Monday, May 4, 2009

Thank you friends.

Last week Chefs On The Loose friend Jen Lee joined us as a Guest Chef. She brought her passion and expertise of Irish cuisine and culture to share with a group of eighteen or so guests. The night was filled with fun stories, beautiful and delicious food, and a wonderful assortment of guests. We had some really great feedback from several guests, in particular one woman who wrote a wonderful letter, that follows, and another that took some really great pictures on her really great camera. Here is the link to the photos, this gal had one of the nicest cameras I have ever seen in person, and the pictures she took really show the quality of the camera itself. It feels good to get positive feedback, after working so hard to create such a unique and special experience for our guests. It is like the cyber pat on the back that says "we got it and we loved it, Thank You.".

We say Thank You, to everyone out there who has been to a Chefs On The Loose event. Thank you for trying something different and spreading the word to friends and family. It is that word of mouth that is so important to our success and growth, so here is some really great word of mouth. Thank you Rose-Marie.

Fellow Foodies,
I have to share this surprisingly delicious and out-of-the-ordinary dining experience I had last evening at CHEF'S ON THE LOOSE in Tampa (it took an hour to get there because of a bomb scare and rush hour traffic, but only 40 minutes to return home).
"CHEF'S ON THE LOOSE is an interactive 'hands on' culinary experience where everyone can discover the art and excitement of creating gourmet cuisine. We're firing up the kitchen & heating things up for parties that sizzle. Unleash your inner chef."
In their open kitchen with an attached, upscale dining area that was outfitted with crisp white linen, sparkling glassware, unique dishes, and spring- flowered branches in 4' tall glass cylinders on a table that seats 20 and another raised butcher-block table that also seats 20, they offer an inviting place to get your hands scented with fresh herbs and organic flour or just watch the action, while sipping imported beers and memorable wines.There are many opportunities to get to know interesting folks during the 3-hour dining experience, surrounded by carefully chosen music and a glow from all the candles placed on shelves covering the walls.

They offer relaxed, hands-on experiences; themed dining fun, a Friday-night supper club, and private party opportunities. I chose the Celtic-themed dining, which was being orchestrated by Jennifer Lee, who was a special delight during the evening.
As I said, be ready to meet interesting folks or if you're too shy, bring your own crowd, because the dining is communal. I sat near a lively women who runs tours of up to 12 folks to Scotland and Ireland (813-317-6013); a charming man of Botanical Design Studios (813-831-0965) talkative with stories of jobs for celebrities and dignitaries (Tom Cruise, Obama, the Queen, etc.); and an interesting children's speech therapist and her event-planner friend.

I was on my own, not knowing what to expect, but folks came up to me and introduced themselves, so I felt very comfortable right from the start. The hosts are charmingly friendly and inviting. I felt as if I was at a private dinner party with friends.
Jennifer Lee owns Celtic Table, offering "Exquisite European Cuisine." ( 813-441-2051) She is a personal chef and offers cooking classes. Her story is movie material. She has a smidgen of Irish in her, but with her dark hair and eyes, pale skin and freckles, cute nose and mouth and infectious charm, you'd swear she was 100%.

Jennifer grew up in Vermont and moved with her folks to Tampa and has a degree in the culinary arts, specializing in organic and European cuisine. During a trip to Ireland, on her last day in a pub (of course) an Irish lad asked if he could take her out. She had to tell him she was returning to America the next day (oh, poop!). He asked (of course) if he could take her out if he came to America.

Well, she now runs a bed and breakfast on their sheep farm in the middle of Ireland in a village of 25 folks. An airline steward and friends who were at the dinner had spent a night at Jennifer's bed and breakfast during their Ireland vacation and lamented how they wished they had spent the whole time with Jennifer. (Drinking champagne in the middle of a flock of sheep during a glorious Irish sunset is not part of the usual commercial tour-bus agendas.)

Now for the food...the glorious food! And colors added visual excitement, along with the flavor and texture dances on out palates.

