Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Barbuto Redux

I'm pretty much a geek who goes completely mental when I am in the presence of a "star". Historically, when the occasion arises that I am near someone who is remotely famous, something in my brain transforms me into a complete blathering idiot who will undoubtedly say, and do, something really stupid. For example, I was fortunate enough to be working a benefit for a young, up and coming idealist running for the Illinois senate. His name was Barack Obama. I was introduced to him, shook his hand, and declared, "Your hands are really soft." Sigh. I wish this was not true of myself, but, alas, 'tis my burden.

A few weeks ago, I was in New York for the opening of J's show, Sister Myotis' Bible Camp. It had been quite some time since I was in the Big Apple, and I forgot how celeb sightings are rather common place. Look! There's J Lo and Marc at the Puerto Rico Day parade. No problem. It's Kristin Chenowith! She's so tiny, but nothing was said. There is Bobby Moynihan from SNL...several times...I guess he lives in the neighborhood of our sublet. After the third sighting, a simple, "I like your work" and all is fine.

Then, on J's day off, we hit the Village. Determined to find the best New York late afternoon lunch experience, we wander. And wander. And get a little cranky with each other. And we wandered up to the Meat Packing district. "Look," J said. "There's Barbuto! That's...oh, what's his name...Santa Claus...from Top Chef Masters..."

"Jonathan Waxman?! The Cooking Jedi?! Let's go!"

There were about four others in the restaurant and we get a table outside. There is sparkling water, olives, and a delightful menu at what was to be my first celebrity chef restaurant experience. J ordered the best roasted chicken I have ever tasted. I chose a spicy steak salad, and we shared roasted fingerling potatoes and sauteed greens. Conversation was witty, and we looked cute.

And then I looked to my left.

Sitting blithely at a table with two of his sous chefs...was HIM. Obi Wan Kawaxman in the flesh. I start to vibrate. "I want a picture."
"No. You will not take a picture."

"But I want one."
"No," J replied calmly, using a tone one usually reserves for the criminally insane.



I enjoyed the rest of my salad and picked at J's chicken carcass silently with a steady and focused eye on the table two to my left...waiting for that moment when The Waxman would notice the complete bliss with which I was savoring his food and he would politely excuse himself from his daily meeting, come over to our table, and state, "You know how to appreciate good food! Come. Work with me. Let me teach you what I know, young paduan."

But, no.

There was a brief moment when J used the facilities and I thought about bribing the server into finagling a photo with the man, but J peed with unusual speed that day so no such arrangement was agreed upon. The only thing that remained was a full belly, a beautiful day in NYC, and a wonderful memory with my valentine.

What follows is my attempt to recreate the dish created by a man who is filled with the Culinary Force. While it's not quite as accurate as what I enjoyed (truthfully, I don't remember what exactly was in the salad...The Waxman channeled a Vulcan and erased my memory), what I improvised is pretty darn tasty with a nice heat that doesn't finish too overwhelmingly. Perfect for a summer night. Be sure to soak the peppers or your brain may explode. Unless you're into that kind of thing

Spicy Steak Salad

1 pound flank steak
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
ground pepper
5 oz arugula
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
2 jalapenos (I don't know how to do that little n-yeah thing)
shaved pecorino to taste (I'm a cheese lover and it don't take much)
Spicy vinaigrette (recipe follows...I've always wanted to write that)

Preheat a grill pan over high heat. In a bowl, combine cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper to create a delicious spice rub. Drizzle steak with olive oil and sprinkle half the rub on your meat. Rub your meat. Flip that bad lad over and do the same. Once that pan is hot, slap your meat onto it and don't touch it for 7 minutes. While it's cooking, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with the rub, and rub your meat once again. I know it seems early but it's okay. You love your meat. At 7 minutes, flip it over and let it cook for another 5 minutes. Don't touch the meat. This should get you to a great medium rare. Remove from heat and tent with foil, allowing it to rest.

Once you have the steak on the grill, slice jalapenos in rounds, pushing out seeds. Place peppers and onions into a shallow bowl of cold water to take the edge off. While meat is resting, drain pepper and onions and combine with arugula, parsley, cilantro, and cheese. Dress salad with half of the vinaigrette. Arrange salad on plate. After about 5 minutes, thinly slice meat against the grain and serve on top of the greens with roasted potatoes. Enjoy.

Spicy Vinaigrette

2 garlic cloves
zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
3/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
just shy of 1 tsp of cayenne pepper
1 tsp pomegranate molasses
2 tsp fresh cilantro, chopped
pinch salt

In a small food processor, combine all ingredients except olive oil until garlic and cilantro has been good and mashed up. With the motor running, slowly add oil. Spicy and delish!

Roasted Potatoes

The Waxman used fingerling potatoes, however my grocery store did not have them this evening (it is Memphis after all). Pearl Yukon Gold potatoes sliced in half worked just as well.

Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400. On a baking sheet, line up those spuds (I used about 5 taters per person)
drizzle with oil, salt, and pepper. Give 'em a good toss and pop in the oven for about 30 minutes.

NOTE: I took pictures of this glorious meal, however I cannot figure out how to turn off my flash so every thing looked like culinary mug shots. Will try to get a grip on the photo elements as I go along.

Food is not Feed

As an improviser, I never had any trouble starting a scene. I would take a moment, establish an activity, and then jump into the abyss allowing the magic of possibilities to wash over me. I would simply follow my instincts, and, when I would get stuck, I would simply repeat the last idea and explore.

Now, sitting in front of my computer, I'm stuck.

Listen to your instincts. Repeat idea. Explore.

Food is not feed. A college professor of mine, the amazing Dwight Conquergood, uttered this phrase in a class entitled "Performance in Everyday Life" and it has stayed with me throughout the years. To many, food is merely a necessity, something to be consumed to keep you going. They shovel it in without regard to its composition, its emotional value, its story. Food is an expression of creativity, personal history, culture, psychology, and life.

Most of my happiest moments have involved food. Making Betty Crocker's meatloaf with my mother as a kid (my first dish), my first grown up birthday party feasting on fondue at Cafe Gejas in Chicago sipping red wine while being serenaded by classical Spanish guitar, dining on a football sized pear and a fresh baguette in front of Notre Dame in between performances of Twelfth Night in Paris, the spontaneous dinner parties and porch sittings in Memphis, TN. There is something about food that, like music, takes you back to a specific time and place allowing you to relive a moment while creating new memories. Food is meant to be celebrated, experienced, and shared.

Food is not feed.

In this blog, I plan on sharing recipes, stories, photos, and all things food.