches so as to not crowd the pot, sear the chicken, skin side down, until golden brown, about 6 minutes per batch. Brown briefly on the second side, then transfer the browned chicken to a plate. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Add the garlic to the empty pot and cook, stirring, until lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, Champagne, broth and thyme. Return the chicken to the pot, nestling the pieces down into the liquid. Make sure some of the garlic is sitting on top of the chicken. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pot, then place in the oven. Cook, stirring once midway to ensure even cooking, until the chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Transfer the chicken and some of the garlic to a platter, then cover with foil to keep warm. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs from the pot.

In a medium bowl, mash together the flour and butter to form a smooth paste. Slowly whisk 1/2 cup of the hot juices from the pot into the paste until smooth, then add this mixture to the pot along with 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Whisk to combine. Don’t worry if some of the garlic cloves get smashed; they will help to thicken and enrich the sauce. Cover and cook over medium heat until the gravy has thickened, 10 to 20 minutes longer.

Season the sauce with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, or more to taste. Serve the chicken with the gravy spooned over the top and sprinkled with the remaining 1 tablespoon of parsley.

Nutrition information per serving: 870 calories; 560 calories from fat (64 percent of total calories); 62 g fat (18 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 325 mg cholesterol; 1,090 mg sodium; 13 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 56 g protein.

(Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s “Essential Emeril,” 2015, Oxmoor House)

Smitten with ‘Salad Love’

For most of us, salads are mainly unplanned affairs. Which is why the idea of salad cookbooks can seem kind of silly.

Salad assembly generally is a pathetic — and pathetically easy — process that involves grabbing whatever greens haven’t wilted at the back of the refrigerator, piling on whatever other vegetables are handy — and if we’re feeling indulgent maybe some leftover protein and cheese — and calling it good. Follow a recipe? Not likely.

So I was surprised to be so smitten with “Salad Love,” a new cookbook by London salad blogger (three words not often strung together) David Bez. The book is based on his blog, “Salad Pride,” which he started in 2010 after challenging himself to create and consume a new salad every day for a year. The blog is a lovely source for salad inspiration, but the book is even lovelier.

Its main strength: “Salad Love” takes a counterintuitive approach to being a cookbook. There are no recipes, at least not in the traditional sense.

Rather, the book packs in 260 salad and dressing ideas, collections of ingredients Bez suggests work well together. Each ingredient set is accompanied by a photo (by Bez), as well as suggestions for making each salad vegan or omnivorous, as appropriate. But the rest is left to the reader. And the message clearly is that improv is good.

It’s a flip book approach to salad making, and it works. The ideas — all of which take 20 minutes or less to assemble — are creative without being outlandish, spanning a toss of broiled squid, avocado, edamame and chili to kale with blackberries and raspberries dressed with an almond vinaigrette. The book also is divided into seasons, a nice play for a meal many people think of only during warmer months.

This is a salad book, and salads aren’t all that sexy. So this book is likely to fly under a lot of radars. But if you’re a salad eater looking for easy inspiration, it’s well worth checking out.

Pecorino cheese, Croutons and blueberries salad

Ingredients

1/2 cup romaine lettuce

1/2 cup pecorino cheese

2 spring onions

Handful of whole grain croutons

Handful of dried blueberries

Dressing

Salt and pepper

Balsamic vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil

Recipe courtesy David Bez/Salad Pride

Madison’s reluctant chef Jonny Hunter captures the culinary spotlight with Underground Food Collective

Jonny Hunter moved to Madison 18 years ago in search of intellectual freedom and an environment that embraced a love of learning. After he found all that, he found something else: an opportunity to establish an alternative model for fine dining that has propelled him into the culinary spotlight.

Hunter is the co-owner of Madison’s Underground Food Collective, a multifaceted enterprise with catering, meat processing and fine-dining components. He serves as the chef at the restaurant, Forequarter, a recent venture that has been named one of the country’s top 50 new restaurants by Bon Appétit magazine. And on Feb. 18, the 35-year-old was revealed to be one of four Wisconsinites on the shortlist for a prestigious honor: the James Beard Award for best chef in the Midwest.

Hunter was joined on the list by fellow Madison chef Dan Fox of The Heritage Tavern and Milwaukee chefs Justin Carlyle of Ardent and David Swanson of Braise. Hunter wasn’t ultimately selected in the final round, though Carlyle earned one of five slots.

