Chef Agustín honors holiday with food

To celebrate Dia de los Muertos without food would be impossible, as tradition calls for offering favorite dishes to departed loved ones. Chef Agustín Gaytán showed a little of what goes into these gifts at a Nov. 2 celebration hosted by Fresh Starts Chef EventsChef Agustin Gaytan teaches at Fresh Starts Chef Events

A native of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, the chef grew up in a large family where everyone cooperated to make meals. His mother and grandmother imbued a love for food that led Chef Agustín to run a catering company and a restaurant before discovering his spark in teaching others to cook.

His recipes for the authentic mole sauce and tamales require a long list of ingredients — chiles, seeds, herbs and spices that must be roasted, grilled, toasted and/or ground — and multiple steps to completion. Many home cooks might not tackle them, but learning the effort required made each dish all the more tasty.

Cebiche Estilo Yucatan Mini-TostadasHis menu began with Cebiche Estilo Yucatan Mini-Tostadas using calamari, scallops and halibut. By marinating 1½ to 2 hours in lime juice, the chef denatures the protein and “cooks” the fish. Salt, olive oil, tomatoes, habanero chiles, onion, cilantro and mango are added after the lime juice is drained.

The chef uses stale tortillas to cut small circles for the mini-tostadas, frying them to crispness. The fresh, tropical flavors made a perfect opening for the complex mole to follow.

Mole Negro Oaxaqueño con Guajolote, one of Oaxaca’s signature dishes, requires commitment of time and labor. The spice and herb mix lists 15 ingredients, whichChef Agustin Gaytan making tamales combine with chiles, chocolate and other ingredients for a unique and delicious taste. The chef prepared it with turkey; chicken can be substituted.

Tamales con Chiles, Vegetales & Queso, served alongside the turkey and mole sauce, also involves a lot of prep time, including 30 minutes to steam the tamales once they’re made. Chef Agustín demonstrated how to roast chiles over a gas flame; he said they can also be cooked on an electric range in a sauté pan, moving the pan constantly.

Mole Negro Oaxaqueño con GuajoloteBecause queso fresco, a fresh cheese, does not melt, the chef advises mixing it with Monterey jack or Oaxaca cheese. His list of vegetables includes shiitake mushrooms, carrots and zucchini, but he says any vegetables can be used.

For dessert, Chef Agustín turned his attention to Flan de Chocolate y Café, and promptly demonstrated why devoted attention is important — his milk mixture boiled over. He reminded guests that just below boiling is the optimum point. He goes an extra step toChef Agustin Gaytan ensure a smooth texture by straining the flan before baking to remove any egg solids.

With each forkful, guests had an appreciation for the planning and care expended to honor loved ones at Dia de los Muertos. In this case, students and staff at Fresh Starts Culinary Academy prepared the recipes for guests with sponsorship from The Republic of Tea, which also provided iced tea at each table. (Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.)

Flan de Chocolate y CaféFlan de Chocolate y Café – Serves 6

1 cup espresso or 2 tablespoons instant coffee
½ cup cocoa powder
¾ cup sugar
3 cups milk
½ cup half and half
1½ teaspoons vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
4 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
Coffee liqueur, such as Kahlúa, if desired

Preheat oven to 350°F. To make the caramel, heat the ½ cup sugar in a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until it turns dark brown and turns into caramel–about 2 minutes. Pour the caramel over the bottom of the baking dish or ramekins.

In the saucepan, combine coffee, cocoa powder, milk, half and half, vanilla, the remaining sugar, and salt. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat and cook for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time to prevent the milk from boiling over or scorching on the bottom. Cool for 15 minutes.

Thoroughly beat the eggs and egg yolks in a bowl. Gradually add the egg to the warm milk mixture while constantly whisking.

Pour the mixture into a 1½-quart baking dish, cover with foil, and bake in a hot water bath for about 1½ hours or until flan is firm around the sides of the mold and a thin knife inserted off-center comes out clean. Chill at least three hours before serving.

To serve: Invert the baking dish or ramekins onto a serving plate. To each serving with 1-2 teaspoons of coffee liqueur if desired.

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Ken Tominaga Offers Tastes from Tokyo

In a week of tragic wildfires and smoky skies, Chef Ken Tominaga offered a break for companionship and cooking at Fresh Starts Chef EventsChef Ken Tominaga-13_sq

Chef Ken fed dozens of firefighters and police officers from his renowned Rohnert Park restaurant, Hana, in the aftermath. He nevertheless pledged immediately to appear at the benefit event as scheduled. “My family is okay, my house is okay and my restaurant is okay, so I want to be here,” he said.

