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The Latest from Big City Chefs

How Do I Love Thee, Hamburgers? Let Me Count the Ways. (Recipe Included)

June 7th, 2010

By Caroline Gibbs, Big City Chefs Food Writer

If baseball is America’s national pastime, then the hamburger would have to be America’s national food. Naturally, there are other competitors for this coveted title, namely hot dogs, but I maintain that the hamburger is America’s food because of its sheer prevalence across the US, its versatility, and its widespread popularity. Yes, the hamburger is a tour-de-force, because let’s be honest, when you’re in the mood for one, nothing else will do.

I must admit that my deep appreciation of hamburgers is a rather recent revelation, as I spent six years of my adolescence as a vegetarian. Huge mistake, I know. But since that time, I would argue that I’ve made up for my years as an herbivore in trips to In-n-Out (the best fast-food burger in my opinion, as well the opinion of our Big City Chefs co-founders) and in the number of blue cheese and bacon burgers I’ve consumed since then (my toppings of choice). On occasion, when I’m in the mood to try something new or feeling particularly guilty, I’ll opt for the turkey or veggie patty instead. They are both good in their own right, fulfill my burger needs in texture and size, but I can’t honestly say they satisfy me in the same way. I suppose that is just the magic of the hamburger. (On a side note, the philly cheesesteak has come close to meeting my burger needs – all the flavors are there, the form is simply different. If you have never tried one and you are a hamburger fanatic I suggest you try one immediately.)

Another spectacular thing about the hamburger is its versatility. It is simply the perfect base to which to add any variety of toppings. From trying out different buns and cheeses, to adding unique toppings like grilled pineapple (also very good), the hamburger has no limits. All you need to start on your hamburger journey is a good basic hamburger patty recipe. My personal favorite comes from our own private chefs here at Big City Chefs. Heck, if they’re good enough for the elite in Food Network’s “Private Chefs of Beverly Hills,” then they’re good enough for me. Our basic burger patty looks like this:

Basic Burger Patty

Yield: 8 burgers

INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds Ground Beef Chuck or Round
1 Large yellow Onion
1 1/2 tablespoons Heavy Cream
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper, to taste
Unsalted Butter (or, if you’re avoiding cholesterol, we recommend a butter substitute like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!” sticks)
Vegetable Oil, as needed
Kosher Salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

1. Spread the meat out onto a cutting board or casserole dish and grate 2 to 3 tablespoons of onion into it. Use a fairly fine grater so that you get just the juice and very finely grated raw onion. Mix in the heavy cream and some freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Form into small patties, averaging 3 to 4 ounces per miniature burger.
2. In a heavy cast iron skillet or pan, cook the hamburgers in the butter and oil over medium-high heat, giving it 3 to 4 minutes a side, depending on how well done you like it. Salt the patties and serve them on toasted rolls with a half lettuce leaf and tomato to start.

From here, the sky is the limit. My personal favorite burger is topped with spinach, sautéed with caramelized onions and Point Reyes Blue Cheese (I crave the standard cheddar, lettuce, tomato and onion burger when I go to a burger joint, but whenever I make burgers at home, I tend to go the gourmet route). When I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll even go as far as to make my own fries (or pommes frites when I’m feeling fancy!), and again, I go with this fantastic recipe from Big City Chefs to guide me:

Homemade Pommes Frites
Yield: 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

6 Russet or other Baking Potatoes
1 quart Organic Vegetable Oil
Kosher Salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

1. Peel the potatoes, and cut them into fries of approximately the length and width of your index finger. Preheat a deep pot of oil to 325 degrees F.
2. For the first fry, deep fry potatoes in the oil for 5 to 6 minutes, or until a light golden color. Do not over load fryer. Fry in multiple batches if necessary. Remove the potatoes using a slotted spoon, and allow them to cool to room temperature.
3. Raise the temperature of the oil to 375 degrees F. For the second fry, deep-fry the potatoes for 2 minutes, or until crispy. Remove potatoes, and transfer into a colander or bowl. While still hot, salt the fries.

You can try all kinds of sides to your burger, onion rings or strings, fried vegetables, a fresh side salad, but ultimately there is nothing quite like the French fry to accompany your burger.

So there you have it – all the reasons why I love the hamburger and why this summer, I’m going to give the hamburger all the love and appreciation it deserves. Hamburgers have a place in my heart because they fill that little void that love, family and friends never could – the one that craves meat, cheese and all of the other savory and delicious gifts from nature that the hamburger brings together in one little joyous package. Thank you, hamburgers.

Recipe: Chicken with “Slippery” Dumplings – from the Pennsylvania Dutch

May 20th, 2010

Enjoy Cool Weather’s Last Hurrah
by Tom Stieber, Big City Chefs CEO

Yes, it’s almost June, and that means summer is just around the corner.  But much of the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast have been much cooler than average lately.  We’ve even been getting some highly unusual showers out here in California.  Before trading your boots for a bikini, we think you deserve some really great comfort food.  And what could be more comforting than good ol’fashioned Chicken and Dumplings?

This recipe is taken from the Pennsylvania Dutch — the consummate masters of American old-fashionedness — and adapted by one of our Wisconsin-to-California chef transplants.   And c’mon, who knows comfort food better than a Midwestern chef?  Enjoy this recipe before the summer heat arrives!

Chicken with “Slippery” Dumplings — adapted from the Pennsylvania Dutch

1 medium Whole Chicken
1 large Yellow Onion, chopped
4 large Carrot, scraped and cut in 2″ pieces
4 stalks Celery, scraped and cut in 2″ pieces
1 teaspoon Dried Thyme
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup Unbleached Organic Flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon Shortening or Vegetable Oil
6 tablespoons Hot water
Fresh thyme, for sprinkling, chopped

1.    To cook chicken the “old fashioned” way:   Put chicken in a large stockpot along with chopped vegetables and seasonings, then add enough water to cover by 2 inches.  Salt and pepper generously.