Hunter’s response to the nomination — “It’s great to be recognized individually for what we do, but it really is the people I work with who are doing this every day. The job they do is more important than what I do” — is so modest it’s tempting to assume he’s a native Midwesterner. But he was raised in Tyler, Texas, where he was brought up in a strict Christian household. It was that repressive environment that Madison marked an escape from, when Hunter moved in 1998. 

After a year of random jobs, he registered for classes at UW-Madison, majoring in English with a certificate in integrated liberal studies and eventually earning a master’s degree in public affairs from the university. 

The building blocks of the Underground Food Collective came in between. In 2001, Hunter and a group of friends took over Catacombs Coffeehouse, a Christian coffee shop located in the basement of Pres House, the historic Presbyterian church on the campus’s Library Mall. The group served students $2.50 vegetarian lunches and promoted a communal atmosphere. 

“Community was the most important thing here,” says Hunter, who before running Catacombs had worked in a variety of Madison restaurant kitchens and food carts. “I learned a lot about the role food plays in a community and how to cook for that community using vegetables and produce grown by people I came to know and respect.

“I never really call myself chef,” Hunter adds. “When we were working at Catacombs it was all about collaboration, being kind to each other, and for the experience itself to be good.”

The Catacombs years colored how Hunter looks at life and his chosen profession. In 2005, the reluctant chef and his Catacombs companions set their sights on applying their approach to food service outside of the religious environment of Pres House. 

“Since Catacombs was in a basement space, we named our food collective ‘Underground’ in homage to that experience,” he said. “We started to work with nonprofits to bring in food as part of their activities.”

The Underground Food Collective immediately set off in a unique direction, launching a series of pop-up dinners — not only in Madison, but also in Chicago and New York City. Hunter says the group would create its menu first, then rent out a restaurant space to execute the meal.

“People embraced the concept as a way for us to pursue culinary careers without taking on full-time obligations,” Hunter says. “We just wanted the opportunity to cook for people and do something creative and fun.”

The success of the dinners led to the formation of Underground Catering, which added structure and opportunity to the pop-up concept and set the collective on its current trajectory. The enterprise, the first of several owned by Hunter, his brother Ben Hunter and business partner Melinda Trudeau, involved the same organic and local produce with which the collective had been working, while adding locally raised meats.

It was the first in a string of additions, some more successful than others. The collective’s first attempt at a restaurant, the Underground Kitchen, opened in 2010 and closed nine months later after a fire (the space is now occupied by Heritage Tavern). More successful was Underground Meats, a wholesale meat processing facility opened in 2012 that offers charcuterie, sausages and salami, and Underground Butcher, a retail meat store that offers fresh cuts from humanely raised animals. 

Hunter’s culinary talents have shone brightest at the collective’s permanent home, Forequarter Restaurant, also established in 2012. “Forequarter is a tiny restaurant, but the food there is really driven by the creative process and is very typical of where we are in Wisconsin and that we have fresh vegetables available for only a limited time each year,” Hunter says. “We’re limited in many ways, but those limitations help us to make something unique.”

Hunter says the restaurant isn’t themed beyond that description, although root vegetables are prominent in menu items and many dishes are made using fermentation processes borrowed from Asian cuisine. It’s a process that lends a unique character to such dishes as a salad of pickled trout with smoked trout roe, celeriac mayonnaise and shaved vegetables ($14) or fried mushrooms with black garlic, black radishes and caramelized shallot vinaigrette ($8), two of Hunter’s favorite menu items.

The collective will expand sometime in 2015, when Hunter opens his next restaurant, Middlewest, at 809 Williamson St., next door to Underground Butcher. He says the restaurant will be larger than Forequarter, with a focus on Wisconsin culture, but resists getting any more specific than that, except to say it’ll retain a commitment to sustainable foods.

“I think that we run a different kind of kitchen than a lot of other restaurants. The structure has changed from the early days, but the principles stay the same,” Hunter says. “The team that works there is responsible for the food coming out. The menu is not an expression of a single individual, but the expression of the team.”

Hunter’s expression of the collective ethos is one embraced by many Madison consumers. And the more well-known his name becomes, the fewer the limits on how far the Underground Food Collective can spread its influence and further its cause.

IF YOU GO

Forequarter Restaurant: 708 ¼ E. Johnson St., 608-609-4717.

Underground Meats: 931 E. Main St., 608-251-6171.

