1 mini seedless watermelon
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
8 tsp salt
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 stick cinnamon
3 star anise pods
1⁄2 cup fresh ginger chunks
Bring liquids and spices to a boil and hold the boil for 1 minute.
In the meantime, peel off outer green of the watermelon with a vegetable peeler. Cut the watermelon in 8 wedges, then cut the wedges in slices about 1⁄2 inch thick.
Peel the shallot and cut in fine rings.
Add the watermelon and the shallots to the pickling liquid. Bring the liquid back to a boil. Remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Move the pickles to jars or plastic containers, cover with pickling liquid. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Keep refrigerated and consume within 30 days.
1 Cantaloupe melon
1 slicing cucumber
2 bunches basil
1 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 lime
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1⁄2 cup almond splitters Dash of fleur de sel
Heat a skillet and dry roast the almond splitters until they start to brown. Set them aside.
Heat the olive oil in the microwave for 10 seconds, until it’s lukewarm. Pick the basil leafs from the stem and mix them with the olive oil in a food blender. Puree the basil with the oil. Add the juice of the lime and a dash of salt. Cut the cantaloupe melon in half, spoon out the seeds and throw them out. Cut the melon in 8 wedges and cut off the skin. Cut the wedges in slices about 1⁄2 inch thick.
Cut the cucumber lengthwise in half, spoon the seeds out.
Marinate the cantaloupe melon and the cucumbers in the basil oil.
Before serving, heat a skillet and add coconut oil. Sear the pickled watermelon slices on both sides on high heat, until they start to brown. They're even better from the hot wood grill.
Serve the watermelon layered with the cantaloupe melon. Top with cucumbers and pickled shallots. Garnish with toasted almonds. Sprinkle fleur de sel on top.
10 oz white chocolate
8 egg yolk
2 Tbsp. white cane sugar
3 cups heavy whipping cream
If the chocolate comes in one piece, use a a chef’s knife to slice the chocolate to fine chips. In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Whisk egg yolk and sugar in a small metal bowl that fits on top of the saucepan with the water. In another small saucepan, bring 0.5 cups of the cream to a simmer (not boiling). Drizzle the cream slowly into the egg mixture, while whisking the egg mixture vigorously. Put the bowl on top of the saucepan with the boiling water and whisk the egg mixture vigorously until it's foamy and creamy. Take the bowl away from the boiling water, immediately add the chocolate and stir slowly until the chocolate is melted. Set the batter aside and let it cool. Whip the remaining cream until it reaches stiff peaks. When the egg mixture is cool, fold the batter into the whipped cream. Pour the mousse in glasses or little cups, cool it covered in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Goat Cheese Fondue
2 cups frozen raspberries 1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
8 oz. fresh goat cheese
In a small saucepan, combine raspberries, vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Simmer until almost all liquids have boiled off. Pour the cooked raspberry mix into a medium sized sieve. With a silicone spatula, force the raspberries through the sieve. This will separate the fruits from the seeds. Throw the seeds out. Put the fruits back into the saucepan. Warm on medium heat, add the goat cheese. Melt the goat cheese in the raspberry mix while stirring. Keep warm.
6 sprigs thyme
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 Tbsp. unsalted, roasted pistachios
Pick the leaves from the thyme. Combine with olive oil in a small porcelain cup. Heat the oil in the microwave for 20 seconds.
Spoon goat cheese fondue on top of chocolate mousse. Drizzle thyme oil on top and garnish with pistachios.
1 tsp. butter
2 brioche rolls (2 oz./ roll)
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 small eggs
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup cream
4 leaves of sage
2 tsp. agave nectar
1/2 tsp. pepper, coarsely ground
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Melt the butter in an oven-proof ramekin or muffin pan and coat it using a pastry brush or paper towel.
Cut the brioche into 1/2 inch cubes, add to ramekin.
Mix milk, eggs and sugar in a small bowl until sugar is melted.
Gently flatten the brioche cubes into the bottom of the baking dish.
Pour half of the batter over brioche. Once the brioche rises, pour the rest of the batter.
Bake the pudding in the oven for about 25 minutes. You want the pudding to be golden brown in color and soft when pushing the top center of the loaf.
In a small sauce pan, bring the vinegar to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to medium for a light boil, and reduce vinegar until 1/8 cup is left. Set aside.
Vigorously whisk the cream in a large bowl just until it starts to reach stiff peaks.
Slice sage into thin strips, chefs call this chiffonade.