Originally from Tokyo, the chef opened Hana in 1990 and, over the ensuing years, the restaurant became one of the region’s best-rated spots for Japanese food. He recently joined Chef Michael Mina to open restaurants in San Francisco, Boston, and Hawaii.

In addition to his training in Tokyo, Chef Ken visited celebrated sushi spots in the city in search of “secrets” from top chefs. He got them, he says, by promising that he wouldn’t be a competitor since he would be making and serving sushi in California.

Chef Ken Tominaga-1Chef Ken’s recipes use many ingredients that aren’t found at typical grocers, but most are easily purchased in Japanese markets or online. Unlike home cooks, though, he brings in his fresh fish from Tokyo.

As guests arrived, servers delivered crisp vegetables and two miso dipping sauces. The Japanese crudités were a refreshing opener.

The first dish in his demonstration, Akadashi with Nameko Mushrooms, offered lots of room to explain differences in miso he uses, what dashi broth is and how to make it. The sansho pepper in the recipe is a garnish, he pointed out, not a substitute for black pepper – and too much will numb your mouth.

The shirodashi, a concentrated dashi broth, and two types of miso set this soup apart Chef Ken Tominaga-15from most served in Japanese restaurants. Although he provided a recipe, Chef Ken said, “I want you to play with (different ingredients) on your own.” He suggested adding crab or varying the mushrooms. Sebastopol’s Mycopia provided the Nameko mushrooms and has several varieties available.

Though Chef Ken made it look easy, the Miso-Glazed Black Cod with Crispy Rice in Asari Dashi Broth required several steps. First, the dish needs advance consideration as the fish marinates for two to three days. The chef says any oily fish can be used, as can chicken or pork, which only need to be marinated overnight.

Chef Ken Tominaga-23He broiled the black cod, cooked the clams in dashi broth and prepared the rice cake separately, then prepared the dipping sauce and finally combined the elements for an excellent dish.

Like many chefs, Chef Ken generally doesn’t dabble in desserts, leaving that task at Hana in the hands of his wife. Chef Ken offered one of her creations: Matcha Panna Cotta, Coffee Jelly & Vanilla Gelato, which was unusual, refreshing and delicious.

To accompany the meal, guests enjoyed Sequoia Sake‘s Nama, a fresh version from the San Francisco maker, along with iced tea from The Republic of Tea, premier sponsor of Fresh Starts Chef Events. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos by Neely Wang.

Matcha Panna Cotta with Coffee Jelly & Gelato – Serves 4 Matcha Panna Cotta_crop

For the panna cotta

¾ cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons matcha powder, or more to taste
2 sheets silver gelatin

Soften the gelatin sheets in 2 cups cold water until soft and pliable.

In a saucepot, bring the milk, cream, sugar, matcha powder and gelatin to a simmer. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the mixture through a fine strainer or chinois.

Remove from heat and divide into four ramekins or martini glasses. Chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours or until chilled.

For the coffee jelly

2 cups water
½ cup white sugar
4 sheets of gelatin
1½ tablespoons instant coffee

Soften the gelatin sheets in 2 cups of cold water until soft and pliable.

Bring the water, sugar, gelatin and instant coffee to a boil in a stock pot, stir until the sugar and gelatin are dissolved.

Transfer the mixture onto a sheet pan and chill for 2 hours or longer, until the jelly is set and not runny. Cut the chilled coffee jelly into small pieces about ¼-inch square.

To serve: In a serving goblet or ramekin, layer a spoonful of jelly on top of the panna cotta and place a small scoop of vanilla gelato on top.

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Ron Siegel Cooks by the Seasons

For Chef Ron Siegel, dedication to seasonal ingredients means being willing to change things up – and more than just four times a year.

Chef Ron Siegel at Fresh Starts Chef Events“In Northern California, we have probably 45 seasons in the year, not four,” Chef Ron told guests at Fresh Starts Chef Events, who enjoyed stories from his years in top-rated kitchens along with a delicious three-course meal.

“Some days, the tomatoes are just better than other days. Usually I go to the market, get a bunch of ingredients, look them over, and just figure something out,” he says.

That approach drives his new restaurant, Madcap, in San Anselmo, which opened in August. It’s his first venture as chef/owner after working at Charles Nob Hill, Michael Mina, Masa’s and the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco. Chef Ron Siegel of Madcap

He demonstrated his love of the season with the first course: a salad using ripe summer tomatoes, croutons and a dehydrated olive “crumble” with pesto made from fresh-picked basil.

For the unusual crumble topping, he leaves pitted black olives to dehydrate overnight in a low-heat oven, then pulses them in a food processor. And he stressed the basil should be blanched a few seconds in boiling water, then wrung out in a towel, to set a desirable “Crayola-box green” color for the pesto.