Underground Butcher: 811 Williamson St., 608-338-3421.

For more details, visit undergroundfoodcollective.org.

Hugh Jackman talks fish, blood and his new show

Before Hugh Jackman could appear in his current Broadway play, “The River,” he had to learn his lines, dig deep into his character and do something he’s never done before: gut a fish.

His character is a fisherman who in one scene pulls out a real 3-pound sea trout, cuts it open with a fearsome-looking knife, removes the internal organs, chops a fennel bulb, slips lemon slices into the skin and seasons the flesh before popping the dish in a fake oven.

It’s a mesmerizing scene and Jackman — a man who plays a sharp-clawed Wolverine in the movies — seems completely at ease as he unhurriedly prepares the fish like a Food Network veteran.

He wasn’t always so calm.

“I was originally a little nervous about it,” said Jackman over lunch in Manhattan. “I’d never done it before and I knew it had to look like he’d been doing it his whole life.”

So Jackman did what any actor worth his salt does: He consulted chefs and practiced. He originally planned to gut a fish every day for months until it became second nature, but he was told the better route was to gut 40 in a single, fishy session.

He got out his knives and made fish fillets and fish sticks and fish soup. “There are fish cakes still frozen in my freezer,” he said, laughing. “No one’s having fish at my house for a long time.”

The scene comes in the middle of Jez Butterworth’s enigmatic play about love and repetition. Various women from the fisherman’s past enter and leave his remote fishing cabin, warping time and space.

“I think the more poetically you take the piece, and less literally you take the piece, the deeper you go with it,” Jackman said. “Ultimately, I think it’s a play that just spoke to me and my heart. I read it and I was like, ‘Wow. There’s something very true and real and honest about connection, about loss, about the search in life.’ That’s something that I’ve always had.”

Jackman, who plays the pirate Blackbeard in next year’s “Pan” and said he’s close to starring in an original movie musical about P.T. Barnum, threw himself into the new play. He spoke to memory experts and read works by psychotherapist Carl Jung.

To nail the fish dish preparation scene, Jackman also consulted with a master — chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, where he has chosen to eat on this afternoon. But Jackman has turned down the lobster tartine and caramelized foie gras for a more modest lunch of raw avocado, toast, peanut butter and marmalade.

“Perfect,” he said when his plate arrives. “I really love going to a three-star Michelin restaurant and they say, ‘You really must try the marmalade with your peanut butter.’”

“The River,” at Circle in the Square Theatre, has been a sellout, in part to Jackman’s star power. But even with his comfort in front of an audience, the fish-gutting scene didn’t go too smoothly when he first performed it, despite all the practice.

“I’ll admit: The first time I did it, I remember thinking, ‘My heart rate is about 75 beats a minute,’” said Jackman. Things got worse when he cut off the end of his thumb.

“It was not much but it was enough of a cut and it bled the entire play. I didn’t realize it was that bad. I thought it would stop,” he said. He could hear the audience murmur about it. “It was not my finest moment.”

There were pools of Jackman’s blood all over the set and the onstage carpet had to be pulled up and cleaned. “I’m a little slower now but now I’ve really got it. Now I’m really enjoying it,” he said.

He’d better: Jackman is eating fish eight times a week as part of the show. The raw trout he’s prepared is quietly swapped out for a roasted one, prepared for each performance from the nearby Emmett O’Lunney’s Irish Pub.

Jackman, who also washes his hands and kitchen tools in a working water spigot onstage, had wanted to cook his fish each time, but it turns out it’s illegal to have a working oven onstage.

Instead, he now bites into the catered fish at each show — and adores it, insisting it doesn’t get old.

“Actors love that: free food,” he said. “That never leaves you.”

Chef Tory Miller: Cook authentically this Thanksgiving

Madison chef Tory Miller plans Thanksgiving dinner around the same main dish as most families — the turkey.

But the James Beard winner, who owns the Madison restaurants L’Etoile, Graze and Sujeo, a pan-Asian eatery that opened last summer, raises the bar on his holiday feast, preparing birds that are worth their calories. He says Thanksgiving provides a unique opportunity for chefs of all capabilities to step up their game.

“Thanksgiving dinner offers a near-perfect balance of culinary elements, from sweet to salty, from the richness of gravies to the tartness of Wisconsin cranberries,” Miller says.

Given his “slow food” and locavore ethos, Miller uses tricks and techniques that might be a little different from what we attempt at home. Take, for example, the bird itself.

