Saturday, September 10, 2011

In the kitchen with Chef Gui

Gui Alinat is one of Tampa Bay's most talented and respected chefs. Raised and schooled in the South of France, his culinary training and consulting services are in high demand. Here, he talks to Delicious Tampa Bay about French food, favorite Fall recipes and his forthcoming TV series 'History? It's Food!'.

When did your love of food first surface?

I grew up in the South of France so I had a natural passion for food. In France, all family reunions revolve around food and wine and I was completely immersed in that from a very young age. Many people in my family were exceptional cooks. Some were hunters (wild boar, squab, pheasant), others were foragers (porcini mushrooms, black trumpets, chanterelles) and, of course, we had our fishermen (craw fish and rainbow trout) - and boy did we have ways to prepare all of that! My favorite meal growing up was flambadou, which involves grilling a jack rabbit and splashing it with burning (literally) fat.

Can you describe your family's cooking style?

I would call it rustic and traditional - most of the meals were very healthy. Being in Provence, dishes revolved around fresh fish, vegetables, estate-grown olive oils, garlic and wine. Another of my favorites is Bouillabaisse, a fisherman's stew that really can't be created anywhere outside of the Mediterranean basin because the fish used are not found anywhere else.

When you moved to Tampa, you turned to teaching at the Art Institute of Tampa and Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy in Tarpon Springs. What do you love most about teaching?

I wear many chef hats. I own a boutique catering company, which caters fine events all over Tampa Bay. I have been doing that for the last 11 years. I started to teach three years ago and the best thing about that is, I get to interact with so many young culinarians.

How do you think the food scene has changed in Tampa over the last 10 years?

I don't like this question - it makes me feel like a veteran! Seriously though, the food scene has changed a lot. It's quite amazing in fact. Ten years ago, people barely knew what creme brulee was. Now, foodies know their stuff and dine on crispy pork belly, house-made charcuterie and blue point oysters. There is much more awareness when it comes to craftsmanship and food products. And of course, the trend now is local and sustainable food so much effort has been made by chefs, farmers and the public. Good times.

As well as teaching and running your own catering and consulting business, you are a food writer. Can you tell us a little about your book The Chef's Repertoire? 

I wrote for The St. Petersburg Times and on my own blog - mostly about food plating. My first book, which was published in 2010, is designed to help people increase their culinary knowledge. The Chef's Repertoire provides quick and easy access to 1100 named dishes including their origins, ingredients and cooking techniques. It is an inventory of classic dishes and is arranged in such a way that makes them easy to find and reproduce. In other words, it enhances your creativity in the kitchen. Now, I'm writing my second book.

Can you tell us a little about your new TV show and when we can expect it to hit our screens?

The TV show is called 'History? It's food!'. Every episode sees a historian, an event planner and a chef (that's me!) get together and recreate famous food events exactly as they were in history. We investigate the great feasts of Napoleon, Cleopatra, Thomas Jefferson and prepare the recipes and events ourselves. It's lots of fun and will be airing on a major food network in Spring 2012.

Do you have a favorite Fall recipe?

Aigo Boulido (garlic and sage soup) is a very simple and traditional recipe from the South of France. It's rustic and relies on the quality of the ingredients. Choose the best estate olive oil, organic eggs, sea salt or 'fleur de sel', freshly ground pepper and ultra fresh herbs. In Provence, this is known as a healthy, medicinal soup. The high concentration of Vitamin C present in garlic and the natural benefits of sage make it a favorite for birthing mothers, stomach aches and hangovers!

You will need:

- Eight cups of water
- 30 garlic cloves
- 10 fresh sage leaves, tied in a bunch
- Salt and pepper
- Six eggs
- 12 crouton rounds, made from sourdough baguette and toasted
- Two tablespoons of fresh, Italian parsley, chopped
- One bay leaf
- One sprig of thyme
- Six tablespoons of fruity extra virgin olive oil

In a stock pot over high heat, combine the water, garlic and sage. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bunch of sage leaves. With an electric hand mixer, blend the water and garlic together right in the stock pot. Salt and pepper to taste. Off the heat, infuse the Italian parsley, bay leaf and thyme for 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and thyme. 

Reduce the heat so the liquid simmers gently. One at a time, break the eggs into a small bowl and slip into the soup. Cook for two minutes. The yolks must remain soft. 

Place two croutons at the bottom of each soup bowl. Remove the eggs from the soup and place in each bowl. Serve the soup over the eggs and croutons. Drizzle with olive oil and serve at once. 