De-stem the strawberries and cut each berry into quarters. Add to a bowl, and season with agave nectar and pepper. Mix until evenly coated.
Plate all the ingredients. Top the cream with the sage and drizzle the balsamic reduction over everything. This dish is great for brunch, and for dessert.
Dirty little secret
Never crack your eggs over the lip of the bowl–crack it open over a flat surface, and then break it open gently. Chickens only have one route by which both eggs and bodily waste are expelled, making cross contamination a big concern. When you crack an egg open over the edge of a bowl, all of the contaminants from the shell are introduced to the interior, creating a health risk. That’s why it’s important to always crack your eggs on a flat surface.
The fillet mignon in this recipe may be substituted with this chicken breast
1 bulb garlic
1 sprig thyme
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup marsala
3 Tbsp. cold butter
2 fillet mignon
1 Tbsp. high-heat oil
(avocado, grape seed, coconut etc.)
1 clove garlic skin on
1 sprig rosemary (you may also use
1 lbs. green asparagus
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
ca. 15 pickled onions
3 sprigs thyme
In a saucepan, bring the wine and the marsala to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium and let the wine reduce until 1/4 cup is left. Set aside. Heat oven to 400F. Separate garlic cloves from the bulb, leaving the skin on. Add all ingredients to a small baking-dish and cover it with tinfoil. Roast for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Remove thyme and peel the skin from the garlic. Puree the garlic with the leftover oil from the pan in a small food processor. Set aside.
Cut off the ends of the asparagus. Mix the soy sauce and the high-heat oil, season with salt. Make 1 even layer of asparagus on a baking sheet. Drizzle sauce on it. Add the thyme sprigs and toss everything so all the asparagus is evenly marinated. Put the pickled onions on top and put the asparagus in the oven. Roast for about 15 minutes or until it is is slightly browned.
Heat a frying pan to high heat. Crush the garlic in the skin, and add it with the skin on to the pan along with the oil, rosemary/thyme. Season fillet with salt. Sear both sides on high heat in the infused oil. Turn to this article for a perfect fillet mignon. When cooked, wrap fillet in tin foil and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Bring the marsala reduction back to a boil and briskly whisk in the cold butter. Spread the garlic on the center of the plate. Remove the thyme from the asparagus. Plate the asparagus on top of the garlic. Carve the fillet in thick slices and plate it on top of everything. Drizzle marsala reduction on top.
Dirty little secret
Little do most people know, much of the flavor in garlic resides in the skin – when roasting garlic with the skin on, we coax out a deep sweetness. An added benefit to this method is that the harsh compounds that cause bad breath are eliminated by the roasting process, creating a more pleasurable experience for both you and your partner.
2 chicken breast, skin-on
2 sprigs rosemary
1 piece fresh ginger root, 1/2 inch
1/2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 Tbsp. water
1 apricot (can be frozen)
1 tsp. Champagne vinegar
1/8 tsp. chilly flakes
1/2 tsp. honey nutmeg
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 lbs. Brie
3 oz. mascarpone
black pepper, whole
1 sprig of mint
Cut the apricots in half and then in wedges, about 5mm thick. Combine the vinegar, spices and honey in a small bowl. Toss the fruits in the seasoning and let it sit.
Preheat the oven to 475F. Remove the leaves from the rosemary sprigs and peel the ginger. Place rosemary and ginger on a cutting board and cover with the salt. Chop all three together until the ginger and rosemary are extremely fine, infusing the salt. Season the the butter with the infused salt and rub the chicken skin with the paste. Season the other side of the chicken with salt. Place the breasts on a sheet tray, skin up. Place the chicken in the oven.
Mix the honey and the water in a bowl. Roast the chicken for about 7 minutes and drop the temperature of the oven down to 325F. Brush the chicken with the honey and water mixture. Keep baking the chicken for another 10 minutes or until it‘s well done (see „Finger Trick“ on page 28). Let the chicken rest.
Bring the wine and the spices for the fondue to a boil in a saucepan. Cut the brie in small cubes. Add the brie and the mascarpone to the liquids in the saucepan. Melt the cheese. Control the temperature, you never want to boil cheese. Keep the fondue warm and heat a skillet or light your barbecue. Over high heat, dry roast the marinated fruit wedges on both sides until they’re golden brown.
Stack the mint leaves and cut them in stripes as thin as possible. Chefs call this chiffonade. Carve the chicken in thin slices. Pour the fondue in a flat soup bowl. Plate the fruit wedges and the chicken breast in a fan shape. Sprinkle mint leaves on top. This recipe is a great winter appetizer.
