The Taste E1 - Curry Chicken with Marcus

I made it. My dream is coming true before my very eyes. I am deeply touched by love and support that surrounds my experience thus far, and it is only beginning. So after a sleepless first night, I am excited to see what the new day, the first day brings. I enter the hair and makeup trailer, our pictures are posted all over the wall. Those who don’t make it are immediately taken down. A firm reminder of why we are here and that only one will last. It feels as though I am in the hunger games, bizarre but oddly fun. As time passes, the first challenge arrives. Who will go home?

Walking out onto the stage, we take our marks as all 3,000 lights are perfectly positioned to capture our frame. Camera men surround the set, the cameras hang from above and set from below, this is all too cool. An entire crew of nearly 200 people are hear to capture our every move and every word. The magic of being on set has taken a hold and the mentors walk onto stage. Anthony, Marcus, Ludo and Nigella gaze back at the 16 of us. We smile but know that two contestants will be gone shortly. After a brief intro, he announces the challenge. CHILDHOOD. Chef Stephanie Izard walks out to our applause. She is a legendary woman, chef and business person. To cook for her is truly an honor. Knowing her style at the Girl and The Goat in Chicago, my mind beings to to tick. What will I make? 

Childhood. How fitting for our first challenge. An opportunity to represent ourselves in whichever light we choose. 

Team Challenge - This is the first team challenge. Each team cooks their own version of a dish that their mentor selects. The mentor chooses one team members spoon to represent the team. The guest judge picks the best and worst spoon. The worst spoon goes home. The best wins a class with the guest mentor. 

Team Marcus is tasked with making our own version of Chicken Curry. ‘Chicken curry? I love chicken curry’ I think.  My mind begins to race, how will mine be different. It is time to follow my instinct, lucky for me curry is familiar.

I decide to go for a vaudovan (like curry on steroids) spiced chicken breast, cooked sous vide, perched over a sweet and spicy red curry with shredded leg meat, crispy chicken skin and a fresh cabbage slaw. 

Cooking with Marcus is nothing less than wild. His passion radiates through. He wants to win just as bad as we do. He tastes, he smells, he instructs and yells at times. I take this as a once in a life time learning opportunity. Who knows how long I will be around. He critiques my curry saying that there is too much Kaffir lime leaf in it. We work to balance the flavor. I am confident that I made the right choice. We are working as a team, sharing stocks, sauces, ingredients and garnishes, doing whatever we can to ensure that we go to the end as a unit. 

It is amazing how quick the time goes. Really it flies by, so it must mean that I am having fun right? Right. As the time ticks down, Marcus can’t decide if he will choose between Tristen or me. He goes with Tristen.

I am OK with it. It is a team challenge and although I would have liked to represent the team, many of my components were used in Tristen’s dish. My stock, my sauce, it was truly a collaboration.

Judgment has arrived. I am sweating bullets. Although I am not worried about going home at this point, there are weaker cooks on my team, it is always a possibility, not one that I want to dwell on. I see her hand reach for the tile indicating out spoon and my heart beat begins to slow, knowing that I am safe and our team will live another day.

With the first challenge behind me, my perspective has changed. My competitive nature has kicked in. This is something that I want to win. Something that I will need to fight for. Something that can and will change my life.

I retreat back to the hotel with the rest of the cast. The drive is filled with jovial conversation, all of us grateful to still be around. As we make our way back to our new home at an airport hotel, I can only think of one thing. Winning.

 I go upstairs, open my notebook, favorite cookbooks and begin studying. The journey has only just begun.

Tomorrow I will be cooking for a legend. I know it. Under The Sea, I hope my dreams tonight take me there. 

Ghosts in the Kitchen

Memorial day weekend. A long line of city folk flock to the manicured hedges of the Hamptons seeking a simple sip of fresh air. As my feet sink into the fine sand of Flying Point beach, I am reminded of the shift this weekend represents; celebrating the transition of the questionably cold winter and spring to a vibrant and soon to be regrettably hot summer. This moment is perfect.

Time lapses quick, dinner calls. It is time to freestyle.

When I cook during the summer I simply make it up as I go along, improv. Finding inspiration from the markets, farm stands and docks, dishes seem to magically come to fruition as I do only what feels right.

The request tonight was steak so naturally I had to preface it with a garden salad. I sought out the highest quality, organic, humanely killed beef and local produce I could find. Inspired by the transition of time and place, I composed a plate that acknowledges the old, celebrates the present and welcomes the new.

To start, a fresh garden salad, of arugula and mixed greens, early season heirloom tomatoes, carrots, radish, avocado and pine nuts, tossed in ramp vinaigrette.  

Hearty New York Strip perched over, earthy butternut squash puree are a nod the cold winter. While spring chanterelles, ramps, chard and jumbo asparagus celebrate the moment and summer to come.

The result was an extraordinary balanced meal. As always, my thought was to create simple stand-alone dishes that only become more profound when tasted together. Take these recipes as you wish… cook them together or alone. Either way you will be satisfied.