Forget-the-Economy Starters and Palate Wake-Uppers
Imported Irish beers and memorable wines

Palate Teaser
half of a peeled Pear filled with blue cheese and creme fraiche, nestled in a bed of purple and green baby tender greens, sprinked with golden edible flowers

Palate Tickler
Salmon mousse w/ perfectly ripen and seasoned bundle of tomato bits, dusted with purple feathery edible flower petals

Palate Cleanser
Honeydew sorbet w/lime zest served in a variety of fun, pedestal shot glasses. The baby ceramic spoons made dipping an Alice-in-wonderland experience. (Yes, I find that how food and drink is served can add to the epicurean experience. A fried-baloney and onion sandwich tastes entirely different eaten from a handmade, creamy yellow basket, lined with an azure blue-checked napkin, than from a Styrofoam plate...ask Martha!)

Palate Exciter
Velvety hallibut poached in hard cider w/boiled potatoes swimming in salty, smokey bacon bits and a big bubble of herbed Irish soda bread.

Palate Blaster
Sticky toffee pudding with homemade honey-brandy vanilla icecream
(It was like a having cold creme brulee that hadn't solidified. The recipe comes from Jennifer's sister-in-law. One of her husband's eight (we're talking Irish Catholic here) siblings who is a nun in Ireland. We are talking egg yolks, cream, honey and brandy...that's it. And she just cooks it and puts it in the churning! (I told you this is movie or romance novel material. I want to hear the nun's story, too; Brandy is the main ingredient.)

Palate Relaxers and After-Dinner Conversation Enhancers
Beer, grapes. homemade crackers, and a gathering of Irish cheeses and stories. The gentle white cheddar, clotted with sweet lemon-peel bits was my favorite.

Now for the biggest surprise: CHA-CHING Only $55!!

This was my first experince, but talking with the owners of this eight- month-old business, I got the feeling this is the experience they are stiving to deliver for their guests at all their dinners, and I do mean guests. The enhancement of your senses through lovely music, delectable scents, exciting tastes and textures, and given the time to unwind with interesting folks is all about your pleasure and delight.

Be well and well fed!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Science and Faith.

Last week we had two stellar events, Food Science with Asbel Reyes and Allison Beasman, and Backyard Bistro with Bobby Triplett. Both events were sold out and had great groups involved. Asbel and Allison showed us some really amazing techniques and tricks with liquid nitrogen and cold oil spheres. It is really amazing where the culture of food and cooking has gone in the last few years. Not only has the basic techniques behind great cuisine progressed, the interest in food and how it is made has expanded exponentially.

On the other end of the food spectrum Bobby Triplett. Bobby is a pastor at a new and exciting church in Brandon, he is the director of the Motion Film festival and puts on various art shows in town. His Backuard Bistro event was filled with young and old, all of whom where excited about learning some new recipes for this summer. Bobby's menu was flavorful and fun, and was a bit more approachable for the average at home cook. I have to say his Bad Ass fish tacos where pretty tasty. Panko fried red snapper with feta, cucumber, roasted garlic guacamole, and sour cream delish and easy to do at home.

It was fun to see the different crowds for the two events that were back to back. The Food Science crowd, filled with devout foodies, including local food blogger, editor and writer Jeff Houck, as well as some other local Chefs from around Tampa. Eager to explore the boundaries of cooking, flavor, texture and technique. Juxtaposed with the Backyard Bistro group, young and old lovers of simple and flavorful food, just looking for a different experience and excited about expanding their knowledge in their own kitchens. Two different groups, One simple similarity, Great Food and Great Company. Both groups avoided the conventional conversations between strangers, "the what do you dos", and "where do works", were replaced with "where do you eat" and "How does that taste". That may be one of my favorite parts about Chefs On The Loose, is the community between strangers that evolves naturally at events. People come together around the food, reaching out to someone new and eating together around our communal tables. It is an important thing these days to reach out and come together with your community. Its just neat to watch and be a part of the experience. So I say Thanks to all those who have come to a Chefs On The Loose event, and I hope to see you again around the stove and around the table. Cheers!

