Behind the Scenes column: Chefs confess their food sins
Ryan Summerlin July 8, 2013
When last we met, I shared with you “food sins” chef-friends confessed to me. Many of you expressed your surprise that popcorn and vanilla ice cream were food sins of talented chefs who could conjure up just about any sinful dish. Moving along with that same theme, let’s look at more sins of chefs near and far.
Sergio Howland, executive chef, The Sebastian in Vail
Getting chef Howland to forget about calories and carbs long enough to develop a list of his favorite food sins wasn’t easy. He eats healthy, and that philosophy is definitely reflected in his cuisine at Leonora. Therefore, to give me an answer to my nagging question of his savory and sweet sins, he had to pretend he was on death row and the guards had asked him what he wanted for his last meal.
First up, a peach Bellini from Cecconi’s in West Hollywood, provided they deliver. Of course, this being the beginning of his last meal on the planet, it would have to be made with the sweetest and softest Georgia peaches. Our apologies to the peach farmers in Palisade.
While we’re pretending, let’s pretend that chef Jiro Ono would fly in from Tokyo to prepare fresh sushi for Howland. Ono is a master sushi chef who owns and operates Jiro Sukiyabashi, a three Michelin star sushi restaurant in Minato, Tokyo. Only the best for this last sinful meal. Of course, a sake pairing is needed. Howland’s favorite, Ozeki Nigori, an unfiltered, cloudy and semisweet sake with a slight milky consistency. Its sweetness cuts through the salty soy and spicy wasabi.
Since Howland hails from Mexico City, the food of his native country would be required in this sinful last meal. He would ask the guards for octopus tacos with guajillo chile, roasted garlic, lime and sea salt. This just sounds so great, doesn’t it? I hope in the real world Howland will put that one the menu at Leonora. Howland’s choice of beverage would be a chilled glass of the Belgium beer, Gouden Carolus, since he believes beer goes great with certain cuisines, Mexican being one of them.
Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate is Howland’s sweet sin. While working in Vacarisses, a small town two-and-a-half hours from Barcelona, Spain, Howland learned a fantastic recipe for warm coulant, baked and served on the plate. The restaurant’s recipe included pistachio and a white chocolate ganache or coconut center. Recently, Howland delighted diners at Leonora with his version of the coulant with a mint and white chocolate center. Howland told me he’d sin with two of these before having a cup of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee then “call it a day.”
Giullermo Field Melendez, owner and executive chef, Profumo di Vino in Treiso, Italy
A few months ago, I introduced you to Giullermo (Memo) Field Melendez. Born in Ensenada, Mexico, trained in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu and now owner and executive chef of a highly-regarded Piemonte restaurant, Profumo di Vino, Field Melendez dreams of epicurean sins. For him, it’s not just what he eats to sin, but when he eats it. From early in the morning until the wee hours of the following day, Field Melendez can be found in his Treiso, Italy restaurant. After midnight, when the pristine kitchen has been put to bed, Field Melendez loves to indulge in delicious salumi (charcuterie): salsiccia, salami, culatello, pancetta and cacciatorini.
Mind you, it’s not just any salumi that tickles Field Melendez’s fancy. Nope, these are very special delicacies 84-year old Oreste Vacchetto makes at his farm in Castino in the Alta Langa region of southern Piemonte. We just indulged in Vacchetto’s salami Field Melendez serves as an amuse bouche at Profumo di Vino. Trust me, one taste of this peppery salami and you’re hooked.
Vacchetto is so dedicated to perfection that he will only slaughter the pigs during a full moon and not every full moon is necessarily a perfect one. A culinary artisan himself, Field Melendez buys from Vacchetto because he makes the salumi in the style his grandfather and father made it. The old traditions in many places are fading, so Field Melendez does his share by supporting the artisans.
Luc Meyer, founder of The Left Bank in Vail
Thanksgiving 1970 is a red-letter day in Vail’s culinary timeline. On that day, Luc and Liz Meyer introduced Vail to the delights of French fine dining when the doors of The Left Bank opened. In April 2006, the Meyers’ 35 winters of hard work of culinary perfection ended when they sold the iconic restaurant to chef Jean-Michel Chelain and his wife, Kimberly. Well, the culinary perfection didn’t end, but at least they could enjoy more than one day off each winter.
Recently, my husband, Dani and I were guests at the Meyers’ home for a deliriously delicious, yet simple and pure, meal created by chef Meyer. The experience piqued my interest in discovering the epicurean sins of this Michelangelo of culinary art. After reading his “confession,” I had to play three sets of tennis to ensure I didn’t gain weight from the virtual calories I consumed.
Although the other chefs confessed their savory sins before their sweet ones, Meyer started with sweets. Not surprising since he is the grandson of a pastry chef who had a shop in Strasbourg, France. During his childhood days after the war, long before Ben & Jerry’s introduced their chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, Meyer became a fan of uncooked dough. This wasn’t just any dough. It was dough fermented with brewer’s yeast that would be transformed in the oven into brioche and kugelhof.
At night, Meyer and his brother would sneak into the shop’s lab (kitchen) and feast on the uncooked dough. Given the choice, raw dough in a pastry shop in France or a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s famous concoction, I’d need my passport to sin. France, hands down.
Clafoutis is another of Meyer’s sweet sins born of childhood experiences. In summer, the family went to their farm in the Vosges Mountains, on the west side of the Rhine River. Meyer’s mother used plump, juicy black cherries from the family’s own trees to make clafoutis, a fruit dessert somewhat similar to cobbler. She topped the warm dessert with a rich, silky creme Anglaise. The fruit pastry, no doubt delicious and made with love, baked this dish into Meyer’s memory.
Chef Meyer’s savory sin comes from his days as an apprentice at La Pyramide in Vienne, south of Lyon, France, in 1959: pate chaud de gibier avec sauce beurre blanc et le gratin de queues d’ecrevisses (warm game pate with a butter sauce and gratin of crawfish tails). Just closing his eyes and thinking about it conjures up images and no doubt tastes of this wonderful, rich but delicate dish.
I’m in Italy now after a week in Valais, Switzerland, sinning like mad on such delights as Castelmagno cheese, sweetbreads, crusty pain Paillasse, Barolo and Barbaresco wines, egg-rich tajarin and farm-fresh salumi! Some time soon, when once again I am an ocean away from some of the greatest cuisines in the world, I will ask your indulgence as I confess my many food sins.