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