Check out our facebook page for more pictures, upcoming events and become a Fan of Chefs On The Loose.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Well yes it's true that I, Steve, do enjoy the occassional peanut butter, (always crunchy), and mayo sandwich. But today I tried a variation: PB, mayo and dill pickles. It was fabulous! The sweetness of the mayo combined with the savory peanut butter and the tang of the kosher dill; too much.

But then it hit me. I denied myself another taste sensation that would so utterly enhance this whole experience TOMATO. Of course, this juicy addition would add just the right amount of acidity to balance all the other flovors. Not to mention the health benefits of a couple of slices.

I mean think about it. Isn't this sort of like having a peanut butter sandwich with a dill pickle side and tomato soup, just in a different fashion. (Okay, so I don't know how the mayo comes in.)

The Earl would be very proud.

Make your own pizza dough, yo.

Everyone loves pizza. I don't care who you are or where you are from you love pizza. Red sauce, white sauce, veggie or meat lover, pizza is in your top five. There is just nothing to hate about pizza. It is like the noble sandwich, they live by the same motto, take bread and fill or in pizzas case top with whatever your hungry heart fancies. That freedom to say make a peanut butter and mayo sandwich, I know someone who loves these things Blech!,or say a caviar and lobster pizza, is what makes Pizza a top five on every ones list.

What also helps make pizza the ambassador of tastyflavorville is its ease and convenience. It is easier to order a pizza to be delivered than just about anything else. Whats funny is with just a marginal amount of effort and a few key ingredients anyone can make a killer pizza pie. To help all those pizza lovers out there I have what I think is one of the best pizza dough recipes I have used to date.

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
4 cups unbleached "OO" flour, (regular all purpose flour can be used but the "OO", which can be found at specialty Italian shops like Mazzaros, or even ordered of the Internet, makes all the difference in the world. So it is worth the special trip.)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus some for bowl.

Sprinkle yeast over water, let stand until yeast is creamy, about 5 to 10 minutes, if it doesn't get creamy you need to try a different batch your yeast ain't yeasting.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour and salt and form a well in the center. Add yeast mixture and oil;stir until dough just comes together. Take your big sticky ball of dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead vigorously for 10 minutes. Make sure you are warmed up because kneading vigorously for ten minutes is a nice little work out, but you can do it. Not done yet either, cover with a damp towel and let rest for 10 minutes, then yes knead for another 10 minutes. Your really looking to have a nice smooth surface on the dough when your done. Lightly oil a large bowl, Form dough into ball, turn into bowl and lightly coat with the oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Punch down dough with your fist, then fold sides over on another, turn dough, tightly cover bowl with plastic and let sit for at least 4 hours up to 24. It will be worth the wait friends trust me.

Quarter your large dough ball and shape pieces into balls and place on a lightly floured work surface, leaving some room in between each ball. Loosely cover with damp dishtowel(not terry cloth) and let rise at room temperature until doubled.

While your dough is resting and rising you should be heating your to 500 to 550 degrees. Your oven needs to be as hot as it can possibly be, you can also use your grill if you can accurately gage the temperature.

Once your oven is hot, and you have selected your favorite toppings on a lightly floured work surface, press 1 dough ball with your fingers to begin to shape into a round. Use your fist and hands to gently stretch dough to a 10-inch round. you can use a rolling pin to help roll out your dough. For me a circle is nice but not super important. If you don't have a pizza stone don't fret you can use a baking sheet, just make sure you use a little yellow cornmeal and sprinkle olive oil on the sheet before baking. Once your pizza hits the oven it should only take about seven minutes or until your pizza is golden brown and bubbly and melty and delicious looking.

