Evolution of an Hors D’oeuvre

The journey started in early May 2007, while on my honeymoon in Greece. We had an appetizer that surprised us by it’s depth of flavor and simplicity. I would later re-create the dish dozens of times and in many iterations. I didn’t realize the evolution of an hors d’oeuvre would be such a long journey.

Hors d'oeuvre of zucchini, feta and tomato
Grilled zucchini with olive oil and oregano soaked feta, topped with perfect roasted tomato

The beginning

A young couple in love, stroll into a casual cafe for lunch on a warm Santorini day. “BBQ Feta” was on the menu. What prey tell is BBQ Feta? We had no idea, and me having no idea what a menu item offers, pretty much guarantee’s I’m gonna order it.

What arrived was a basket of lightly grilled pita, accompanied by a foil pouch, which had been grilled. I guess BBQ means grilled in some places? We open the pouch to reveal a hot slab of feta, topped with a slice of tomato, dried oregano, and olive oil and pepper. Using a knife, we spread some on the pita and dove in. Now, one thing of note is that we had many ethereal eating experiences in Greece. The food was always amazing. This appetizer was no exception. The approachable simplicity really stuck with me. In fact, long after the vacation was over, I was still addicted to oregano and olive oil.

Making it my own

For years I’ve been making an iteration of those flavors. Feta, olive oil, oregano, tomato and sometimes pita/flatbread. Initially did a cooking class and prepared the dish straight up. Wanting refinement as an hors d’oeuvre, I cut small rounds of each, stacked them and placed the stacks on a foiled low grill till the bread was crispy. Those are great, but over time I realized it was just a mini Greek pizza. These flavors came together in many other forms over the years and they never disappoint.

Tomato wrapped feta and zucchini for an Sure, here is the corrected text: "Hors d'oeuvre"
Roasted tomato topped zucchini wrapped around feta and oregano

Idaho Family Vacation 2016


Had a great family vacation recently with 35 family members who descended on the Idaho panhandle through various means of travel and it was fun from start to end.

What a bounty of life the Northwest is. Even hiking is mellow cause the ground is bouncy and spongy from all the fallen debris and rain. Keeps a bounce in your step while hiking. I crossed a few things off my bucket list and also crossed some off I didn’t even know were on that list.

Like when we were foraging for huckleberries, I found my first wild strawberry. It was so damn cute and delicious. We had many fresh handfuls of huckleberries but on our last day, we were treated to huckleberry pancakes and waffles :-) I’m pretty sure huckleberries are not cultivated and only found in the wild…but I’ll have to Google that.

A pleasantly shocking moment was seeing a skinned bear foot in the river, and a moose that was close enough to make me nervous. Caught a fish with a lure for the first time. Caught and ate lake trout…which is more like salmon then what I know here in California as trout. Went mushroom hunting and found hedgehogs, chanterelles and shaggy manes…or I found their poisonous cousins…not sure cause I didn’t eat ’em. Not going to the northwest again without a couple good wild edibles books.  

Also saw my boys reel in their first fish :-)  Camping is usually cool, but five days of cool is even better.


Hawaii With The Family In The Fall

From top left: Sapodilla, Guava, Papaya, Star and Dragon.

Why Hawaii when I live next to amazing beaches? Because my kids get two weeks off in early fall, which drives me a little nuts. Not because they’re home, but it’s a long break right as your family is hitting it’s school year stride. I’d much rather have those two weeks of extra summer break. Maybe schools did that because too many families were taking time off to go skiing? I don’t know…but I know I don’t like it. Lol.

That October break always caught us by surprise, and it took a few years to organize ourselves accordingly and actually plan something during those two weeks. Last year my wife made sure we had a plan. That plan, was Hawaii. I had never been and it’s a perfect family trip, so she booked it and it was perfect. Well…almost perfect. Like most vacations, there were obstacles to overcome. And we overcame, and it was great. New experiences in a new place is something we never get tired of.

One Island To Rule Them All

We went to Kauai and stayed in Kauai the whole week. We did our best to see everything the island had to offer, sans some of the egregiously priced tourist attractions. Our days were “organized,” as we’d wake up early, go hike somewhere rad, grab some food, hit a beach till dark and come back home for dinner and a movie. Even though we mostly ate in….

One of our many dining in evenings. The grill couldn’t get hot enough for a good sear, but it was still damn good.

we tried to eat everything and anything. I’m blessed with an adventurous family and we try to go for it on vacation. The weirder the better, especially if it has cultural significance to the region. Enter, the Hawaiian plate lunch. Affordable carb heavy meals that make the argument as the first popular fusion meal. My family had never experienced this so of course we were all in, for better or worse.