Thanks so much for Chef Gui - this recipe sounds perfect for Fall sniffles and winter colds. If you have your own question for Gui, you can visit his website to take advantage of the 'Ask the Chef' section. His fabulous book 'The Chef's Repertoire' is available in bookshops and on Amazon. You can also follow Chef on Twitter for sneak peeks and delicious recipes. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Scallop foraging? It's a shore thing!

Do you remember those hazy summer trips to the coast as a child? You'd stand at the edge of a rock pool in your baggy bathers, slathered in sunblock, net poised, just itching to pounce on the next live sea creature you laid eyes on.

Wow - a crab! It scuttles! And look at that crazy blue fish! What the ... shrimp? Shrimp! I got shrimp!

Into your sand encrusted bucket they'd all go.

As an inland child, I lived for those breezy seaside days. Now that I'm all grown up and living close to the coastline however, I realized that I don't spend enough time foraging for sea creature food.

This thought came to me in September just as scalloping season had been extended to September 25th. Deep down, I must have known. The scallops were calling me.

Now, if you've never done this before, the lovely folks at the Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee are always happy to get you started. Scalloping is limited to the area from the Pasco / Hernando County Line to Mexico Canal Beach. Thankfully, Sea Hag has a pretty well equipped enterprise right there. Bundle some snacks, an icebox, snorkel, swim fins and a mesh bag for your catch into the car before taking off - this is pretty much all you're going to need all day.

Once you arrive, you have options. You can swank up the operation by renting your very own boat, which will set you back $199 for the whole day, or you can take your chances and wade to the various fishy hiding places - about three miles out. You'll usually find plenty of fellow scallopers willing to give you a ride in their boat too. Either way, you will need to obtain an inexpensive saltwater fishing license before you set out.

Thankfully, these particular sea creatures are not very sneaky. If you spy a crowd of boats gathered in one spot, it's usually an indication of good pickings so head on over. Scallops tend to attach themselves to just about anything - blades of grass and brown algae are among their favorite hiding places - delicious seafood just waiting to be plucked. Swoop on in, scoop, and throw 'em in your net.

Back on the shore, there are various local ladies who will clean the scallops for a small fee. This really is worth doing as cleaning can be a messy and tricky business. These scallops, wet and heavy in their net bag, are going the meet their end with the seasoning of black pepper, ginger, lemon and lip-tingling hot red chilies.

You will need:

- Your fresh as can be scallops
- Three teaspoons of olive oil 
- One tablespoon of lemon juice
- Small piece of ginger, grated
- Medium red chilies, seeds removed, finely chopped
- One clove of garlic, finely chopped
- As much soy sauce as you'd like to flavor
- Black ground pepper

Heat the olive oil and begin to lightly fry the chilies and ginger. And the scallops and garlic and cook for around two minutes on each side. Take off the heat and add a really generous dash of soy sauce before serving over a bed of noddles - drizzling with the cooking sauce. 

There won't be much liquid but, what you do have, will be a hot, sharp and extremely satisfying.

Of course, you needn't do anything fancy when it comes to cooking your day's catch. Scallops are divine when sauteed in garlic and butter. Simple yet delicious.

I had a chat with Jennifer Bingham, wine aficionado and owner of Cru Cellars, to get her opinion on wine pairings for fresh scallops. First and foremost, she recommended The Zind Humbrecht Chardonnay/Auxerrois blend, which retails at $30 at Cru Cellars.

'This wine has a nice richness and weight on the palate like most Alsatian wines, and the Chardonnay brings a subtle creaminess too. Wine can often bring a sour, metallic taste out in scallops but this balances the minerality perfectly and also matches the weight. It's seriously the best wine I've ever had paired with scallops.'

Jen continues, 'If you're using a cream-based sauce, a big, buttery California Chardonnay could work well too. I like the Costa de Oro Chardonnay, which retails at $25.' 

The table is set, the wine is chilled, what are you waiting for? Once the smell and taste of these delicious little morsels hook you, you'll be a scalloper for life. And that's a promise.

Recipe Box: Roast chicken and potatoes

There was a distinct chill in the air yesterday morning. As I sat on the back steps drinking my first coffee, lamenting over the rain, the hearty aroma of roast chicken suddenly entered my consciousness. Hadn't I been saving the perfect roasting bird in the freezer for such a day? Why yes, yes I had.

This recipe, guaranteed to make you the most popular person EVER at home, is one I watched three generations of my family create a thousand times while I was growing up. Roast chicken and potatoes are dreary weather staples where I come from. Succulent, juicy meat and crispy, herb-infused skin, roast chicken is a veritable smorgasbord of gastronomic potential. Lord have mercy on my waistline ...

