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. What better way to do something new, than to double or triple down on the classics or the assumed knowns. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
2022 has been a whirlwind. My small covid era parties of 2-4 guests have returned to the normal 6-12 count. With the larger groups of 15-17 back on the coast renting rad houses for supreme parties. Combining that with my kids in little league, I look back and can’t believe summer is upon us. Not much has changed over the years, I still love cooking for private parties and bringing the highlights of each season to the table. Always focused on inspiration and bringing unexpected creativity to every dinner…with a smile.
For instance: The orange sauce in the metal bowl pictured to the left is a roasted honey nut squash vinaigrette that went underneath a celery root, apple and kohlrabi salad with fresh pickled beets. Shown below is Fresh yellow fin sashimi with almond/Fresno chile chimichurri with aligot potatoes.
Courses like these come from taking what the season, market and weather tell me. Menus are not pre-planned so I am never bound to just my thoughts in front of a screen. I can smell, see and touch what I choose before I commit. More to come soon, stay tuned!
This year is off to a smashing start, and the starters have been smashing.
Fulfilling menu requests is something that keeps me fired up. The need to deliver on someone’s request is my favorite pressure. Food memories are strong, and I want to be a part of that. Producing a perfect version of something is always part of a chefs journey. Especially classics, recipes that (for whatever reason) don’t get much play as time ticks by. But…they’re classics for a reason, so it’s always fun to be reminded of them. Like that crake cake above. A lovely starter, made in the traditional manner, updated with some bright pickles and complimented with a familiar but intriguing little sauce.
The star of this years starters were these rolled tacos…
Fresh Yellowfin tuna with pickled cucumber brunoise, chives, and black caraway stuffed into fried corn tortilla shells and served with a ginger/sesame/chile soy dipping sauce. The combination of sushi/Mexican/crunchy/soft/familiar/new, was a bit of a homerun.
We spent the summer getting sun kissed, eating watermelon and grilling. Now the air is crisp, blankets are back strewn over the family room and a warm bowl of soup is a welcome familiar hug.
I’m not gonna wax on but gosh darn…I love me some chill in the air. As a chef that fly’s by the seat of the seasons. There is a big exhale at the end of each one as the new seasons ingredients come into play. Away with the cucumbers and zucchini while welcoming large squashes and sweet root veggies. Stone fruits are now only in jams and fresh pears are sparkling with personality. And of course we can’t forget chili. An October staple in many an American household, ours is no different. I make chili every year for Halloween (just as my mom did), and I have never not made it. It’s never the same and always an usually obscene amount. If it doesn’t get torched that first week using it for breakfast lunch and dinners, then we’re always happy freezing it and revisiting bowl in January.
Thanksgiving-Super bowl is usually a whirlwind for me, there are parties to work and parties to attend. When I’m not doing that I’ll be snuggling down with a righteous bowl of soup and a fire. I hope everyone has a safe, fulfilling and memorable holiday season.
Maybe not for me…but the Fresh Prince had it right for you. San Diego is a great city for fun and relaxation. Doubling down on that with a personal chef will take everyone to another level of contentedness. I find my time for myself in the summer as well, but I always strive to cook a memorable dinner with no hassle for you, from introduction to dessert.
About a month ago I cooked for a couple celebrating their anniversary. While 99% of my parties are fun, every now and then there are people who stand out with just a little more sparkle. The vibrancy of two people in love after 10 plus years is always fulfilling to witness. I am luckily in that category, but it’s still always fun to be around. The pics are courses 2 and 5 of 8.
April in San Diego tends to produce spectacular weather. This year is no different; with people consciously getting back to life out of the house, April is shining even brighter than normal.
Although some kids have been in classrooms for awhile, mine are just getting back. Which is a gigantic breath of fresh air. Just like it’s nice to get away from home, it’s nice for the daily separation of kids and parents to resume.
Recently my family ordered in sushi for dinner, (Narumi). It was on point as usual, but it also led me to a fun and unexpected inspiration. For my dinner party the next evening, I landed on a sushi-esque preparation for salad.
Over the years, there has always been an element of pride I take in veggie preparations and salads. My belief is that a positive food memory contains balance. Overlooking those herbivorous courses will take you right out of flavor town and lost down fail sauce river. Veggie rolls of varying concepts have been created over the years, with good success. Not something I do for large parties because it is time consuming. But this one is just fire. Texturally and gustatorily, it weaves in new interest with every bite. Carrot, celeriac and zucchini make up the wrapper, while the filling is turnip, apple, avocado and mixed herbs. Everything comes together with a rich but restrained almond/ginger dressing.
So cheers to Spring and getting back into life. While you’ll most likely only see this salad on this blog page. There are other culinary creations to be conjured for your pleasure…and conjure them, I will.
It started from a Saveur magazine article that blipped through my news feed. I’m a sucker for an epic sandwich, especially one with a cultural anchor somewhere; so I read on. This French/Caribbean masterpiece that found it’s way to Guadalupe is called Bokit. The bread base is nothing new to our culinary world, yeast leavened fry bread has been done before in various parts of the world. I’ve been making different versions of loukamades for a couple decades, but I guess those are closer to doughnuts. Now that I think about it…most fry breads are soda levened and most places don’t fry naan. Regardless…I never made it into a sandwich, and I definitely never made this sandwich. Another magical creation stemming from random ingredient leftovers; a *Musgo if you will. Rutabaga, mint, unripened strawberries, peppers, lettuce, carrot…
My wife was skeptical about the strawberries, but they were essential to the moan inducing creation; as were all the ingredients. This sandwich is a microcosm of my food. Lot’s of unexpected flavors and textures bludgeoning you with pleasure until you have no choice but to close your eyes, let out a moan of ecstasy and try to comprehend the feeling you have been enlightened to. Wondering if what you just experienced was legal.
Summertime is a season where we crave things bright, cold and crisp, like cold watermelon. It’s also a time people don’t want to heat up their kitchens, so we move out to the grill. A truly iconic smell and flavor of summer is that of the grill. It screams relaxed and ready to party.
Grilled flavor is a consistent point of interest in 98% of my dinner parties. On top of that, I also utilize charring on at least one item during a multi-course dinner. Charring is in essence, burning. It’s a calculated burn with the end result being a charred exterior and sweetened interior. Sometimes the interior stays uncooked, and sometimes it’s soft. Both have their respective places in the menu and each can be an unexpected flavor blast. If you don’t have me coming to cook for your gathering, try it yourself. Sugary things like, carrots, onions and beets all work great for charring. Blaze your grill on high until it’s raging hot. Place an un-oiled item on the hottest part of the grill until the outside(s) burn. Remove from the grill to cool, then rub off the loose char. That’s it, but it might take one or two tries to perfect, so start with carrots.
Below is a dish that could have totally stood up to and benefited from some char. Although the beans are grilled, the bittersweet flavors of charred onion would have been lovely with the heavy butter tones of the risotto.