“I try and pick a turkey from a grower I know,” Miller says. “Buying direct from the farm will cost you more, but it supports local agriculture and can introduce your family to new flavors.”

Heritage turkeys, now available online from growers statewide, were once on the verge of irrelevance, thanks to the ubiquity of Butterball and other supermarket birds.

During the 1990s, industrially raised Broadbreasted Whites replaced flavorful heritage breeds with a turkey that is factory bred under shockingly inhumane conditions. Broadbreasted Whites are so named because they have chests so disproportionately large that they often can’t stand, walk or mate. They’re artificially inseminated, and the chicks are raised in incubators after having their claws and upper beaks clipped so they can’t injure each other in the cramped, filthy cages where they spend their lives.

Fed with a diet heavy on corn to fatten them up, the birds are disease-prone due to their living conditions and are fed large quantities of antibiotics to keep them alive. The twin diets continue through the turkey’s abnormally fast 12-week growth cycle, after which they are shipped to the slaughterhouse for processing.

Heritage turkeys are raised naturally. While not as meaty in the breast, the birds make up for their lack of girth with richer and more varied flavors. In order to be considered a heritage breed, a turkey must be raised outdoors, mate naturally and enjoy a lifespan typical to that of a normal turkey.

The American Poultry Association currently lists about a dozen varieties that meet their exacting standards, including the standard Bronze, Beltsville Small White, Black, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Royal Palm, Slate and White Holland breeds.

In Wisconsin, local farmers favor the American Bronze, one of the most flavorful varieties of heritage turkeys. They remind us why Thanksgiving was once such a highly anticipated holiday.

In addition to choosing a healthy and flavorful turkey, Miller marinates his birds for 48 hours prior to preparation. For a 15- or 20-pound bird, he prepares a water bath seasoned with two cups of kosher salt and one cup of sugar, along with coriander, allspice cloves and other herbs and spices.

Miller cooks the brine for 15 to 20 minutes and then cuts it with ice. The goal is to rapidly cool the brine and increase its volume to at least the gallon necessary to cover the turkey. Once set, the bird absorbs the solution, augmenting the natural juices.

On Thanksgiving Day, Miller removes the bird from the brine and dries it thoroughly. Turning his oven to its highest temperature, he cooks the bird for 30 minutes, searing the outside to keep the moisture and flavors in the meat. 

Miller then reduces the temperature to 325 degrees and cooks the turkey for another hour. Since the bird expels some juices, the chef lets it rest for 30 minutes prior to serving.

A dressing of breadcrumbs, wild mushrooms, turkey livers, pork sausage and aromatic vegetables completes the entrée.

Some of Miller’s favorite Thanksgiving side dishes are white wine-braised Brussels sprouts, hickory nut-topped sweet potato casserole and gastrique of currants (rather than cranberries), which together complete a feast of unparalleled flavors.

Tory Miller’s Restaurants

L’Etoile

1 S. Pinckney St., Madison 

608-251-7577

Madison’s original locavore dining experience, L’Etoile this year adopted a multi-course, prix fixe menu as a way to better highlight local foods and creative presentations. A three-course dinner is $65, with accompanying wines priced at $45. The seven-course dinner is $125, with wine selection at $65.

Graze

1 S. Pinckney St., Madison

608-251-2700

Located across the hall from L’Etoile, Graze honors New York’s gastropub scene, elevating pub fare while keeping its sister restaurant’s local focus. Graze is the home of the $21 Graze Burger, stacking bacon, sirloin, ribeye, short ribs and caramelized onions between a brioche bun with Worcestershire-cabernet jus and Emmental compound butter.

Sujeo

10 N. Livingston St., Madison

608-630-9400

Tory Miller honors his Korean heritage in this pan-Asian restaurant and noodle bar located in the street-level suite of the new 12-story Constellation apartment building. The menu includes Korean Ssam, a dish of lettuce-wrapped meats.

 

Feeding the homeless: Act of charity or a crime?

To Arnold Abbott, feeding the homeless in a public park in South Florida was an act of charity. To the city of Fort Lauderdale, the 90-year-old man in white chef’s apron serving up gourmet-styled meals was committing a crime.

For more than two decades, the man many call “Chef Arnold” has proudly fired up his ovens to serve up four-course meals for the downtrodden who wander the palm tree-lined beaches and parks of this sunny tourist destination.

