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