Anyway, let's get down to it shall we?

You will need:

- One whole chicken 
- Quarter cup of butter, softened
- Six cloves of garlic, minced as finely as you can
- Quarter cup of fresh tarragon, finely chopped (substitute for parsley if need be)
- One whole lemon, chop in half and squeeze around a tablespoon of juice to use for the mixture
- Three tablespoons of brown sugar
- One tablespoon of smoked paprika 
- Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Wash your bird and pat it dry with kitchen towel. Combine the butter, garlic, tarragon, brown sugar, paprika, salt, pepper and lemon juice in a bowl for a good stir. Now, it's time to roughhouse that chicken. Slather and slap the mixture all over until your heart is content ... remember to get under the skin too, you'll thank me. Once you're satisfied, pop the lemon halves inside the cavity. Bake in the oven for the time specified on the packaging. 

Now for the potatoes. Mmm potatoes, how I love thee. Encased in your perfectly formed crunchy shells yet your interior ...  so fluffy! So delicious! Truly the best comfort food in the world. In my opinion, this is exactly how roast potatoes should look; small, crunchy with a few remnants of salt and rosemary. Simple.

You will need:

- Good roasting potatoes, peeled, washed and cut into halves (or quartered if the potatoes are large)
- If you can get beef dripping (my family are Irish so we live on the stuff), I swear you'll be so happy with the result you'll want to come kiss my toes. If not, olive oil will suffice.
- A handful of fresh rosemary sprigs
- Salt and pepper

Heat your beef dripping or olive oil in the oven (whack the temperature on high). This should cover the bottom of the pan by around half an inch. Cover the potatoes in a pan of cold water and par-boil. You don't want the them to become too soggy but you should be able to prick them with a knife and feel that they have softened a little. Drain and place each potato into the hot dripping (or oil) giving them a good coating on all sides. Season with salt, pepper and rosemary and off you go. When the potatoes start to look like the gloriousness of the picture above, you know they're done. 

Serve the chicken and potatoes with steamed vegetables and enjoy. Good? Thank my great grandmother ...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Weekend food & drink events - September 9th - 11th 2011

On Thursday, one of my favorite weekday wine bars Cru Cellars is hosting an 'Italian Food Flight Night' from 6:30pm featuring flavorful pairings of Italian food and wine. Always educational, the event costs $25pp and you can RSVP by calling or emailing owner Jen on 813 831 1117 or 

Friday night is cheese night at Cheese Please, where you'll get to sample eight difference cheeses of the hot and spicy variety this week. I love cheese. I really, really, really do. The event starts at 7pm and costs $20pp. You can RSVP by calling 813 766 0060. 

If you're a spice fiend, be sure to stop by the 'I Like It Hot Festival', which kicks off at 10am at Minnreg Hall in Largo. Taste and judge the amateur salsa and hot sauce competitions, purchase goods from a variety of tangy vendors, listen to live music and watch (or participate if you're insane) in the spice-o-riffic jalapeno eating competition. Tickets are just $5pp and the festival goes on until 5pm. Take water. Lots.

Sunday is a cooler deal altogether at the 6th Annual Fall Wine Festival in Lithia. Sample more than 100 wines and plenty of Park Square's bistro fare. It's a free event too. We LOVE free. 

If you're in the vicinity of the Whole Foods on North Dale Mabry Hwy this weekend, it'll be worth popping in as it's the store's official Customer Appreciation Weekend. There will be sales and special offers galore as well as free gift bags for the first 100 shoppers, samples, cooking demos and free five minute massages from 1-4pm. Don't mind if I do.

Local Loves: Five fabulous food trucks you don't want to miss

Fast food has a new set of wheels and it's not afraid to use them. The humble hot dog and Cuban sandwich stands of our fair city have been joined a new generation of entrepreneurial, social media savvy gourmets, dishing out everything from tacos and coconut curry to bourbon-mango pork.

Tampa's food truck scene is burgeoning.

Consequently, the bay area's first food truck rally will roll into town on September 24th at the Presbyterian Church in Hyde Park with a second event to be scheduled in Seminole Heights shortly thereafter.

Sponsored by Tasting Tampa, the event will feature the gastronomical delights of Wicked 'Wiches, the now famous deviled crabs and Cubans of Michelle Faedo and many more DIY dining vendors. You can also expect plenty of homemade desserts, live music and FREE (yes, free) childcare.

In the lead up to the event, I wanted to share five of my very favorite food truck entrepreneurs. Ditch your dollar sandwiches friends, gourmet fast food is the way to go.