The apricots in this recipe may be substituted with peaches.
The chicken can be replaced with smoked duck or with pork belly.
Dirty Little Secret
The greatest chef I ever shared a kitchen with was Fredy Girardet. Girardet performed in his own dimension. He straddled the line between human excellence and divine perfection for so many years that the Gault et Millau guide–a european restaurant guide similar to the Michelin Guide–created a new category for him: when one achieves 19 points and a plus, and this out of 20, this rating is “godly by a hair”. Monsieur Girardet also loved cigars. As a man hailing from the old school, he would sometimes smoke them while cooking, as “it’s the way my guests savor my food. I’m tasting their meal the way they experience it.” Not that I condone smoking for this purpose, but I took the lesson to heart when it comes to wine pairings. Keeping Monsieur Girardet’s legacy alive by sampling your food the way it’s meant to be eaten at the table is the best way to make sure that your perfect dinner is always paired with the right bottle of wine–not to mention enjoy the cooking process even more.
1/4 lbs. raw, wild salmon without skin
1/2 Tbsp. truffle oil
1 sprig parsley
1 small shallot
1/4 lime juiced
1 bunch curly kale
1/2 tsp. graded ginger
1/8 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 slices toast bread, white
1 Tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic
1 thick slice bacon
Preheat the oven to 350°F, then cut the crust off the toast bread. Pull small pieces of kale from the stems and wash the leaves, then pat them dry.
Cut the salmon in small dices, not more than 5mm each side. Dice the shallot fine and chop the parsley. Mix all the ingredients of the salmon tartar in a bowl, season with salt, set aside.
Melt the butter on the high heat function of your microwave – 15 seconds should do the job. Using a pastry brush, coat 2 cups of a muffin tray with half of the butter. You may also use small ramekins as cups. With your fingers, press the toast bread flat, so you can mold it better. Coat the buttered muffin cups with the flattened bread. Press gently, so you don’t break it. Mince the garlic as fine as possible and season the remaining half of the butter with it. Season the garlic butter with a pinch of salt. Using a pastry brush, coat the bread cups with the garlic butter. Cut the bacon in small cubes with all 4 sides the same length. Render the bacon to cracklings (see dirty little secret below). Spoon it in the bread cups. Crack one egg in each bread cup. Season the eggs with salt. Bake the cups until the eggs start to solidify (15-20 minutes). You can check by gently poking the egg with your finger.
Peel the ginger and grade it fine. Mix it with the vinegar, the olive oil and salt in a bowl. Whisk the vinaigrette vigorously until it has emulsified to a creamy dressing. Pour the dressing over the kale and toss it to marinate. Arrange all 3 items in the center of your plate.
Dirty little secret
Bacon is one of the most beloved ingredients with powerful emotional ties. It brings to mind homegrown savoriness, childhood, and simplicity. However, as we get older we learn to eat it in moderation. A good way to prepare bacon and skip your cardiologist’s disapproval is to place your bacon in a completely unheated pan, and then turn on the heat. Once it starts sizzling, reduce the heat to medium and allow the bacon to render in its own fat. When all the grease is melted, pour it out and save the bacon–this reduces the overall fat left in the bacon without sacrificing any of the flavor.
Quince And Brie Empanadas
2 round masa dough sheets, 5 inches
2 Tbsp. quince paste
2 slices Brie
Hazelnut Honey Thyme Creme
1/4 cup hazelnuts skin-on
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. thyme leaves
1 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Cut the Brie in slices, 2/3 the length of the dough’s diameter. Put the Brie pieces in the refrigerator.
When the oven is hot, put hazelnuts on a baking sheet. Evenly spread the nuts in one layer and roast them in the oven until the skin pops.
Combine hazelnuts and thyme in a food processor. Pulse until contents are powder. Let the mixture cool.
Evenly distribute equal amounts of quince paste in the center of each Masa dough sheet. Beat the egg and brush along the edges. Fold the dough sheets to half circles and press edges together to seal. Set onto a baking sheet with parchment paper and crimp edges with a fork. Lightly brush empanadas with egg and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Add half of the cream to the cool hazelnuts and pulse until fully incorporated. Mix with the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and vigorously whisk until it starts to reach stiff peaks.
Cut empanadas in half, lean them against each other and spoon hazelnut cream on the side.