As he demonstrated the second course, King Salmon with Fennel-Leek Purée and King Trumpet Mushrooms, Chef Ron also talked about his eye-opening visit to Japan in 1998, when he became the first U.S. citizen to win the “Iron Chef” title on the popular Fuji TV show.

King Salmon with Fennel-Leek Purée and King Trumpet Mushrooms“I went there to do that show under duress,” he says, but added that being in Japan “changed my life, changed my whole thought process.” Chef Ron observed a complete dedication to food and technique that influenced his future.

Madcap reflects that dedication by sourcing as much as possible locally, with fish often coming from boats based in Tomales Bay and vegetables gathered at Marin farmer’s markets.

To make the most of local seafood, Chef Ron recommends searing in a very hot pan. HeChocolate Crémeux with Sable Biscuit uses a thin metal cake tester or his sense of touch to check for doneness; if you test the thickest part of a fillet and touch the cake tester to your lip, it should be warm but never hot enough to burn. Chef Ron Siegel

His simple dessert of Chocolate Crémeux pairs easily with summer berries or rich cookies for winter. While Chef Ron often forgoes recipes, he acknowledges that baking and dessert requires more precision, so he often measures ingredients in grams. Plated with cream and a sweet biscuit, the crémeux gave a luxurious close to the meal.

Thanks to sponsorship of the chef events by The Republic of Tea, guests enjoyed dinner while knowing that the cost of attendance covers shelter services for a homeless man, woman or child in the community. — Contributed by Maura Thurman with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.

Heirloom Tomatoes with Pesto and Black Olive Crumble – Serves 4

5 mixed ripe heirloom tomatoes
1 shallot, minced
3 cups pitted black olives
2 cups day-old bread, cut in pieces for croutons
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 bunches basil, de-stemmed
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil, for pesto
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Coarse sea salt
2 cups mixed baby greens

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Spread the black olives on a sheet pan and dry in the oven for 45 minutes.

Cut tomatoes to desired shape. Add the minced shallot. Drizzle olive oil over the top, then add a sprinkle of coarse sea salt and set aside.

When the olives are done, turn the oven to 350°F. Drizzle olive oil sparingly over the bread pieces, add half of the minced garlic. Spread on a pan and toast in the oven until golden.

Blanch the basil leaves in boiling water for 15-20 seconds, then transfer immediately to a bowl of ice water. Drain and purée the basil in a food processor with ¼ cup olive oil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and the rest of the garlic.

Take 2/3 of the dehydrated olives and purée in a blender to make a black olive oil.  Chop the rest of the dried olives and set them aside separately.

To serve: Spread pesto on the plate, place tomatoes on top. Add croutons and drizzle with black olive oil.  Add the chopped olives, then top with assorted greens.

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Chef Marc Dym Serves Up Mendocino

The Mendocino coast came alive in the kitchen as Chef Marc Dym of Little River Inn presented at Fresh Starts Chef Events.

Chef Marc Dym talks at Fresh Starts Chef EventsTrained at the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Marc has drawn high praise at the historic inn, where his wife, Cally, is the fifth-generation innkeeper. His menu focused on the sea with abalone and wild king salmon.

Katie Keyes of North Coast Brewing Co., a Certified B Corp., also set the scene by introducing the beer selection as well as showing a video about the brewery’s partnership with Fortunate Farm in nearby Caspar. The farm uses spent grain from brewing to make compost.

Award-winning crab cakes have been a staple for years at Little River Inn. Chef Marc Abalone Fritters with Creole Remouladewanted to showcase abalone, which attracts scores of divers to Mendocino, so he sources sustainable farmed shellfish from The Abalone Farm in Cayucos.

While abalone steak is expensive, he uses the “skirt,” or lip, a more affordable option. Chef Marc explained that he experimented for awhile before attaining the crispy result with the chewy shellfish.

Chef Marc Dym of Little River InnHe offered two tips to making fritters: cut abalone and vegetables in same-size pieces, and make sure the oil is the right temperature to fry. He tests the oil with a pinch of flour — if it sizzles, it’s ready.

The fritters were served on a bed of arugula with a creole remoulade — which Chef Marc called a spicy thousand island dressing.

For the main course of Pine Nut-Crusted Salmon with Basil Oil & Wilted Escarole, Chef Salmon and polenta with Basil oilMarc said he sticks to basic flavors that contrast nicely. He believes in “cooking by feel,” without measuring closely, and learning from his experiments.