What Black Magic Is This Fruit?

Now, If you’ve been to Hawaii you already know, and I’m assuming most tropical environments are like this. But the fruit, is out of this world good. So floral and luscious, we couldn’t get enough. Not only did we try interesting fruits like Sapodilla, but we ate our way through a couple hikes that were shrouded with guava trees of varied flavor and texture. Fruits we’ve had a million times, like, papaya, mango and banana were ethereal. Star fruit actually had flavor! The star fruit was also my favorite variety of fruit, something I like to call neighbor fruit and is always on sale for five fifty free.

Culinarily Speaking

Cheers! To a new year, doing new things and having fun doing them. Recently I joined a panel to speak at The San Diego Unified School District’s 2024 Culinary Career College Symposium, sponsored by Intuit. This event was held as a gala to celebrate the release of a new food truck to be run by San Diego High School culinary students.

For me, there were a few points of interest. First of all…high school culinary students? What? Apparently, there are several schools in town with legit, college grade culinary programs. Programs that ready students to enter the workforce right out of high school. That’s rad, I wish I had had that option. My education was great, but saving those two years and being ready to enter a professional kitchen that early would have been a great jump start. It also allows kids to get their feet wet and decide if it’s something they’re really passionate about. Rather than loose two years floundering, which happens so often when kids enter college.

Intuit sponsoring food trucks for students to operate is another wonderful asset. Not only are food trucks a vital wave of the culinary future, but it’s an efficient way to give students hands on, real world experience.

Public Speaking

Teaching cooking classes used to be a heavy load to my job as a personal chef. I enjoyed it for about 15 years. Clients I engage with know immediately that casually conversing and talking through what I’m doing is part of who I am. Furthermore, setting people at ease is something I’m usually conscious about. I’m a stranger in their home providing a somewhat intimate experience and I want them to feel they made the right decision bringing me in.

But, I hadn’t been in front of a large group in quite a while, and boy, was I sweating. Going into it I knew it was for high school kids and that can be a bit daunting. There isn’t another age group so intent on communicating their ambivalence and structured discontent. I love it; and vividly remember the feeling at that age. Luckily, I didn’t get eye rolled or groaned at. I think my perspective and journey in the field was a welcome and valued touch.

This event brought back memories of my beginnings at culinary school. It was invigorating to see the future of the craft starting early and getting the support they need.

Simplicity Begets Complexity

Deceptively complex simplicity is a great way to describe what I present to you. It’s also a reason why menus aren’t often presented before hand. I create from what the market and the season present to me.

Trying to create new experiences for seasoned diners is the best kind of stressful. I feel the pressure of my clients giving me their trust regarding an unknown menu, and I don’t want to let them down. Take for instance tomatoes. What are the best tried and true combos for fresh tomato? Caprese is always a winner. Fresh salsa/pico de gallo hits the spot as well. Tossed into a salad? Sure. But I try to offer what you wouldn’t make yourself, or maybe; not even order off a menu.

Look at these two tomato courses, made about two months apart…

If You Like Fresh Tomato

The second picture was a fan favorite that night. Cherry tomatoes peeled and tossed with basil oil that has a nice hit of nutmeg, settled over my favorite greens,(kohlrabi) that are sautéed with garlic and white wine. All the dish needed was some texture and richness; enter fried pepitas. Acid, crunch, fat, tart, sweet and earthy all settled with intrigue.

The first pic was a hit as well, again, trying to highlight the tomato without the balance of burrata or buffalo mozzarella. I opted for toasted almond cream that had a little lemon zest. The tomatoes, peeled and tossed with salt, lemon juice and chives paired perfectly with that richness, happily highlighted by some basil oil.

Both dishes look quite simple, and at their technical essence, are. But the complexity that bursts through with each bite offers surprise as your senses explode…Complex simplicity.

A NEW Year

A new year brought in a new experience. My Alaska dwelling bother came in for the holidays with some tasty, wild game treats, and we wasted no time taking advantage of it.

Although my brother has not yet waded into the wild meat procurement game, his awesome neighbor is a seasoned veteran. Wild fish and game fill his freezer, and he was kind enough to gift my brother some meat to share with his inexperienced brother in the lower 48. Halibut, rock fish, moose, deer and jerky from elk, moose and deer. All frozen, and stuffed into a suitcase bound for San Diego, narrowly missing the epic holiday flight derailments of 2022.

