Most culinary professionals don’t talk about their office view, but Chef Austin Perkins of Nick’s Cove restaurant is the exception – he looks at the beauty of Tomales Bay. “There’s no one who has it better,” Chef Austin, a Petaluma native, told guests at Fresh Starts Chef Events before launching into a March 27 menu made from the specialties of West Marin.
The feast began with Pacific sweetwater oysters from Hog Island Oyster Co., a Nick’s Cove neighbor. Chef Austin demonstrated the shucking – don’t be forceful, just consistent – and then halted. “The best way to eat them is right now – just go for it,” he said, but offered his recipe for Oysters Mornay as a sure crowd-pleaser.
Once the sauce is made – his version uses Point Reyes Toma from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. — preparation takes only a minute. Just top the opened oyster with a spoonful of sauce and breadcrubs, then cook for 60 seconds on the grill.
His Rainbow Chard Salad with Duck Confit could be a meal in itself. Since Nick’s Cove has a 3-acre garden on-site, Chef Austin says, he’s tasked to “come up with recipes to use it all.” The salad balances the salty confit with a lemony vinaigrette, adding sweetness with strawberries and some cashews for texture. In the winter, he uses dried cranberries and pecans.
Chef Austin demonstrated a favorite winter main course: Beef Short Ribs with Horseradish Mashed Potatoes. His Meyer lemon gremolata lightens the flavors.
The evening closed with the charming pastry chef from Nick’s Cove, Fernanda Hurst, who admits to a love affair with vanilla beans and acknowledged talking to her desserts early in the morning before the rest of the staff arrives.
Her crème brulée uses vanilla beans for a luscious depth. A secret to ensuring perfection, she said: pay close attention to “tempering” the egg yolks – adding the hot liquid to them slowly so they don’t scramble. “Baking is a science, cooking is love,” she told guests. “So don’t forget to read your recipe and do all the steps with care.” — Contributed by Maura Thurman with photos by Neely Wang.
Warm Rainbow Chard Salad — Serves 6 – 8
While Chef Austin Perkins often uses duck confit, he says cooked bacon, pancetta or ham make delicious and more easily accessible substitutes.
Ingredients – For the vinaigrette
1 cup sherry vinegar
1 ½ cups high-quality extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
Freshly cracked black pepper
Combine sherry vinegar with olive oil.
Add salt, thyme, mustard and pepper. Whisk vigorously until emulsified. Set aside.
Ingredients – For the salad
1 cup duck confit (bacon, ham or pancetta may be substituted)
2 quarts rainbow chard, stem removed and julienned
1 lb. strawberries, sliced
2 leeks, julienned
1 pint toasted cashews
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
In a sauté pan, add shredded duck confit to hot vegetable or olive oil, and crisp evenly on all sides.
Add the leeks and cashews, sauté briefly, about 30 seconds. Add ½ cup sherry vinaigrette.
In a small bowl, combine the chard and strawberries. Pour the hot vinaigrette-duck mixture over the chard and strawberries and toss thoroughly until all of the chard is evenly coated. Serve immediately.