Times are always changing, and any good chef knows that food is no exception. Thus it is my goal to constantly be testing and developing new ideas and dishes to make at home for my family, to serve on the menu in the restaurant, and to have available to our clients on the catering menus as well. How do I think outside of the box, keep the creativity affordable, and enhance existing ingredients through reusing, reinventing, and recycling what we already have in the kitchen?
The answer…create a test kitchen that involves myself, my team, and an old and dear friend; Blake Swihart. In hopes of not aging myself, I met Blake many years ago in our time together at The Culinary Institute of America. While he now resides in Philadelphia, Uncle Blake (as my kids call him) so graciously agreed to fly to Chicago to help me create this test kitchen. Because of his experiences as a Corporate Chef and judging countless food and cooking competitions as a hobby, Blake has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to cutting edge ingredients and flavors. For two days Blake, my sales team, my Executive Chef Matt Reichel, and myself dove in hands first into this challenge.
Making flavorful and creative options for vegetarians or clients with food allergies is yet another thing to take into consideration with these changing times. For example heirloom beans and different risottos provide high protein grains for vegetarians, and chick pea fries are great for people with certain allergies to starches. We worked on keeping the proteins a constant, but reinventing dishes by creating different rubs, crusts, and “sexy sauces” as Blake calls them. Since I am always trying to come up with new ways to serve vegetables to my kids, my personal favorite was Cauliflower Pancakes with Za’atar Aioli. While all of my sales team knows the names, correct pairings, and tastes of dishes we offer on our menus, most had no idea the ingredients, process, or amount of time and sweat that goes into them, until actually creating them.
I went into this process solely as a means for creating new and exciting dishes. What came out of it however was much, much more! Through cooking, experimenting, learning, and tasting together, the test kitchen soon turned into an amazing and unexpected team building experience. It made me remember why I love cooking: because it brings people together. My sales team not only gained the knowledge of the process of cooking, but gained a much greater respect for my culinary team. Together we are all more knowledgeable of ingredients and flavors, and therefore more self-confident in presenting them to our clients. Whether you create a test kitchen in your home with your own family or in your restaurant with your team, it is a must have for creating new dishes and, most importantly, growing as a unit.
Resembling the German staple, Potato Pancakes, these Cauliflower Pancakes are a lighter, gluten-free, and in my opinion more flavorful alternative. It is also one of my favorite ways to sneak vegetables onto my children’s plates.
- 2 medium cauliflower heads
- 2 cloves of garlic
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- ¼ cup chopped fresh dill
- 1 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs (I recommend Ener-G)
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 large eggs
- Olive oil (for frying)
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 teaspoons zatar
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut cauliflower into florets, spread out on baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in oven for 20-25 minutes or until top of cauliflower is lightly browned.
Add garlic and half of roasted cauliflower to food processor and blend until smooth. Add remaining cauliflower, parsley, and dill. Pulse until mixture is slightly chunky and transfer into a large mixing bowl. Mix in gluten-free breadcrumbs, baking powder, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Mix eggs, already beaten into bowl.
Form pancakes by flattening batter into 1 ½ inch round cakes. Add enough oil to a large skillet to coat the bottom generously. Over medium heat, drop each pancake into skillet (working in batches), adding oil as needed. Cook pancakes on each side until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to paper toweling to absorb the excess fat.
Combine mayonnaise, lemon zest, zatar, lemon juice, garlic, and hot sauce in medium size mixing bowl. By stirring, mix together all ingredients and serve in a dipping bowl.
Serve warm and crisp with a dollop of aioli. Any extra fully cooked pancakes can be placed in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer until frozen, then stored in zippered plastic bags in the freezer. When ready to use, heat on cookie sheet in oven until crisp.