My history

First, let me start by saying two things. One…I have never experienced venison that I enjoyed. The gaminess was always at the flavor forefront, which made appreciation a struggle. Second…I always wanted, but never had an opportunity to eat moose steak. Sure I’ve had it in sausage, but that was always mixed with pork and spices. Personally and as a chef, experiencing new foods is in my top 3 pleasures as a human on this planet. My brain goes wild with new palatable experiences, especially when they’re delicious. Combine that with added surprises or revelations about the ingredient, and I’m on anther plane.

This black tail deer and moose were so unbelievably good. Eliciting moans of pleasure and excitement I have not had with a new ingredient in quite some time. Both were as good or better than any steak I’ve had, and equal to my previous favorite game meat experience 15 years ago. Which was elk from New Mexico. It was fun because my brother and the gentleman that produced the meat were curious as to what I would do with said meat. Not even “are you gonna marinate it,” but rather, “what are you gonna marinate it in?”

How to cook meat has been a consistent question from many a dude throughout my career. Yes, dudes ask me about meat cookery 95% more than women. It has to be some kind of primal thing about cooking flesh over fire. Most guys over think and over prepare food as the “more is better” aesthetic is pervasive with men in the kitchen. My answers on meat preparation are usually met with disappointment and doubt. As if there’s a secret way to grill meat only chefs are privy to. The lack of complexity and preparation for steak is to many home cooks; counterintuitive for a glorious experience.


The deer and moose were cooked exactly how I would cook any prized meat that wasn’t being braised. Heavily salt the meat 2+ hours ahead, crack over some fresh pepper and grill over mesquite or oak coals. A little olive oil rubbed on the meat is good if the cut is lean. Brown each side until caramelized and delicious looking. Continue to cook as needed until desired doneness is reached using indirect heat if necessary. Let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serve with some tasty sides. Lean meats cook to medium rare and fatty cuts toward the medium side of medium rare.

Dinner For Two

Menus are usually not planned, rather, menus are created according to what is vibrant and available on the day of a party. Menus also need to jive with the clients dietary needs and personal tastes. Sometimes there’s a vegan in the group while other times someone is gluten free and only eats fish. Cooking in an unknown environment that might or might not have the usual equipment or quality is also a heavy variable for a personal chef. Dinner for two is always fun; it’s a time to push boundaries and develop new directions. Things that can’t be done when cooking for 10 because of time constraints.

Take the first pic below of the chicken wings. This new recipe was bound to need some tweaking before it could be served. When it’s a dinner for two, there’s time to make sure any unknowns become knowns; and having time for heavy adjustment is part of creative fun. Conversely, dinner for 10 needs a measured approach consistent with variations on known winners. No matter the count, seasonality and vibrancy is at the forefront of any dinner.

The Menu

Crispy achiote chicken wings with orange syrup, pickled turnip, cilantro stems and chives

Roasted chestnut puree with arugula/basil/golden beet salad and citrus poached cranberries with fresh nutmeg and thyme

Phyllo baked feta with honey/lemon syrup, toasted sesame seeds and fresh parsley

Fig jam stuffed poached pear over homemade sauerkraut, cinnamon roasted walnuts and draped in gorgonzola cream

Fresh white seabass roasted with green tomato and olive oil and topped with snow pea and celery root salad dressed with lemon/orange vinaigrette. Below is white wine and fennel sautéed collard greens and butternut squash bisque

Prime NY strip or roasted chicken breast with red wine/beef bone/maitake mushroom sauce. Perched atop cardoon mashed potatoes and crispy salt and pepper brussels sprouts

Fuyu tart with maple/vanilla whipped cream

Classic and Perfect

Salmon is a rarity on my menus. It’s a Tuesday night dinner item that many people cook for themselves. As a personal Chef in San Diego, it is my mission to give the diner something new. There is no better way to create something classic and perfect, than to perfect a classic.

This first entrée for a group of 8 is just that. Salmon, shrimp, chimichurri and polenta. All known classic items you see on menus everywhere. But if I can make your eyes roll backward with these seemingly pedantic recipes, then we are all winning.

Attention to simplicity

All it takes to make food delicious is to cook it perfectly. A simple to understand rule but not always easily achieved. Lets take a look at polenta. Coarsely ground cornmeal cooked with water (and maybe some milk) with a pinch of salt until the cornmeal has softened. Then hit it with one or multiple dairy fats of your choice. Serve immediately or chill, slice and brown. But this polenta picture above is 90% fresh corn. Using fresh corn kicks up the bright summer vibe and adds diversion from the classic. Cooked, puréed, cooked again and hit with more corn and a solid hit of butter. It’s marvelous.