Chef Marc had specific ideas about prepping the untoasted pine nuts — pulsing, not puréeing them — and using a heavy steel or cast-iron pan to sear the fish. The seasoned nuts coat the unseasoned salmon, toasting in the pan, but he cautioned not to let the pine nuts go past golden brown or they will end up bitter.

Fresh Starts crew at work in the kitchenHe finished the dish in the oven, advising that the fish is ready when it is a creamy white color. The plate included a triangle of polenta and the escarole, cooked quickly with garlic, and a drizzle of basil oil.

Behind the scenes, students and graduates from Fresh Starts Culinary Academy worked with the chefs to turn out perfectly cooked and plated fish for the large crowd. Guests enjoyed Mantra Wines, introduced by Mike Kuimelis, who recently opened a Novato tasting room.

Chef Marc called himself a “begrudging pastry chef” because of the need to measure Chef Marc Dym of Little River Innmore exactly, yet he turned out a beautiful Wild Huckleberry Sable Breton Biscuit with Laychee Goat Cheese.

The dessert succeeds with simplicity of flavors, he added, combining the buttery biscuit with the savory, astringent cheese and sweet berries.

The Republic of Tea, Fresh Starts’ premier sponsor, provided iced tea for each table, and underwrote food costs for the delicious meal.  — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.

Sable Breton Biscuit with Huckleberries & Goat Cheese – Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:Sable Breton Biscuit with Berries
2 egg yolks
7 tablespoons sugar
7 tablespoons butter, softened
Pinch of salt
½ tablespoon baking powder
5¼ ounces all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar reduction
6 oz. goat cheese
¼ cup whipped cream
¼ cup fresh huckleberries

Preheat oven to 325°F. Using mixer with paddle attachment, cream sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks slowly to the mixture on low speed.

Sift together dry ingredients, then add gradually to the mixture until combined.
Scoop onto baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

Whip goat cheese until light and fluffy, then fold in whipped cream.

To serve: Place biscuit with 1½-ounce scoop of creamy goat cheese next to it, drizzle the balsamic reduction over the top and sprinkle with fresh berries.

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Stefano Masanti Shares Stories and Food

When a Michelin-starred chef arrives, the kitchen staff expects attention to detail. Before a July 27 dinner with Fresh Starts Chef Events, Chef Stefano Masanti lived up to that Chef Stefano Masanti-2_cropexpectation by arriving before 9 a.m. to oversee the cooking.

The Fresh Starts crew soon discovered he’s no hands-off director. Instead, Chef Stefano – owner of Il Cantinone in Madesimo, Italy — put on his hat to work with students and graduates of Fresh Starts Culinary Academy to make 1,300 ravioli and create a memorable meal.

V. Sattui Winery, where Chef Stefano spends his summers as Events Chef, offered wines from their extensive list – all normally available only at the winery – for his three-course menu.

Chef Stefano Masanti-39_sqThe chef passed around ingredients and his antique stone cooking pot among the evening’s 120 guests, saying that “cooking is using all your senses.” His recipes often draw on what he cooked with his grandmother — simple food and fresh ingredients.

He sprinkled his cooking demonstration with plenty of stories about his grandfather’s treks to procure vanilla and chocolate for gelato during World War II and his grandmother’s habit to use every part of a chicken.

With the first course, Roast Chicken Ravioli with White Wine Mushroom Sauce, that Chef Stefano Masanti-37meant using the browned chicken bones to make stock for the sauce and roasting the skin to blend into the ravioli filling. A deep, authentic roast chicken flavor was the result.

Chef Stefano Masanti-38





The second course, Beef Cheeks with Truffled Potato Purée, needs planning with 24 to 48 hours required to marinate and 4 to 5 hours needed to slowly cook the meat. The recipe makes this inexpensive cut amazingly tender with a hint of cloves and cinnamon.

Chef Stefano Masanti-45The chef’s old-fashioned dessert, Grandfather’s Vanilla Gelato with V. Sattui Madeira Zabaglione, uses simple ingredients but Chef Stefano cautioned against rushing. “To make a good gelato, you have to cook it…and it takes a couple of days.” After cooking, he lets the base mixture sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The zabaglione, on the other hand, is cooked right before serving and poured over the gelato. Served with cocoa-dusted raspberries and a wafer cookie, this dessert was a perfect end to a delicious and entertaining evening.

Chef Stefano met Tom Davies, president of V. Sattui, when the Davies family was Chef Stefano Masanti-1_Tom Daviesvacationing in Italy. They invited the chef and his wife, Rafaella, to visit Napa Valley. Soon the pair began closing their restaurant to spend the off-season at the winery, where the chef also makes salumi and gelato.