Now go into the kitchen and create, have fun, a fill your mouth with a tasty treat you made with your own hands, I promise it will taste better. If you have a different recipe you like better please share.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Guest Chefs Galore.

We here at Chefs On The Loose really embrace our name. We have created what I like to call a Chefs gallery. Just as an art gallery is a space where artists of all types can display their works for all to see, Chefs On The Loose is a space where Chefs from around the region, nation and yes even the world, can display their works in the form of tasty, tasty menus. We invite Chefs to escape from their restaurants and the same dishes they do week after week to come and express themselves through their creations. Chefs can open their little black books of creative culinary gems and share them with a hungry audience. Simply put, Chefs On The Loose loves Guest Chefs.

So without any further ado I present the Guest Chefs for the month of April and one coming up in June.

On April 22nd we will have Asbel Reyes and Allison Beasman from Sideberns in Tampa to lead a Molecular Gastronomy Hands On Cooking Event. Yes I know, the term molecular gastronomy is frowned upon by those in the culinary know. Typically it means you are some sort of culinary poseur just regurgitating the newest trendiest food gossip. But, to be sure to attract all types of food friends, and those not so in the know, I will call the event by the name most recognized. In its simplest form it is really just food science, or food art, or a combination of the two. It's playing with your food and seeing it, feeling it and tasting it in a new and sometimes unusual way. So its like if Julia Child and Alton Brown had a child and that child grew up and took acid and wrote a cook book on acid, or maybe Salvatore Dali and Julia Child, something like that.

We also have Bobby Triplett, who I like to lovingly call "Jesus Flay", because besides being a great Chef with skills on the grills, he is a local pastor at a Rock and Roll church, and a Film festival promoter and a musician, and I am sure a loving father and husband, Basically he has a super full plate and pretty much kicks ass at life. But, other than that he cooks with a style that invites community and interaction around the stove and around the table. His event called Backyard Bistro is on April 23rd at 6:30. features some treats like; Bad ass fish tacos, Sweet Heat 13 spice St Louis style pork ribs, and marinated grilled portobello's with feta, amongst some other tasty treats. Looking forward to that event for sure.

Another stellar Guest Chef coming to Chefs On The Loose is Jennifer Lee of Celtic Table. This gal rocks. She was trained in Ireland, grew up on an organic farm, makes her own cheeses, butters, and splits her time between her family farm in Galway, Ireland and her home in Tampa. Do I need to say anything else, she is the real deal check her website to learn more about her and to see some of her amazing creations. Her event is April 30th at 6:30 and will have a little bonus guest as well. Fiona Prosser founder and owner of Celtic Dream Tours will attend and will share some of her experiences in Ireland . Celtic Bream Tours organizes and leads tours of Ireland, also a amazing gal with some really special stories.

The grand finale of this Guest Chef blog post is Rene Valenzuela of the legendary El Taconazo , known more affectionately as the TacoBus. Rene is one of the most passionate and compelling people I have ever met. He has built a reputation as the Mexican Chef in Tampa. Rene visits Mexico on regular basis to learn and hone his craft. He is a champion of authentic, orthodox, and traditional Mexican Cuisine. At our meeting as we spoke about all the transmutations of Mexican food, he insisted that what he does is an extension of the way it has always been done. The way the old women have done it, he stays away from fusion, or con fusion as he calls it, and instead sticks with what he knows works. Let me tell you Rene knows what works, he has focused only on Mexican cuisine for his whole life, no distractions, no other cuisine to muddle up what he loves to do. That singular focus and genuine passion is not just visible in his manner and persona but more importantly it is oh so apparent in his food. Delicious, simple, and made with only quality products. I am truly excited and honored to have Chef Rene Valenzuela join Chefs On The Loose on June 19th at 7:00pm for a dinner I am sure you will not find anywhere else outside of a friendly family home in Mexico.

Thanks for listening, I will be back soon with more stories from the kitchen and maybe some photos from these events. Hope to see everyone soon.