Dirty little secret
Cutting boards should always be placed on a stable surface to avoid any accidents. A way to ensure this is to dampen a paper towel completely, lay it on a flat, stable surface, and place the cutting board on top. This provides a safe, non-slip surface on which to prepare your ingredients.
Penne ‘n Swiss
1/4 lbs. Penne
1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/8 lbs. Gruyère, cave aged
1/8 lbs. Emmental, cave aged
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
black pepper, coarsely ground
1 big yellow onion
1 Tbsp. high-heat oil
(avocado, grape seed, coconut etc.)
Preheat the oven to 500F and grate the cheese. Cut the onion in half and peel it. Cut the onion, lengthwise from root to top, in fine strips. Bring a big soup pot with 1 gallon of water to a boil and season the water with 2 Tbsp. of salt. Boil the penne in the water, until they have a crisp bite. Italians call this “al dente”.
While the penne are cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour, stirring until both are fully mixed. Add cold milk and heavy cream to the saucepan and bring the sauce to a boil. Season with pinches of salt, coarsely ground pepper and nutmeg. Reduce the heat to low. Add the cheese and stir until just melted. Make sure that cheese never boils. When the penne are “al dente” pour 1 cup of the water from the penne in the cheese sauce. Strain the penne from the remaining water and mix them with the cheese sauce. Pour the Penne n’ Swiss into an oven-proof baking dish. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.
In the meantime, heat a frying pan on high heat and add the onions. Dry roast the onions until they start to wilt. Season with a pinch of salt. Add the oil and blacken the onions until they’re slightly crisp. When the Penne n’ Swiss are ready, serve them in a flat soup bowl and top them with the blackened onions.
Dirty little secretI believe that there are a thousand ways to mess up dinner with good ingredients, but there is not one way to cook a decent meal with low quality ingredients. Great cooking starts with great groceries. The simpler the dish, the truer this is. With this twist on Mac n’ Cheese – every single component of your dish is a main actor. By replacing traditional cheddar cheese with Gruyère and Emmental, we transform a traditional comfort food into a nouveau culinary experience. The cheese I recommend for this recipe can be found at Trader Joe’s.
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In Europe, chefs-in-training work in a restaurant for four days a week, and on the fifth day they attend their respective cooking schools. They receive pay for this training, which was just about enough for a beer after a 16-hour shift and a glass of champagne for the waitresses. The restaurant I picked for my education was merely an opening act on the world’s culinary stage. It was in an efficient four-star hotel located in a remote little town in the Swiss Alps. My hotel specialized in hosting conventions, and it was the ideal setting in which to learn the practical craft of cooking food, apart from the lofty culinary arts that we were learning in school. In my fourstar environment, little mistakes and failures were readily excused. The clientele were hardly in a place to notice – the corporate clients that found their way to the business retreat in our little mountain village were just happy for a getaway. Mainly mid-level management employees seeking escape from their strangling corporate careers, these business conventions were like a trip to Las Vegas – they were there to do business, have extramarital sex, smoke cigars, and couldn’t care less about the latest innovations of a superstar chef. And just like Vegas, what happened in our hotel, stayed in our hotel. Under these circumstances my executive chef was confident enough to let me work in all of the kitchen’s stations. I was granted access to go on an educational CrossFit parkour from the cold kitchen, to the sweaty entremetier station, to the freezing pastry department, and finally, to the fiery poissonnier and saucier – the holy grail of the culinary arts.
The hotel was located in a cullde- sac of a valley with lush green hills dotted with family farms like sprinkles on an ice cream cone, surrounded by a backdrop of the towering Swiss alps with a year-round snow pack. The mountains were so close to the village that the sun wouldn’t touch the rooftops of the farm village for three months in winter. We would see the sun light up the peaks surrounding us, but our skin remained untouched by its rays. Besides the corporate clients of our hotel, and the random ski tourist that would find their way to what seemed to be the end of the world, this village was inhabited by locals; dairy farmers and their wives, both with checkered shirts and weathered skin. Given the number in family names in the area, it was apparent that only three intermingling clans populated this end of the world. Everybody knew everybody. When I arrived, I was known as “the guy from Zurich”, and I made sure that everybody knew me within the first two weeks of my arrival. My random shenanigans, such as crashing my motor bike and leaving it at the scene for towing the next morning, helped to ensure they kept talking about me.