Fresh Starts Chef Events’ premier sponsor, The Republic of Tea, underwrote the food cost for the evening, in addition to providing refreshing iced tea at each table. V. Sattui donated the six wines served for the evening, including the award-winning 2013 Preston Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the flagship Madeira. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos by Neely Wang.

Braised Beef Cheeks – Serves 4 to 6

2 lbs. beef cheeks (ask your butcher to trim so they’re pan-ready)
4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
¾ cup white wine
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 whole clove
1 cinnamon stick
4 peppercorns
6 tablespoons canola oil, for searing
1 quart veal stock

Marinate beef with salt, mustard and other ingredients for 24 to 48 hours.

Drain meat for cooking. In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, sear beef in oil until browned on all sides.

Preheat oven to 250°F. Place meat in oven-safe pan with veal stock, then cover and put in oven to braise for 4-5 hours until tender. Remove beef from liquid, let cool.

Blend liquid remaining in pan, then strain. Place over medium heat and reduce to sauce consistency. Season to taste.

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Gordon Drysdale Brings Fresh & Local Focus

Since his motto is FLOSS, one might guess dentistry as Gordon Drysdale’s profession. But guests at Fresh Starts Chef Events won’t forget his culinary skills or his creed: Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal and Sustainable.

Chef Gordon DrysdaleChef Gordon has maintained a role in Bay Area dining for many years, most prominently at Gordon’s Fine Eats in San Francisco, and he has stories to prove it.

A longtime Mill Valley resident, he prefaced his cooking demonstration talking about a former colleague who fell on hard times, but now had found housing thanks to Homeward Bound of Marin. Proceeds from the chef events benefit Homeward Bound programs.

“It’s an honor to be here today…those of us who get so much in life should give it back,” he says. And he did, sharing his talent and insights with a roomful of appreciative guests.

Chef Gordon most recently applied the FLOSS philosophy at Scoma’s in San Francisco, a beloved eatery at Fisherman’s Wharf, where he developed a Roasted Beet & Avocado Salad. As guests watched, he plated the delicious combination ofChef Gordon Drysdale tender beets, oranges and avocados with pungent fresh horseradish root grated on top for a little kick.

As he began demonstrating the main course, Diver Scallops with Wild Mushroom Pastina, Chef Gordon explained the recipe had several components. To ease any time crunch, he says, the Wild Mushroom Broth and the Garlic-Truffle Butter can be made ahead.

Admiring the Sierra porcini and fresh morels sourced for his recipe, Chef Gordon praised the students and graduates from Fresh Starts Culinary Academy working behind the scenes. To cook mushrooms well, he added, move them around in the pan and wait for a little bit of color to appear. Diver Scallops with Wild Mushroom Pastina

Chef Gordon explained the majority of scallops sold in grocery stores have a preservative — sodium tripolyphosphate — added to plump them up. He recommends seeking out “dry or bone dry scallops” without chemicals.

The scallops arrived with Acini de Pepe pasta, a name that means “grains of pepper,” denoting the small size. Though Chef Gordon says Italian friends reserve use of this pastina for chicken soup, he used it to create a tasty depth of flavor, texture, and earthiness.

Panna Cotta with Sweet & Sour StrawberriesWhen it came time for dessert, Chef Gordon acknowledged everybody’s nonna has a recipe for panna cotta. His recipe for Mascarpone Panna Cotta becomes distinctive with a Sweet and Sour Strawberry sauce made from ripe, sweet berries alongside pickled green strawberries. The contrasting tastes prevent “palate fatigue,” he says.

Guests enjoyed pitchers of iced tea from The Republic of Tea, premier sponsor of Fresh Starts Chef Events, along with wine selections from Gundlach Bundschu and Bartholomew Park. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.

Roasted Beet & Avocado Salad – Serves 6 Roasted Beet & Avocado Salad

3 red beets, with tops
3 golden beets, with tops
3 avocados, just ripe, cut lengthwise into eighths
6 oranges, Cara Cara or Navel Supreme, segmented with membranes removed
20-30 fresh mint leaves, torn into 60 nickel-sized pieces
9 tablespoons Delizia balsamic vinegar
12 tablespoons extra virgin Arbequina olive oil
6 tablespoons fresh horseradish, for last-minute garnish
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Trim off tops and save for another use. Toss beets with some canola oil, then place in roasting pan with a little water in the bottom. Roast at 350°F until tender enough to pierce with a fork and skin comes away easily.

Let beets cool, then rub off skins using a kitchen towel. Cut beets into wedges, keeping the red and gold ones separate. Toss beets with olive oil and vinegar, then season with salt and pepper.