Now a face-off over a new ordinance restricting public feedings of the homeless has pitted Abbott and others with compassionate aims against some officials, residents and businesses who say the growing homeless population has overrun local parks and that public spaces merit greater oversight.

Abbott and two South Florida ministers were arrested this fall as they served up food. They were charged with breaking an ordinance restricting public feeding of the homeless. Each faces up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“One of the police officers said, `Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” Abbott recalled.

The arrests haven’t deterred Abbott, and pastors Dwayne Black and Mark Sims.

In fact, on a recent evening, Abbott and Black went back out for a feeding along Fort Lauderdale beach as police videotaped them serving up fresh-cooked entrees: a chicken-and-vegetable dish with broccoli sauce and a cubed ham-and-pasta dish Abbott said he topped with a “beautiful white onion celery sauce.”

Nearly 100 mostly homeless people and volunteers cheered his arrival in the park.

“God bless you, Arnold!” some in the crowd shouted.

 “Thank God for Chef Arnold. I haven’t eaten all day. He feeds a lot of people from the heart,” said 56-year-old Eddie Hidalgo, who described himself as living on the streets since losing his job two years ago.

At one point, an Associated Press staffer said she watched as Abbott was called over beside a police car by officers where an officer wrote up something and handed Abbott a copy as he stood by.

Police spokeswoman DeAnna Greenlaw late told The Associated Press by email that Abbott was issued a citation on a charge of breaking the ordinance. She said no one else was cited and police had no further comment.

“I’m grateful that they allowed us to feed the people before they gave us the citation,” Abbott said afterward. He has said feeding the homeless is his life’s mission.

Fort Lauderdale is the latest U.S. city to pass restrictions on feeding homeless people in public places. Advocates for the homeless say that the cities are fighting to control increasing homeless populations but that simply passing ordinances doesn’t work.

In the past two years, more than 30 cities have tried to introduce laws similar to Fort Lauderdale’s, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. The efforts come as more veterans face homelessness and after two harsh winters drove homeless people southward, especially to Florida.

Mayor Jack Seiler said he thinks Abbott and the two pastors have good intentions, but that the city can’t discriminate in enforcing the ordinance. He said it was passed recently to ensure that public places are open to everyone and stressed that the city was working with local charities to help with the root causes of homelessness.

“The parks have just been overrun and were inaccessible to locals and businesses,” Seiler said.  

Black, a local pastor, noted that the ordinance passed after a long meeting after midnight, when many people had gone home. But he said he’s willing to stand up to the measure, even at the risk of arrest.

Fort Lauderdale’s ordinance took effect this fall, and the city passed a slew of other laws addressing homelessness in recent months. They ban people from leaving their belongings unattended, outlaw panhandling at medians, and strengthen defecation and urination laws, according to Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“I think cities have grown tired of the homeless situation, and businesses and residents complain about the homeless population,” Stoops said, citing the conflict between business needs and the needs of the homeless.

Fort Lauderdale police have said that the men were not taken into custody last weekend and that they were given notices to appear in court from that encounter, adding the matter will ultimately be decided by a judge. The police spokeswoman Greenlaw said those charged “were well aware of the changes to the ordinance and its effective date.”

Other cities are conducting routine homeless sweeps while some have launched anti-panhandling campaigns, according to the coalition. And many laws continue to target public feedings.

In Houston, groups need written consent to feed the homeless in public, or they face a $2,000 fine. Organizations in Columbia, South Carolina, must pay $150 for a permit more than two weeks in advance to feed the homeless in city parks.

In Orlando, an ordinance requires groups to get a permit to feed 25 or more people in parks in a downtown district. Groups are limited to two permits per year for each park. Since then, numerous activists have been arrested for violating the law. The arrests have drawn national attention, with some focusing on the contrast between the vacation destination of the Orlando area and the poverty in some surrounding areas.

Go For the Food: Bourbon in Louisville

In Kentucky’s bourbon country, the classic American whiskey isn’t just for sipping anymore.

Restaurants stretching along the Urban Bourbon Trail in Louisville are creating bourbon-inspired sauces and glazes to jazz up main courses, side dishes and desserts. The 6-year-old bourbon cocktail and culinary experience has grown to 34 establishments, adding more zest to the city’s nightlife.

The trail’s growth is part of a bourbon revival both nationally and in Kentucky’s largest city, where whiskey-making dates back to the late 1700s and where a portion of Main Street known as “Whiskey Row” was once home to as many as 50 distilleries before Prohibition.