The culinary cravings of these Swiss locals share as many similarities to the offerings of fine dining, as the sun shares with the moon. Their mac n’ cheese is of the kind Americans have never seen: made with clover- seasoned goat cheese that had the aroma of spoiled milk. The next thing they loved was poached veal sausage with a side of mashed potatoes and veal roast with prunes – but this veal roast was made like bologna sausage. Smothered cow’s head with bacon and pieces of meat from animals too young to be a cow but too old to be a calf. Seasoned with glutamate, this is a maze of John Doe crap. And there was me: eager to be trained by a man who devoted the rest of his life to these three culinary sins: Meinolf. A tall German guy from Hamburg with an iron fist and with a warm heart. Meinolf is talented, humble, and a technically brilliant chef with a flair for teaching. And yet, he still had to cook veal roasts from unidentified cow victims twenty years ago, and to this day cooks the same three menu items. Needless to say, he’s never made a name for himself beyond the last cow stable that marked the mouth of the valley.
After Meinolf’s kitchen, I worked with teams that surrounded plating stations like heart surgeons around a patient. I cooked for kings, and I drank with stars. I had Frédy Girardet on speed dial, who at the time was considered the world’s best chef. I cooked for Michelin Stars alongside Benoît Violier, Girardet’s successor as the world’s best chef. I learned to cook the most deceptively simple red wine sauce with only three ingredients from Adolph Blockbergen, and I knew Eckart Witzigmann’s recipe for his legendary pintade filled with foie gras and truffles by heart. Surrounded by these great men at the age of 24, I absolutely believed that the earth’s axis lay where I stood. But in spite of working with these celebrated chefs and learning their secrets, from none of them have I learned lessons as natural, pristine, diverse and valuable as those that I had from Meinolf. Of all of the lessons I was to learn from him, one of them stuck with me for a lifetime: “Whatever you do, make sure you always cook with all your five senses”. To cook with all your five senses means to use your eyes, your ears, your hands, your nose and your taste buds as your assistants. In all my years of training with Meinolf he repeated this lesson like a buddhist’s mantra. However, little did I know that this lesson would ultimately unfold into a method that would provide direction for the rest of my career.
When was the last time you praised a restaurant for great tasting food? I believe that food is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to experiencing a meal at a restaurant. Every restaurant encounter starts with you and your mindset – life is a constant emotional roller-coaster that swings from 1 (“I’m going to shoot myself”) to 10 (“Damn, I love life”). However your personal Richter scale registers, informs the emotional costume you bring to a restaurant. From the moment you set foot in the establishment to the moment you leave, restaurants have one goal: to swing your internal Richter scale as high as possible. This journey starts with a friendly hello from a beautiful host; a personal welcome that foreshadows the tsunami of five sensual pleasures to come. Next, you notice the dimmed lights and mood-setting background music. The fresh flowers on the table remind you of spring; nature; vacation. You ease into the evening as the stress of the day washes away like high tide receding into the ocean. You are then introduced to the menu; your waiter might tell you a story about that little grass-fed piglet from the Hudson Valley that was turned into a roast by the firm hands of an artist with rugged looks but a fluffy heart. Your imagination paints a picture of lush grass blanketing rolling hills, with a tiny farm house with a red roof and yellow shutters dotting the highest peak. Just outside the farm there – there’s your happy pink piglet, smiling as the setting sun’s rays touch his nose. You want to take the piglet home to cuddle before you eat it – but for all you know, the chef might have just purchased that hypothetical piggy as a weekly special from Costco.
Not that it matters – your heart is now set on devouring that pork. Some of the dishes the waiter praises may trigger memories, which is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to food seduction. Maybe an entree brings up memories of what your grandmother made for you when you were sick, and now you’re nostalgic for your carefree and hopeful childhood. After the sales pitch, you’ve made a choice that was artfully guided by your server that includes an appetizer and an entree. As you wait for the first course, your appetite is stimulated by each tantalizing plate that passes by your table. Your appetizer is finally served – cuisine translated interpreted as art displayed on a porcelain canvas – as the smörgåsbord of aromas fly into perfect formation from a thousand different directions like birds in the fall. When you take your first bite, the crunchy outer layer gives way into an arrangement of textures and flavors. However, by the time these flavors, aromas, and textures have seduced your taste buds, you’ve long made a decision as to whether or not you like the restaurant. You started this journey bearing the emotions you were wearing on your sleeve, and were seduced into another frame of mind by the ambiance of the establishment, the demeanor of your server, and the culinary presentation. And yet, in spite of this, the majority of people leaving the restaurant on any given night claim that it was just the food that was “great”. I call bullshit. Food does not simply taste “great”. In the absence of the other four senses taste is irrelevant, no matter how much salt you use.
