Chef Nicholas

June 14, 2011 at 10:00 am 1 comment

Last Thursday, I enjoyed a date with my mom at our local market, Dearborn Market. For anyone from my hometown area, you know how marvelous Dearborn is. They have incredible, fresh, local produce all year long at affordable prices. They also have specialty deli meats, cheeses, bakery goods, and other fantastic treats and high-end ingredients. Plus, they are family owned and committed to supporting small, local businesses. And still they usually manage to be cheaper than the grocery store or Whole Foods (for produce at least!) They also host fun events throughout the summer, with food tastings and chef demonstrations. When my mom heard that Chef Nicholas coming, she knew she had to get us tickets. He owns and runs Restaurant Nicholas, a 4-star restaurant in Red Bank that we have always dreamed of going to. He is only locally well-known, but recently released a cookbook and has started doing some more public appearances as promotion. It was fun to hear about his cooking philosophy and where his passion came from, since he is not your typically bred gourmet chef. He grew up in Brooklyn and began working in a pizza shop at age 11, where he gained a love of food and restaurant service. After 5 years, he applied and was the youngest matriculant to the Culinary Institute of America. His food philosophy is to use high quality, local ingredients, and to keep food unique but simple enough with exquisite technique to let the ingredients really shine through. He joked that his Brooklyn breeding gives him an “F-you” attitude towards tradition – he likes to do things the way that he feels fits his philosophy, and people always enjoy what he creates.

During his demonstration, he showed us two dishes, one of which I recreated last night as part of dinner. It was the most unique combination of flavors I have ever seen – a savory watermelon dish? Since last Thursday, I have seen savory watermelon popping up everywhere! Still, none of them beat this recipe. He calls it Watermelon Sashimi, and claims that it came about (as most of his dishes do) by accident. His staff all enjoy a meal together each day at the restaurant, and they had leftover watermelon one afternoon. To keep it fresh, it ended up in a Cryovac bag, which then accidentally ended up in the vacuum sealer. When it came out, all of the juice sank to the center of the watermelon, leaving it looking like raw tuna. He sliced it into squares and began to play with flavor combos. The grape and feta combination was inspired by an accidental mixing of salads at his sister’s backyard BBQ, and the sunflower seeds were thrown in for texture. Next thing you know, he had created his most popular appetizer at the restaurant!

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Even better than his sharing of two recipes with us, he has created a collection of his favorite recipes from the restaurant that you can reproduce at home. My mom and I bought the cookbook, and I am really excited to try out more of his ideas! He gives great tutorials on certain techniques, and the photography in the cookbook makes me drool. He also gives ideas of how to adapt the recipe if you don’t have certain pieces of special equipment (like a vacuum sealer). His demonstration and story in his cookbook have renewed my passion to demystify fresh, healthy, and good food for my friends and family!

Question: What is your favorite source for recipe inspiration?

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Watermelon Sashimi

serves 4, adapted from Nicholas

1/4 large seedless watermelon

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

4 tsp feta cheese

12 red grapes, halved

2 tsp sunflower seeds

cracked black pepper

Cut watermelon into slices, and then remove rinds. Cut the watermelon into even squares (2×2 or so, with 2-3 per plate). Arrange the watermelon squares on a plate and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Lightly arrange halved grapes on top. Sprinkle with crumbled feta and sunflower seeds, and lightly season with cracked black pepper.

Note: a vacuum sealer, as done by Chef Nicholas at the restaurant, is only necessary to create the gourmet presentation of sashimi. The flavor of the watermelon is not altered with this step, and was not missed by my mom or me in our recreation.

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