Lay 6 wedges of each beet on a large plate. Next, place 4 slices of avocado on top of the beets, then segments of orange. Drizzle drops of oil and vinegar over plate. Sprinkle the plate with several pieces of mint. Lastly, use a microplane to add fresh horseradish generously over the top of the salad.

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Gourmet Blogger Feeds Budget Foodies

A former kindergarten teacher turned gourmet blogger revealed some delicious talents for both cooking and entertaining a crowd at Fresh Starts Chef Events.

Gabi MoskowitzGabi Moskowitz, whose BrokeAss Gourmet blog has drawn a national following, presented some favorite recipes for economical foodies, starting with Cauliflower Crust Pizza.

As she cooked, the Santa Rosa native talked about her recipes with ingredients that never exceed $20 and the genesis of the TV sitcom “Young & Hungry” that’s inspired by her life. For anyone who’s watched during the show’s five-year run, Gabi stressed that it is not actually her life.

The Santa Rosa native still considers herself an educator—teaching others how to cook healthy, delicious meals that don’t break the bank. Cauliflower Crust Pizza makes an adventurous starting point — perfect for those who love Gabi Moskowitz of BrokeAss Gourmet with Cauliflower Crust for pizzapizza but not carbs.

Gabi takes care to strain the cauliflower after cooking (she prefers to microwave it) and squeeze out as much liquid as possible to avoid a soggy result. Parmesan cheese in the mixtures pushes the crust toward crispy as it bakes.

The crust remains light, though. In fact, when Chef Gabi demonstrated how to flip the crust in mid-baking, it fell apart. But, like Julia Child, she patted it back together and didn’t miss a beat.

As for toppings, she recommends “a light hand.” Guests enjoyed a version with a brush of tomato sauce, cheese, red peppers and onion – though different from traditional pizza, it made a tasty alternative.

Cauliflower Crust Pizza and Kale Salad on plateGabi prepared a favorite salad, Kale with Carrot & Pumpkin Seeds, which becomes a main dish with chicken or tofu. Her sure-fire technique for “tofu that doesn’t suck” is adding cubes of tofu to hot oil and then waiting for them to crisp before adding veggies.

For kale, Gabi stresses to slice thinly and dress early, allowing the dressing to soften the tougher leaves before serving. As she quickly put together a vinaigrette, she dishes out advice: “Stop buying salad dressing, because it’s so easy to make!”

Her version of pho, the classic Vietnamese noodle soup, came as a main course. The Bowl of Vietnamese Pho by Gabi Moskowitzrecipe shortcuts the traditional hours of making broth with plenty of aromatics — garlic, onion, lemongrass, soy sauce, fish sauce, chili sauce, and a lot of ginger. Her secret ingredient is Chinese Five Spice, “a quick way to get the flavor.”

The pho was an excellent lead-in to something sweet: her Rocky Road Brownies dressed up a classic recipe with mixture of mini marshmallows, chocolate chips and chopped almonds (or other nuts.)

Before her dessert demonstration, Gabi paused for a short graduation ceremony for three students from Fresh Starts Culinary Academy, the job-training program housed in the venue’s kitchen. Proceeds from the celebrity chef events support the program and students get hands-on training while working with the chefs — a proverbial “icing on the cake” as the evening closed. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.

Cauliflower Crust Pizza – Serves 2 – 3

½ large cauliflower, cut into florets
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
½ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for topping the pizza
Pinch of salt
¼ cup sauce of your choice (tomato, pesto, romesco, etc.)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1–2 toppings of choice (we love sliced bell pepper, pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, and caramelized onions)
Fresh herbs (optional)
Red chili flakes (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Place the cauliflower florets in a food processor and purée until the mixture resembles ricotta cheese and each grain is about the size of a piece of couscous.

Tip: If you can’t seem to get the right consistency, or if a few whole florets remain after puréeing, try adding enough water to cover (usually about 2 cups) and purée as if you are making soup. When all the cauliflower has been completely processed, strain it in a fine-mesh strainer.

Scrape the cauliflower into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave it on high for 5 minutes.

Carefully scrape the microwaved cauliflower purée onto a clean dish towel. Very carefully (using a second towel if necessary to protect your hands) squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Get it as dry as you possibly can.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cauliflower, the egg, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the Parmesan, and the salt. Mix together to make a thick batter.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Scrape the batter into the center of the parchment. Gather the batter into a ball shape. Wet your hands and carefully pat the batter into a circle, making it as thin as possible.

Drizzle the cauliflower circle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and use your hand or a pastry brush to spread it all over the circle.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and a little crisp.

Remove the crust from the oven, but leave the oven on. Place a piece of parchment paper over the top of the cooked crust. Carefully flip the whole thing so the bottom is facing up. Remove the parchment from the top (what was previously the bottom layer).