To prove my point, next time you make spaghetti, add some red food dye for a deep bloody color and add blue food dye to your sauce. Still think the food tastes “great” when your spaghetti resembles Mickey Mouse run through a pasta machine? You’ll be disgusted by the perfect plate of spaghetti for the sole reason that it looks gross. Typical of most young people, it took me years to embrace the full potential of Meinolf’s emphasis on cooking with five senses. The fact that the most valuable lesson I know was taught to me by a blue-collar chef, who distances himself from pointlessly artful displays of cooking, speaks volumes for my theory that being a chef is a craft. It takes countless hours in kitchens with fellow artists to transform the craft into art. I am grateful to have gone through my chef’s rite of passage in an obscure four-star hotel at the foot of Meinolf. To culture techniques before experience, provides a clear path for growth into a culinary artist – something I recommend every chef to pursue on the quest to becoming great.
When I finally realized that my eyes, my sense of touch, my ears, and my nose were an untapped resource, I felt like an idiot. It was as if I had been sitting in a row boat with five paddles, but only using one – no wonder I went in endless circles. But once I started incorporating textures, smells, beautiful color combinations and shapes, and evoking emotions and stories in my dishes, I started going down the road I was meant to travel: in the direction of seductive food.
I am immature. I am self-absorbed, I am demanding, I am a perfectionist and I am a maniac. In other words, I’m a chef. It doesn’t matter that my last 300 cover-shift was six years ago. Deep down inside of me there has always been, will always be a cocky bastard who happens to know the art of cooking.
It was the summer of 2010. I had just moved to New York and was invited to a trendy restaurant in the West Village. A friend of mine – who at the time was one of the only two people I knew in the city – invited me to a birthday party for a woman named Lilia: a thirty-something year old professional in the fashion industry whose eyes bespoke of Italian dolce vita, but whose mind ticked at a New York pace. At the time, I was a correspondent for Swiss Television, and broadcasting short feature stories on prominent Swiss people in the U.S. – but food had always been my passion. Unfortunately, as much as I loved working as a chef, hanging out with twenty-something year old students- cum-servers at the age of thirty was a wake-up call to grow up – so I decided to have a normal life with a 9-to-5 schedule and Sundays in bed. Cooking remained my biggest hobby – an obsession some would claim. I was on a perennial quest for the next kick of flavors, textures, smells and colors, all from my home kitchen. It was probably at that time where I realized that the craft of cooking, executed by millions of hobby cooks after a long day of work, is different from any culinary art that‘s executed at a restaurant. I enjoyed to be able to set foot in both worlds. Flawlessly executing a five-course Sunday dinner for my friends who were gracious enough to serve as guinea pigs has always been a relaxing activity for me.
In the end, I chose to be 15 minutes late. In New York, that means you land squarely between the early birds (“I had a meeting in this very exact neighborhood”) and the late crowd (“...and my cabbie didn’t even speak English!”). I knew less about New York, the American food revolution, and the citizens who fed that beast on a daily base, than I will forget in the next five years I would live there. It was a typical New York affair – where dinner was the price you pay to spend a night out with a fascinating, eclectic crowd of young professionals. There were twelve of us: eleven creative minds from all over the world – and then there was me. The unassuming Swiss citizen. I was fresh off the boat and green behind the ears. Far from being a brusque New Yorker, but increasingly distant from being a polite and organized Swiss. There was Angelo, the fashion designer from South Africa. To my Swiss ears, Angelo had an Italian accent – but that was probably because he shared a similar appetite for life with the hard-working Italian immigrants that paved roads and opened pizzerias in my Swiss lake-front hometown. He was sitting across from me, a position which did not encourage conversation. But in spite of this, I was drawn to the energetic vibes that this ageless man – with his artfully curated second-hand vintage outfit – was radiating. Angelo was speaking to women and men alike. He embraced every word, wrapping every syllable in a shiny piece of candy paper and delicately twisting the ends, as he arranged the sweets into sentences on the display of his conversation. He was a great listener, lending ordinary small talk the depth of a literary masterpiece by using wise words and soft demeanor. As a friend, Angelo would later be a crucial piece of the puzzle on my journey back to the chef’s world – even though he never once tasted my food, nor attended one of my cooking classes to come. Without Angelo’s story of rising from rags to riches – arriving with a few bucks in his pockets and a dream – and becoming a respected international fashion designer, I would not have learned the game of becoming a New Yorker. Half of it is just being a New Yorker, while the other half is pretending to be a New Yorker.