Louisville touts itself as the gateway to bourbon country, and for many visitors the restaurants and bars are part of a day-night bourbon experience.

During the day, they tour distilleries about an hour or less away in rural Kentucky, where iconic bourbons such as Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve and Four Roses are crafted. At night, they flock to Louisville’s bars and restaurants where bourbon is a main course.

“It’s a perfect complement to our Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour, since you get to savor the authentic distillery experience by day and then enjoy the cosmopolitan allure of the Urban Bourbon Trail at dusk,” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. “Many of our guests use Louisville as their home base to enjoy their unique hotels, nightlife and culinary scene.”

The bars are well-stocked — many establishments are typically stocked with anywhere from 50 to 150 varieties of Kentucky’s signature spirit — and the bourbon-inspired dishes are as varied as the whiskeys crafted by Kentucky’s master distillers.

At St. Charles Exchange, there’s an appetizer dubbed Elvis on Horseback — bacon-wrapped, peanut butter-stuffed dates with bourbon-banana vinaigrette. The Brussels sprouts at Marketplace restaurant feature bourbon-sorghum hoisin and almond. Lilly’s serves up pork rib-eye with pork shoulder, summer succotash and grilled peach bourbon coulis. At Sidebar at Whiskey Row, the “Hung Jury” burger is layered with bourbon mushrooms and onions.

For dessert, options include Derby Cafe’s Kentucky bread pudding with bourbon sauce and whipped cream. The “Wilbur sundae” at Doc Crow’s includes brown butter praline ice cream with a bourbon caramel ribbon atop cinnamon pork rinds, sprinkled with candied bacon and topped with a bourbon cherry.

The vast array of bourbons offered at the bars includes hard-to-get whiskeys. Bourbons Bistro, a founder of the Urban Bourbon Trail, features an average of 125 regular bourbons, 20 to 25 reserve bourbons, and 35 rye whiskeys.

The Vernon Club, a bourbon bar housed in a bowling alley, keeps 300 bourbons on the menu. Its offerings of rare bourbons include Michter’s 20 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey, the cultishly popular Pappy Van Winkle bourbons, and Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Four Wood.

At the Old Seelbach Bar, customers can sip a smooth single-barrel bourbon or a classic cocktail at a restored bar from the early 1900s. The bar is a big draw at The Seelbach Hilton Hotel, a stately fixture in downtown Louisville. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald used The Seelbach as a backdrop for Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s wedding in “The Great Gatsby,” and the hotel was a favorite hangout for Al Capone.

Many of the restaurants and bars on the Urban Bourbon Trail are a short walk from some of the city’s main attractions, including the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory and the Muhammad Ali Center. Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, is a short drive away.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the trail has spiked the city’s status as a year-round tourist attraction. A half-dozen new downtown hotels are either planned or being built, and several micro-distilleries will start production in the next couple of years, he said.

“It’s been great for the economy, and good for the spirit of the city,” the mayor said.

If You Go…

URBAN BOURBON TRAIL: Louisville, Kentucky; http://www.bourboncountry.com/things-to-do/urban-bourbon-trail/index.aspx

ST. CHARLES EXCHANGE: 13 S. Seventh St., Louisville, 502-618-1917, http://stcharlesexchange.com/

MARKETPLACE: 651 S. Fourth St., Louisville, 502-625-3001, http://www.theatersquaremarketplace.com/

LILLY’S: 1147 Bardstown Road, Louisville, 502-451-0447, http://www.lillyslapeche.com/

SIDEBAR AT WHISKEY ROW: 129 S. Second St., Louisville, 502-384-1600, http://www.sidebarwhiskeyrow.com/

DERBY CAFE: 704 Central Ave., Louisville, 502-637-1111, http://www.derbymuseum.org/derby-cafe.html

DOC CROW: 127 W. Main Street, Louisville, 502-587-1626, http://doccrows.com/

BOURBONS BISTRO: 2255 Frankfort Ave., Louisville, 502-894-8838, http://www.bourbonsbistro.com/Bourbons/home.html

VERNON CLUB: 1575 Story Ave., Louisville, 502-584-8460, http://www.vernonclub.com/

OLD SEELBACH BAR: At the Seelbach Hilton, 500 S. Fourth St., Louisville, 800-333-3399, http://www.seelbachhilton.com/03_b_dining.php