Working in the culinary world, I am afforded with some great opportunities.  The best part of my job is that one day I am sitting in the 15th row at Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel’s Inauguration and the next I’m back in the kitchen test tasting.  This week was the prime example of such, and is why I am always saying “there’s never a dull moment”.

I was recently approached by the National Restaurant Association and asked to be an expert judge on their panel for The Innovative Food and Beverage Award.  Different manufacturers submitted their newest food or beverage that they felt qualified as most innovative.  If you are familiar with me or my blog, you know that I am constantly seeking to reinvent myself, my business, and live by my motto “reuse, reinvent, and recycle”.  This is the greatest lesson I learned from my great grandfather Herman Berghoff.  Helping create gluten-free menu items in the Restaurant such as Whitefish with Basil Relish and Sautéed Spinach, is just one example of my business changing with the times to meet the needs of our customers.  So when the NRA felt I was qualified to help decide which product was the most innovative, I was truly honored!

I spent days in the Berghoff kitchen tasting and studying everything from flavored milk straws to pizza.  I not only judged the food and beverages on taste, but on their packaging, nutritional information, shelf life, and ingredients.  There were products with bio-degradable packages in an effort to help reduce waste, or fresh baked treats with personal messages inside.  The creativeness and innovation goes on and on.  Together as judges we collaborated our ideas and have chosen a winner to be announced at the 2011 National Restaurant Association Hotel-Motel Show, early next week.  The show takes place at McCormick Place beginning Saturday and running until Tuesday.  Stay tuned for the winner…

Whitefish with Basil Relish and Sauteed Spinach

Yield: Makes 8 servings

Whitefish are native to the Great Lakes and are prized for their tender white fish and delicate flavor. They’re a Chicago favorite. Add the flavors and colors of the green spinach and basil-tomato relish, for one of my favorite gluten-free dishes.


    Basil Relish
  • 3 cups diced fresh Roma tomatoes
  • ¼ cup diced sweet onions
  • ¼ cup chiffonade-cut fresh basil (a fine julienne)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Whitefish
  • 8 (8-ounce) fresh whitefish fillets
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Sautéed Spinach
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced sweet onion
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach, washed well and trimmed
  • Salt and ground black pepper


Make the relish: In a lidded container, mix the tomatoes, onions, basil, balsamic vinegar, and oil together. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to develop before serving. To serve, bring to room temperature.

Make the fish: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the fillets on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Lightly brush the fish with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and season with paprika, salt, and pepper. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets, or until completely cooked through.

Make the spinach: While the fish is cooking, heat the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet. Add the onions and sauté until transparent, approximately 2 minutes. Add the spinach, in batches, and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, or until tender and just cooked. Remove from the heat, and season with salt and pepper before serving as directed.

Place ¼ cup of spinach mixture in the center of each plate to form a mound. Place one cooked whitefish fillet on top of the spinach and ladle 1/3 cup of the relish on top of and around the fish. Serve with French bread, if desired.


Whitefish is a delicate, bright-skinned fish and should be handled minimally. The fillet should be firm to the touch.