Next to me sat Adriana, a childhood friend from times long gone in Switzerland, who invited me to the ball. I had known Adriana for thirty years. But of all the guests that night, to me she was the most enigmatic. Adriana speaks with her hands, underlines her words with rolling eyes and she can silence a room with her animated storytelling. Her tale is the one of a talented circus performer who became a loving mother of two girls. She left the circus trailer to live out the American dream in a house with a mortgage and filled with gadgets – all paid for with maxed out credit cards – followed by the alltoo- common American theme of divorce and foreclosure. But when Adriana tells the story, it is as if Martin Scorsese hired an all-star cast to perform the tale of the only victim the American dream has seen – ever. I see Adriana as a performer who is beholden to the whims of the audience. It is as if she is standing in a circus arena from the moment she wakes up until the moment she goes to bed: on the spot, all the time. She is also the queen of fakers. Playing the part of a successful movie writer is her best character. She doesn’t blink or flinch when she is talking about the contacts she made in the movie business, how appreciated her script was by the producers, and how much money she’s going to make off of her art. For as long as I knew Adriana, her life has been a machiavellian plan to fake it until she makes it. Adriana didn’t have a job. Her sole income was irregular alimony checks from her divorced husband. Yet here she is, the same woman, making an entire restaurant believe that she is going to be receiving an Oscar for her life’s achievements. Her act alone is deserving of an Academy award. In my genuine, chocolate sweet Swiss naiveté I thought this whole thing with Adriana in a starring role of her own movie was ruthless. But I also couldn’t help but be intrigued by it.
Next to Adriana sat Amelia. She was a young comic designer from France whose youthful innocence had yet to be tested by the realities of New York. Amelia spent half the night outside the restaurant smoking, and the other half inside drinking. She seemed uninterested, superficial, and uncommitted, and was successful at portraying herself as unattractively as a beautiful woman possibly could. But then there were her eyes. Merely a pretty moth in her entire appearance, when Amelia’s eyes touched yours, it was as if a caterpillar finally broke out its cocoon as a butterfly spreading its wings. One moment she was a millennial, heavy-drinking idealist – exactly the type I ran from when I quit working as a chef – and then in a wink, a stunningly charismatic woman shining with a confidence that was deeply rooted in her heritage. Only in cultures with a legacy spanning thousands of years have I seen this deep knowing that everything will be fine. Amelia was capable of telling this story with a blink of an eye.
“So what do you do?”, Amelia asked. “I’m an aphrodisiac chef”, I replied. I ran with my story counting on the superficial confidence of a television reporter reading from a teleprompter. I just thought being a TV reporter wasn’t sexy enough for a French girl who left her hometown to make it in New York. Luckily, I wasn’t a virgin when it came to aphrodisiacs. When I enrolled in college in the mid nineties, I had already graduated from culinary school and had experience as a professional chef under my belt. Going back to college meant that all I had to impress my dates were my cooking skills, so I would invite them over for dinner – which was both romantic for them and economical for me. It was on these dates that I realized that lobster got me further down the baseline than steak. Years later, when my successful college dinners were just a memory, my editor assigned me to research the effects of everyday organic produce on your love life. Did you know that there are at least 107 fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and protein choices that can affect the libido? This is how far my research went, and every bit of it is imprinted on my memory. Using this research in my quest to keep Amelia’s attention for a tiny bit longer, I went on about the orgasm- enhancing effects of mangos on women and explained why chickpeas have more superpowers than oysters ever will. I felt my confidence rise with every second I moved away from my true self – a television reporter from Switzerland – to an aphrodisiac chef in New York. And just as I raised the stakes by inviting Amelia to a private tasting of my aphrodisiac cuisine, I noticed it: the party had gone quiet. The horde of creative professionals that graced my first New York night out laid down their forks and knives as their overpriced chicken breasts remained untouched and their steaks from grass-fed cattle went cold. The entire group – Adriana, Angelo, Amelia and eight other birthday guests – were hanging on my every word. I have to say, even as a TV reporter had I never held a group so captive.
