Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms: Pretty Tasty

One of the perks of having a terrific chef for a dear friend is the kitchen lessons you’ll inevitably get.

On a recent weekend, I noticed a lovely bouquet of yellow and orange flowers in chef Simpson‘s kitchen.

“How pretty,” I said.

“Dinner!” was his reply.

Turns out the blooms were zucchini flowers — how was he planning to cook them? I didn’t have to wait long to find out …

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Razor Clams: A Southeast Asian Kitchen-Sink Tale


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The dinner gathering has been impromptu and Chef Simpson of Cafe Asean is feeling a little guilty that he hasn't had time to plan what to cook.

Calmly but quickly, he zips about his spacious Manhattan kitchen, pulling out bags, inspecting his fridge. "This is a good time to eat razor clams, you know," he stops to say, showing us the big bag he acquired from the farmers' market that very morning. "They taste really good right now."

Now, while I've eaten razor clams — or bamboo clams as they're called in some parts of Asia — I've never even thought to cook them at home. A slab of steak, pieces of chicken, a whole turkey — those I can comprehend. Razor clams? They had just always seemed a touch too exotic for my abilities.

Simpson, however, shares none of my apprehension, looking at me like I'm crazy and then shrugging when I ask, "How are you going to cook them?"

"It depends on what I have in the kitchen," is his simple answer. With that, Simpson fires up his stove and away we go …

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Nantucket: The Art of Winging It


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I’ve always envied people who can look in a fridge, grab a bunch of things and whip together an impressive meal.

The times that I’ve done that, I’ve managed to oh, muster up a ham scramble.

As someone who entered the kitchen fairly late in life, my insecurities always get the better of me. So when it comes to cooking, I’m much more of a planner — I like to think things through a fair bit first if I’ve never made a dish before. I’ll look up dozens of recipes before settling on what to make. And I’ll read a recipe several times over to plan any changes or additions before setting foot in the kitchen.

But, watching the ease and freedom of chefs who cook purely by instinct — that confidence always gets me. I can’t help but feel like the child on a tricycle, watching far braver kids whizzing past on ten-speed bikes.

How to bridge that gulf?

In the kitchen of a little beach cottage on Nantucket, I started taking baby steps.

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A Tale of Six Meatballs


CIMG4598 It’s a little scary what can happen when a journalistic killer instinct is directed at something seemingly innocuous.

Like, meatballs. And the battle to be voted top meatball chef in a six-way competition.

There is the non-stop smack talk. There is the repeated invocation of maternal units. There is, even, the reflexive forming of menacing kung-fu gestures anytime the word “meatball” is mentioned.

And we haven’t even gotten to things that my fellow competitors did.

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The Real Thing


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I’ve been thinking recently about the notion of “authentic” food.

There’s an interesting story in Singapore’s Straits Times today about foreign eateries trying to bring authentic takes on their native cuisines to Singapore. French boulangerie Le Grenier à Pain, for example, apparently stuck to its crusty baguettes even though Singaporeans typically favor softer versions that local bakeries serve up. Ditto for Quiznos and its authenticity. (Yes, this article actually cites the American food-court sandwich chain in its roundup.)

Nonetheless, there are some Singaporeans who disagree with this business strategy — one is quoted as saying that restaurants should take local preferences into account since “the customer picks what he likes most, whether or not it’s true to the original taste.”

The story made me think of the tale a friend recently told me of taking his Beijing girlfriend to Italy. There, she sniffed at the way Italians do Italian pasta dishes, finding them lacking when compared with the versions she’s had in China.

Sure, cuisines get altered all the time when they migrate from country to country — ingredients are added, steps are subtracted. But what happens when the tweaked, polyglot product ends up being what people believe to be authentic?

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