Top your pizza with sauce, cheese, and anything else you like. (I encourage you to go light on the toppings—the crust is sturdy but not as sturdy as conventional pizza crust.)

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes more, until the cheese is browned and bubbly. Slice and serve, topping with fresh herbs and red chili flakes if desired.

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Refugee to Restaurateur: Charles Phan

Chef Charles Phan treated guests at Fresh Starts Chef Events last week to a taste of where his culinary fame began: Pork & Shrimp Spring Rolls, one of the most popular dishes at San Francisco’s Slanted Door.

Charles Phan makes spring rollsThe spring rolls, Chef Charles said, “gave me the confidence to open Slanted Door.” In 2014, it was named best restaurant in the country by the James Beard Foundation and continues to buzz after more than 20 years.

Guests enjoyed other favorite dishes: a salad of asparagus, radishes, hazelnuts and cilantro with a tahini dressing, then braised duck leg with egg noodles, greens and mushrooms, and finished with a citrus no-bake cheesecake.

After demonstrating the spring rolls, Chef Charles inspired everyone with his story, Pork & Shrimp Spring Rollswhich began when his family escaped Vietnam as Saigon fell. After two years in a refugee camp in Guam, they settled in San Francisco.

The city now hosts a total of three Charles Phan restaurants, with Vietnamese street food at Out the Door and a Southern flavor at Hard Water, an American whiskey bar. In addition, he has a new venture coming to the UC Berkeley campus.

The affable, entertaining and sometime self-deprecating chef talked about the hard work that preceded his renown as the inventor of modern Vietnamese cooking in this country. As the oldest of five siblings, Chef Charles often cooked the family meals while both parents worked and he later bused tables at a pub.

Charles Phan with cookbookThough he has a background in architecture, making art and design an important aspect of his restaurants, he says, “it’s all about the food.” From the start, he wanted to present family-style meals at Slanted Door that rely on flavors and textures from his homeland, adapted with local and organic ingredients.

His opportunities to feed important people like President Bill Clinton have been memorable, but Chef Charles says he’s equally interested in finding ways “to change the way we feed our kids in school.”

As a grateful recipient of aid and assistance when new to this country, the chef expressed appreciation for Fresh Starts Culinary Academy’s job-training program. “It’s amazing,” he said, “getting to know about this group…and the big enterprise here.” — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.


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Cheese & History Make Tasty Menu

Guests got a taste of local history along with cheese when Chef Jennifer Luttrell presented a spring menu at Fresh Starts Chef Events.

Chef Jennifer Luttrell-4_sqThe executive chef for The Fork at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, who is part of a three-sister team running the business at a historic Marin County dairy, offered a glimpse of ranch evolution as well as recipes using the award-winning products.

The Giacomini family started the dairy in 1959, selling its milk to Clover-Stornetta for 42 years. When the farm began a transition to producing artisan cheese, the sisters banded together to lead the new endeavor.

Point Reyes Blue, introduced in 2000, continues to win awards and remains the company’s flagship product. Cheesemaker Kuba Hemmerling (Chef Jennifer’s husband) crafts other award-winners like Toma, the farmstead’s first non-blue cheese, a cross between Gouda and Havarti; Bay Blue, their version of a Stilton; and super-creamy Mozzarella, available May through October.Chef Jennifer Luttrell-10_sqx

Chef Jennifer opened the menu with a Winter Greens Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette & Bay
Blue, using a light vinaigrette with reserved juice from the Satsuma mandarins to offset the earthy cheese. For winter greens, she likes endive, for “a little texture,” and radicchio, for “color and a different flavor component.”

Mushroom Lasagnas with Pesto Bechamel & Point Reyes Toma was another earthy dish that straddles seasons. Chef Jennifer suggests tweaking the recipe for spring by using asparagus instead of mushrooms. With the focus on the cheeses, the taste was decadent but not heavy.

Chef Jennifer Luttrell-16Although The Fork does make ice cream with both the Original Blue and Gouda, Chef Jennifer opted to demonstrate a Lemon Mousse with Pecan Shortbread as dessert. She claims the fool-proof recipe is simple to assemble and hard to overcook.

Chef Jennifer concluded by telling guests, “I’m not a very fussy chef. I like things to be rustic.” She carries out her emphasis on simplicity and fresh ingredients at The Fork, a culinary teaching and dining space at the ranch that hosts regular classes and events.

Fresh Starts Chef Events thanks the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese team for donating cheese for the evening and gratefully acknowledges support from The Republic of Tea as premier sponsor for the chef event series. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.