Salmon follows the same rule as most fish; buy as fresh as possible and don’t overcook. I usually broil most thick pieces of fish. Pan searing stinks up the house and grilled can be dicey in terms of sticking to the grate. Getting color on fish is also not always best for flavor. If I’m eating shrimp cold, I like it poached and chilled. Otherwise, I utilize the grill. Often marinated and usually brined, it’s important to apply some char on marinated shrimp. (Any marinated protein for that matter.) That char is another layer that helps pull this dish into the summer spotlight as the shrimp are tossed into the chimichurri; allowing juices and maillard love to imbue. These attributes also focus regional flavors that can be expected from a San Diego personal Chef.

Not salsa verde

Chimichurri is common in restaurants, and for good reason. Herbs, chile, acidulation, pungent alliums and rich olive oil. But in most restaurants, it’s usually the same green, purée akin to a Mexican verde sauce in terms of look and flavor, and is often underwhelming. My chimi is all done on the board with a knife, allowing layers of flavor to shine instead of muddling together into ambiguity.

Always Grilling, and Photos When I Can

Achiote and orange grilled pork loin with fresh grits, blackened chile and peanut green beans with pickled strawberries

Grilling Is Essential

Most parties get a grilled item or two. The only time I don’t grill something is when I don’t have a working grill. We all have a little caveman in us, so fire charred items on any menu are a must. It allows for a smokey counterpoint that tickles the parietal lobe in the most wonderfully familiar way. It’s also a way for me to Maillard the hell out of things without sending your smoke alarm into a tizzy.

Bringing The Dish Together

Below is a classic dish and photo for Chef Joshua Alkire, (me).The dish is classic and still original, balanced in texture and flavor, and familiar yet peculiar. The dish is part of the menu from my last post. Tikka masala swordfish with banana roasted mashed potatoes and a za’atar grilled carrot. As with all of my food, everything is always from scratch. I start with spices that are toasted and ground; then add in yogurt, lemon, olive oil, garlic and ginger Use this to marinate the sword fish, then grill to perfection.

Grilling swordfish can yield a dry piece of meat if your not careful. Luckily…I’m careful. Fresh fish is pricey so I can’t screw it up. Before you get to grilling the fish, the sauce needs to come together. That starts with caramelized onion, garlic, ginger, spices and tomato paste, added in their appropriate succession. Water to cook for awhile, then hit with some cream and mount it all with a pat of butter before service.

Next are the banana roasted potatoes: Potatoes, garlic, shallots and herbs are roasted until they are perfectly browned and ready for dinner. But then I top it with sliced bananas and broil until caramelized. While still hot, everything gets transferred to a bowl and mashed with butter and cream. Not mashing totally, as we need to leave some roasted potato texture. I like the combination of banana and potato over the use of plantains. It gives us a layered effect of savory and sweet that is more dynamic than the flavor plantains provide.

Photos Are Hard

The photo is classic because, as per usual it looks unassuming. Often times I am missing a garnish that really makes photography pop. Photos for me are truly difficult. The dish I just walked you through is just another course, and all courses have multiple steps. Then I’m getting these to the table while still hot and doing dishes in between. So leaving time to take pictures is often impossible. Especially good pictures with dynamic angles and perfect lighting.

Something New Is The Norm

French onion soup poaching ribeye sashimi with a sautéed mushroom flauta dipper

Before first bite, nervous doubt can hover in the kitchen. It can feel a little uneasy not choosing your menu, or not knowing what you’re getting for dinner that evening. Especially from a guy you’ve never met. I understand the trepidation, but the method exists for a reason. Creating something new, is the norm for this chef.

Not having a pre-planned menu isn’t based on ego or laziness. It’s about freedom, expression, spontaneity and duty. Freedom to choose foods that are exciting or beautiful. Expression because food is art. Spontaneity to choose new ingredients or switch directions and trust my instincts. Then duty; the duty I have to you, the client. The duty to reward your trust and make sure you’re presented with an amazing product. I guess ego is in there to a point because I don’t want to let you down. Or allow you to feel regretful of not going with a chef that manages things a little more traditionally. Just rest assured: Wherever the party, I’m looking to impress.

Garlic kale and zucchini noodles with roasted tomatoes

Although I reside in La Mesa, the menu listed below was for a La Jolla based client. Because I want people to experience something different. I try to stay playful, for all our benefit.

Gorgonzola wrapped red grapes coated with toasted walnuts and vinaigrette
Seared green tomato and seared mozzarella with balsamic/honey arugula
Swordfish tikka masala with banana roasted mashed potatoes and za’atar grilled carrot
Garlic kale and zucchini salad with roasted tomato, fresh herbs and fried oregano
French onion soup over rib-eye “sashimi” with mushroom flauta and a side of grilled rib-eye
Toasted almond and coconut macaroon with fresh lemon curd, strawberries and rhubarb