Amelia never followed up with my invitation, but Adriana offered to be my guinea pig for one night. In need of guidance to cover up my inexperience, I turned to an Indian cookbook with recipes that were supposed to have an effect on the libido of both men and women. I sourced ingredients from parts of New York with street signs in foreign languages and stores that sold ingredients I had never seen. I cooked for an entire day. I turned bland lentils into sweet pastries and spice pairings into explosions of flavor. Adriana savored every course. She even enjoyed the mushrooms – a food she despises. She stayed over that night. If it wasn’t for Angelo, who taught me that half of being a New Yorker is pretending to be a New Yorker; and Adriana, who gave an Oscar-worthy performance in front of my eyes while she ditched bill collectors calling her phone; and Amelia, whose eyes I thought were too mesmerizing to be held captive by a TV reporter, I’d have never embarked on this journey. The morning after Adriana stayed over I decided to quit my job and become an aphrodisiac chef. I started the Sex on the table cooking school, which became the coolest underground experience in New York. For three years we sold out every class, and hosted a total of 7,000 guests. None of the big-name chefs I surrounded myself with at a young age, no gaping wound from a broken knife sharpening steel, and no devastating feedback from a disgruntled customer would prepare me for the experiences I would go on to have at Sex on the table. Nothing changed my culinary point of view so fundamentally and shook my world-view with an intensity like the experience of cooking with young, American adults – lovers in all stages of dating. Today I’m sharing my collection of the lessons 7,000 loving hobby cooks from all over the country have taught me. And I will continue to publish the compilation of the dirty little secrets of a chef’s trade that I taught them.
The sun‘s out and it‘s 80 degrees. Warm wind gusts through your open windows as you drive to the store. You pick up a couple of rib-eyes, your favorite sides, a few hot dogs and beer. Back home, you start heating up the grill as you prepare the sides and unwrap the steak. Everything looks so good; in fact, this time you splurged on dry-aged. Your excitement rises as the sun-drenched grass caresses your feet on the way to the grill. Eddies of heat lick your forearms as you lay the dry-aged rib-eye on the grill, sending up thick swirls of smoke into the sky. Today is the perfect day. When the rib-eye is finally in front of you, you slice the flawlessly charred crust of your steak – the anticipation is too much to bear – and the promise of a perfect steak crumbles around you in an instant: a discharge of bloody juices and flavor escape, leaving it jaw-achingly dry. This is the moment that you realize every time you thought, “I can make this better at home” – you were dead wrong.
1. Two Temperatures
No matter if it’s beef, pork, poultry, lamb or veal; searing meat well initially requires high heat. If your cut of meat sears faster than it cooks – in other words if it’s a nice, thick cut – then it’s necessary to finish it on medium heat. When exposing meat to high heat, the pores on the outside seal, which keeps juices from escaping. Therefore, when barbecuing, use two temperature zones on different parts of the grill. The transfer of heat is facilitated by grease – such as fat in a pan or oil in a marinade. I suggest grapeseed, coconut, peanut, or avocado oil, as well as ghee. However, keep in mind that marinades are more for tenderizing tougher cuts of meat. A good quality piece of meat should only need simple seasoning: oil, salt and pepper suffice. If the cut is only USDA SELECT quality, tenderize it with lime juice.
2. Salt Draws Out Moisture
Everything that gets in touch with salt dehydrates. From the moment you salt your meat, succulent juices are leached out – the finer the salt, the more expedited the process. With rock or pyramid salt, 30 minutes is a good amount of time to allow for it to melt into the steak; for fine sea salt, even one minute is too long to wait before you lose moisture.
3. Be Gentle
The look of the sear will tell you when it is time to turn the meat. Flip it, then reduce the heat to medium – allowing a timely charring process allows for the perfect sear on the outside and the desired temperature on the inside.
4. Be patient
If you prefer medium-rare, aim for a core temperature of 135°F. However, do not stab your meat with a thermometer, or otherwise puncture the perfectly seared crust in any other way. In contrast to the core temperature, the exterior of your cut reaches 3-4 times that. This means two things: one, that your steak continues to cook even after you remove it from the heat source. Two, different temperatures create a pressure vacuum. When you break the seal of the outer crust too early, you release all the juices that you preserved by the searing process.
In other words, when your meat is cooked it is not done. After cooking, it needs to rest. A good rule of thumb is to let it rest for 10 minutes per pound of meat. If you’re afraid of eating it cold, wrap it in tinfoil and let it rest at a warm place such as the upper grill of the barbecue, the open door of a warm oven, or on top of the stove in the space between burners. That is, after all, also the reason why your steak at the steakhouse has one, perfect color from top to bottom. And yours at home has a cooked ring in a pink circle with a raw core.