Spring Garden Salad with Farm Vegetables, Dates
and Ramp Vinaigrette

Arugula – 6 handfuls
Mixed Greens – 2 handfuls
Radish – 4 sliced
Dates – 8 each (sliced long way)
Heirloom Tomato – 2 each (wedges if large, ½ if cherry)
Baby Carrot – 1 bunch
Avocado – 2 each (sliced)
Pine nuts - 1/4 cup (toasted)

Ramp Vinaigrette

Ramp Bulb – 4 each minced
Sherry Vinegar – 1/3 cup
Honey – 2 tbsp
Chives – 2 tbsp
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – ¾ cup
Salt and Pepper  - to taste
In a bowl combine all produce and season with salt and pepper. In a jar, mix ramp, vinegar, honey, chive, olive oil and shake. Dress salad lightly with dressing by tossing with hands in a large bowl.

New York Strip with, butternut squash, herbed asparagus, chanterelle mushrooms, ramp

Serves 8 people

Butternut Squash Puree


Butternut Squash – 1 each (peeled and cubed)
Rosemary – 2 sprigs
Thyme – 2 sprigs
Olive Oil – ½ cup
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a heavy sauce pot, cover the bottom with olive oil (not all the oil) and place on medium low heat. Toss the butternut squash and a sprinkle of salt in the pot, and cover. Stir occasionally. Add herbs once the squash is soft.

Remove herbs, Place squash in a blender, turn on and drizzle oil in to create a puree.

Herbed Asparagus

Jumbo Asparagus – 3 bunches (about 24 pieces – 3 per plate)
Chives – ½ bunch minced
Thyme – 3 sprigs minced
Chervil – ½ bunch minced
Butter – 2 tbsp
Salt and Pepper – to taste

Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot. Fill a separate bowl with ice and water for ‘shocking’. Remove the tough base of the asparagus, and chop herbs.

Place asparagus into the boiling water and cook uncovered until tender (approx. 3 min). Remove asparagus and dunk into ice water to stop the cooking. This will also preserve the vibrant green color! Remove from water and reserve for cooking.

When ready to serve, get a sauté pan hot and place asparagus in it with a splash of water. Add butter, shaking the pan constantly, to create a glaze. add the herbs, salt and pepper to coat evenly and serve.


Chanterelle and Oyster Mushrooms

Chanterelle Mushrooms – 1 lb
Oyster Mushrooms – 1 lb
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 1/3 cup
Shallot – 2 each (minced)
Chives – 1/4 cup
Lemon – 1 each
Salt and Pepper

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat, add in 1 tbsp of olive oil, when it shimmers add the mushrooms to the pan and don’t touch. Let the heat work its magic. Stir after 2 min of sitting. Then add in the shallot. Lower the heat and cook until shallot is translucent. Now add a bit of the herbs, lemon and season. I recommend doing oyster and chanterelle separate.

*Note you may have to make multiple batches or use a few pans… giving mushrooms their space in the pan is important to the cooking process. Overcrowd it and the mushrooms will just leech water.


Pickled Ramps (and Rainbow Chard)

Ramps – 1 bunch (tops removed and reserved for oil)
Swiss Chard Stems – 1 bunch (cut into small matchstick shapes)
Whatever else you want to pickle

1 tbsp kosher salt
1 cup red wine vinegar

¾ cup honey
1 tsp black peppercorn
1 tsp white peppercorn
1 tsp juniper berry
½ tsp fennel
1 bay leaf

Combine all ingredients (except for vegetables) and bring to boil. Add ramps and then turn heat down. After 1 min add in the chard stems. Remove from heat and let cool and put in the refrigerator.

Ramp Oil

Ramp tops – 1 bunch worth
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 1/3 cup
Lemon – ½ ea. Juice
Ice – 3 cubes
Salt – to taste

Blanch ramp tops in boiling salted water. Then place in a blender with ice. Begin to blend and drizzle oil in. Finish with lemon juice and salt. Place in the refrigerator.

Roasted New York Strip

Organic New York Strip Steak - 4 each (thick)
Salt and Pepper - to taste

Preheat the grill so it is very hot. Liberally season all sides of the meat. Place the meat on the grill, fat side down, hold it there until the fat becomes golden brown and caramelized. Now sear meat on one side. Turn 90 degrees after about 4 min. This will create the hatch marks on the meat. Flip the steak and repeat.

Once grilled, finish the steak in a convection oven set at 350 F. Cook until desired temperature. My favorite... medium rare.

LET THE MEAT REST - for about 10 min. Then slice across the grain of the meat to maximize the tenderness of each piece.


The Finish

To finish, spread the butternut squash puree on the plate. Place the asparagus on top of it and mushroom on top of the herbed stalks. Slice the meat across the grain and lay three pieces over top. Garnish with pickled ramps, chard and ramp oil. Serve to your loved ones!

The first meal of the season was a success and now a lingering memory.  I find myself excited to see what else I can coax from the flavors of East Long Island. Then perhaps the ghosts in the kitchen will once again whisper hints of inspiration. 

Tomorrow comes early.