Marvin Blandon, son of a single mom, became the family chef around the age of 10 because his mother often was working at dinnertime. His first meal came out of that familiar blue and yellow macaroni and cheese box.
Marv quickly learned to experiment with whatever he found in the kitchen to create his meals, something he encouraged for guests at a Feb. 27 demonstration co-hosted by Chef Rachelle Boucher at Fresh Starts Chef Events.
The chef now is executive chef for the award-winning Novato Fire Chili Company (a project of the Novato Fire Foundation), which competes for cash prizes and hires out for catering. Out of 18 chili contests entered by the team, they have won 17 — winnings support foundation programs like the Fire Squirts youth firefighter academy.
In 2013, Chef Marv was named California’s Best Firehouse Chef in a “secret ingredient” cooking competition at the State Fair. What set his dish apart was cutting the secret ingredient – heavy cream – with chicken broth to create a lighter rendition of chicken carbonara. When tasked with using beer in the final round, the chef let popular fair food inspire his winning beer-battered fish and onion ring combo.
To a packed house of 100 guests last week, Chef Marv again shared top-notch comfort food, including the secret to braising chicken: DON’T TOUCH IT! Sprinkle on spices, put it on the stove top and then walk away until it is seared. Flip, add chicken broth, veggies (onions, celery, carrots), salt and pepper and finish it off in the oven for exactly 45 minutes to create a yummy, moist entrée.
His version of a ‘wedge’ salad uses iceberg lettuce cut in rounds, rather than wedges. Why? Because the dressing covers the salad more evenly, making a better eating experience.
Chef Marv describes his style as rustic, down-home cooking that incorporates whatever he has on hand. But don’t ask him for a recipe – he doesn’t write them. And he never prepares the same thing twice! — Contributed by Gary Lam with photos by Neely Wang.
Firehouse Favorite Braised Chicken — Serves 6 – 8
8 medium chicken thighs (bone in and skin on), about 3½ pounds
2 large or 3 medium carrots, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
3 ribs of celery, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large shallot, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil for frying
Smoked paprika (pimenton)
Salt and pepper
Juice of one large lemon
4 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
Keeping most of the skin on, trim off excess fat and skin from the sides and bottom of
chicken pieces. Season skin side of the chicken lightly with salt, pepper and smoked paprika.
Heat a large sauté pan or braising pan on medium-high heat, add grapeseed oil. Place chicken into pan with skin side down. It should sizzle upon contact. Season the side facing up. Do not move chicken in pan until it browns well and releases on its own — this is crucial for browning. To check, try and lift one side. If it sticks, it is not ready. Once it is brown, flip over in pan. Cook for 3 minutes and remove from pan.
Add vegetables and more oil, if needed. Cook, stirring, for 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and add lemon juice to deglaze pan.
Add chicken, skin side up, back to pan. Add stock to cover chicken half way up, about 3 cups. Place lid on pan and place in oven for 25 minutes.
Remove from oven, remove chicken from pan, cover with foil and rest. Return pan to cook top and remove about 3/4 of the vegetables. Heat sauce on medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce until thick (lots of frothy bubbles). Remove from heat, then add honey and butter, whisking to incorporate.
Serve chicken with sauce spooned over top.