Winter Greens Salad with Bay Blue – Serves 6

3 small heads of winter greens – endive, radicchio, etc. – washed, dried and torn into pieces
1 bunch arugula, washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 fennel bulb, cleaned, cored, and sliced very thin
3 seedless Satsuma mandarins, peeled and segmented with juice reserved
1 tablespoon of the reserved mandarin juice (may be substituted with fresh orange juice)
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar, or other lightly flavored vinegar
½ cup olive oil
½ cup crumbled Point Reyes Bay Blue
½ cup toasted hazelnuts, skins removed, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Toss greens and fennel together in a large bowl.

Make the vinaigrette by whisking the vinegar, juice, and olive oil until combined. Season with salt, to taste.

Toss lettuce with enough vinaigrette to coat, but not drench, the lettuce. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if desired. Add half of the crumbled Point Reyes Bay Blue and toss to combine. Place salad on individual plates or serving platter.

Toss the mandarins with a little of the vinaigrette and arrange on top of salad. Finish by topping off with remaining cheese and toasted hazelnuts.



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Sammy Hagar Rocks with Rum and Food

The room buzzed as Fresh Starts Chef Events opened a “pop-up party” with rock star-restaurateur Sammy Hagar and Chef Henry Cortez of El Paseo in Mill Valley – even before the Red Rocker himself appeared to mix a Rumrita cocktail.

Chef Henry Cortez with Sammy Hagar talk to guests

A Mill Valley resident for years, the rocker has been a longtime supporter of Homeward Bound of Marin, the nonprofit that benefits from the chef event series. The venerable El Paseo restaurant has come back to life with his backing.

While Chef Henry prepared for his first demonstration, Sammy introduced the Rumrita, hagar-and-cortez-14_cropwhich uses Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. Made from Maui Gold sugar cane, distilled and filtered only one time, the smooth white rum is, Sammy says, “truly the spirit of aloha.”

He described Chef Henry as “the only chef I’ve ever met who doesn’t want to be a superstar” – a man who likes being at the stove. So Sammy did what he does well, entertaining guests with anecdotes of rock’n’roll, restaurants and building his rum and tequila brands.

Of all these pursuits, Sammy says, the restaurant business is most difficult. But the man is serious about food.

Shrimp in Sofrito at Fresh Starts Chef EventsSammy’s “favorite food countries” are Italy and Spain. With Chef Henry, he’s bringing a Spanish flair to El Paseo, and the evening’s first dish, Shrimp in Sofrito, was an excellent example.

Sofrito, a base often used in Spanish and Italian cooking, is not difficult, but takes up to three hours as onions, red peppers, celery and tomatoes caramelize slowly. Chef Henry set his shrimp atop the sofrito with crispy chorizo and chorizo aioli for garnishes.

The main course of Steak Frites featured melt-in-your-mouth, perfectly cooked Akaushi Chef slicing beef at Fresh Starts Chef EventsWagyu beef, accompanied by Chef Henry’s roasted red onions and chimichurri flavored with smoky sweet pimentón de la Vera. He stresses that the meat needs to be slightly undercooked and left to rest for seven to ten minutes before slicing.

Chef Henry, who has pursued a culinary career since high school, says, “for me, it’s all about technique.” His dedication has drawn a loyal clientele for El Paseo, where Sammy says of his talents, “He blows my mind.”

Steak Frites with Chimichurri

Housemade Warm Chocolate Pudding Cake with a hint of rum wrapped up the menu. The recipe came from Chef Eric Magnani, executive chef for Fresh Starts Culinary Academy, whose students and graduates staffed the kitchen and served guests.

Guests also heard from winemaker Bob Cabral of Three Sticks Wines, invited by Sammy Hagar to offer two new releases for the event. The maker of the first-ever 100-point Pinot Noir, Cabral talked about his history in the business and Three Sticks’ array of select vineyards.

Diners also enjoyed beverages from The Republic of Tea, premier sponsor of Fresh Starts Chef Events, and picked up signed copies of Sammy Hagar’s book, “Are We Having Fun Yet? The Cooking and Partying Handbook.” — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.

Basic Sofrito – Makes 5 cupshagar-and-cortez-23_crop

2 yellow onions, diced to ¼-inch pieces
2 red peppers, diced to ¼-inch pieces
2 celery stalks, pelled and diced to ¼-inch pieces
2 tomatoes, peeled and crushed
12 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1 tablespoon saffron threads

Place all the ingredients in a pan and cover with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.

Place the pan over medium-low heat for 3 hours, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan every 7 to 10 minutes.

Continue cooking until most of the water from the vegetables has evaporated and the oil has become a clear red color. Set aside and cool.

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