Located on the northwest corner of Florida and Hillsborough Avenue in an original airstream trailer, Freshley's Cafe is my favorite go-to lunch spot in Tampa. Not only is it super close to where I live and work but its plethora and fresh, healthy offerings and incredibly budget-friendly pricing make it pretty irresistible. At breakfast, I simply can't resist the banana pancakes (I'm salivating at the thought of them) with their sweetly sticky banana and cinnamon spice wheat base topped with walnuts, maple syrup and creamy brie cheese. At just six dollars, it's enough to keep me going until my evening meal but I have been known to stop by for a smoked salmon BLT or Thai grilled chicken salad at lunch. Naughty naughty.

Instantly recognizable in parking lots around South Tampa, Wicked 'Wiches dishes up a delectable feast of giant open faced sandwiches practically overflowing with fillings. My sandwich of choice is the coconut curry kota, which hails from South Africa and usually features some kind of curry in the middle of hollowed bread. Superbly delicious. As an added extra, fresh potato chips to accompany your sandwich are made on the spot while you wait. The truck's Facebook page usually gives a good indication of forthcoming locales. 

Warm, perfectly crumbly pies served in tiny glass jars? Yes please! This is just one of the specialties thoughtfully concocted by Stephanie Barr, the owner of 3 Ballers Traveling Bistro. While the menu changes frequently, the quality of the food and attentive preparation does not. Usually found touring local farmers markets and outdoor events, my heart skips a beat every time I run my eyes over the perfectly sumptuous baked goods, the hot, cascading pitas and beautifully presented, chilled gazpacho. 

I doubt there will ever be a shortage of Cuban sandwiches in Tampa. Lord knows we have enough vendors. Take a Cuban sandwich however - piled with juicy cuts of roast pork, salami and thinly sliced ham - and rub a good helping of garlic and herb paste on the outside before lighting toasting, and you have a winner. This is just one of the delectable treats offered by Michelle Faedo's On the Go. If this isn't enough for your rumbling belly, try the crackling croquettes, which guard a gooey ham salad interior, or Michelle's famous deviled crab.

For a heavenly sweet treat of the chilled variety, you might want to hit up my favorite yellow food truck Gone Bananas. This organic concession trailer has made a name for itself by serving up vegan and gluten-free frozen whipped bananas. Delicious and healthy - it's a guilt-free dessert, which always gets a thumbs up from me!

What is your favorite fast food truck stop in Tampa? Or are you yet to try one?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Recipe Box: Pumpkin Pie Milkshakes

While friends migrated to the beach to enjoy the last of the summer weather this weekend, I was pottering around my kitchen in a dreamy haze. I could think of nothing but chunky casseroles, tummy-warming soups and crunchy Autumn leaves underfoot. It's no secret that Fall is my favorite season. Every year, I whip up something deliciously autumnal on the first weekend of September, just to remind myself that the season is definitely changing, no matter how hot and sticky it is outside.

This recipe is so easy to make (especially if you use store bought pumpkin pie) and is universally popular. As an added bonus, your kitchen will smell sumptuous and spicy for the rest of the day too. Yum!

You will need:

- 1 eight ounce package of cream cheese (softened)
- 2 cups of canned pumpkin
- Half cup of white sugar
- Half cup of brown sugar
- Quarter teaspoon of salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup of half and half
- Quarter cup of melted butter
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- Half teaspoon ground cinnamon
- One piece pre-made pie case
- Vanilla Ice Cream
- Milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. While that's warming up, give the cream cheese a good beating with a hand mixer. Add the canned pumpkin and beat until combined. Next, add the sugar, salt, eggs, half and half and the melted butter before mixing it together. Finally, pour in the vanilla and cinnamon ... yet more beating should ensue. Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake for around 50 minutes. 

Leave the pie to cool for a few hours. Yes, I'm aware that I've just asked you to bake your first pumpkin pie of the season only to leave it for a few hours. Be strong my friends, the result will be worth the wait. 

Activities to consider to keep you from a mad fit of pie eating:

- Pack a good book and take yourself out for a coffee (may I suggest Sophie's French Cafe and Bakery?)
- Re-pot sorry looking house plants in some old china cups and dot them around the house
- Call your best friend and lament over how hard NOT eating freshly baked pie can be
- Lock yourself in the bathroom

Phew, congratulations, you made it. Now we can have some fun. For each milkshake, you should add one slice of pumpkin pie, two cups of vanilla ice cream and one cup of milk to the blender. Tada! Isn't the result heavenly? Aren't you glad you waited? 

I'd absolutely love to hear what recipes you're most looking forward to this Fall in the comments!