2.    Bring water to a boil then reduce immediately. Let slowly simmer for 2-3 hours.  As chicken simmers, skim off foam that forms on top and around edges.

3.     When chicken is done, remove from pot (shredding instead of chopping), let cool, and remove meat.  CHEF’S NOTE: Poaching boneless chicken breast is an appropriate shortcut to this method.  Alternatively, a fully cooked rotisserie chicken from the Whole Foods prepared foods department may be used.  In this case, organic chicken stock could be used for the broth.

4.    Keep meat in a separate bowl for and reserve the vegetables.

TO PREPARE DUMPLINGS:

1.    Sift together 1 cup flour, salt, and thyme in a mixing bowl.

2.    Add shortening and mix and enough water to make dough soft, but not sticky.

3.    Wrap dough in plastic wrap for 15 minutes to rest.

4.    Place dough on floured surface and roll very thin and cut into squares, keeping flour on them.

5.    Heat broth back up to almost boiling and add dumplings.

6.    Gently stir (constantly at first) to keep them from sticking to each other.  Keep lid halfway on pot.  CHEF’S NOTE: The flour on the dumplings will help thicken the broth.

7.    Cook dumplings for about 10 minutes, add shredded chicken back to the pot, and re-heat.

8.    Make sure dumplings are cooked all the way through.

Hurry up and skate faster, before the Chicken and Dumplings are all gone!”

Do Not Die Until You’ve Tasted This

May 17th, 2010

by Tom Stieber, Big City Chefs CEO

At Big City Chefs, we obviously love food, and we love to pamper our clients. It’s why we’re in this crazy private chef business. But what we love more than anything is a client who trusts our chefs to invent a menu that is utterly inspired and combines the chef’s talents, creativity, skill, and vision with the client’s personal tastes. Giving free creative reign to a chef is like handing a blank canvas and a paintbrush to Picasso.

You may contact Chef Brian York for dinner parties at chefbrian@bigcitychefs.com

Recently, Chef Brian York, one of our Southern California private chefs who serves our clients in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, and beyond, created a dinner party menu that may become the standard for one of — dare I say this? — the most memorable and perfect menus of all time. Yes, I may sound a bit dramatic (because I am), and maybe I’m just personally partial to these particular combinations of flavors, textures, and ingredients. Because let me tell ya, this is SO my kind of menu. I cannot leave this Earth until I’ve tasted all of these dishes (do you hear me, Chef Brian?) Getting all excited about what our chefs do is one of the most rewarding aspects of running Big City Chefs, and sometimes, I get so giddy that I want to tell everyone about it. Still, in this case, I don’t think it’s just me. Based on the client’s raves, every person at that table was completely blown away too:

“We recently hired Chef Brian for a diner party I hosted in Palm Springs for my wife’s 40th birthday. To say that Chef Brian exceeded our expectations is a complete understatement. His attention to detail, relaxed and engaging personality, and culinary excellence all contributed to a very memorable evening. And FOOD….yes the FOOD…….amazing, or as Brian refers, “pretty straight forward.” It was anything but straight forward. I knew we were in for a treat when Brian showed up at 11am to prepare for a 7pm dinner. Thank you for a incredible evening.” – Calvin C.

So what was this amazing five-star-restaurant-worthy menu? Here ya go!

A PALM SPRINGS WEEKEND DINNER PARTY MENU
by Chef Brian York of Big City Chefs

-Foie Gras Parfait with Sage Butter and Savory Chocolate Toast
-Summer Truffle Risotto with Rosemary and White Balsamic Reduction
-Chilled and Charred Corn Bisque with Poached Pear and Goat Cheese Cream
-Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with Spanish Olive Oil Poached Parsnips,
and Caramelized Cippolini Onions
-Seared Halibut with Roasted Garlic Turnip Puree and Micro Greens,
Dressed with Pomegranate Beurre Blance
-Pavlova with Soft Frozen Egg Yolk Center, Goat Cheese, and Blackberry Cream Reduction

And for those of you who, like us, are sensitive to working foie gras, please remember that we’re only human and occasionally must indulge.

Many thanks to Chef Brian York, who in my opinion is the perfect private chef for your next Southern California dinner party!

Pamper Mom with this Easy, Incredible Brunch Menu!

May 7th, 2010

by Caroline Gibbs, Big City Chefs Food Writer

While we shouldn’t wait for Mother’s Day to tell our moms just how much we love and appreciate them, there’s no reason not to use this Mother’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate Mom and show her just how much you care. As Mother’s Day is always celebrated on a Sunday, a classic and memorable way to celebrate is with a Mother’s Day Brunch. Starting off her day with a delicious and relaxing meal will be sure to set the tone for the rest of the day. As far as details go, remember this day is about her. Think whether or not she’d best like an intimate family bunch, or a larger group of friends and family, indoors or outdoors, breakfast or lunch oriented foods. Whatever you decide, she’ll be sure to love it if it’s put together with thought and care. Here are few recipes from our personal chefs here at Big City Chefs that will be sure to make this brunch one to remember.

(Recipes from The Big City Chefs Cookbook: Easy Recipes for Everyday Cooking and Entertaining)

Cappuccino Smoothies
Yield: 5 Servings

Ingredients:
1 cup Espresso, cold (Note: If you don’t have an espresso maker, use triple the amount of coffee you normally use to brew coffee)
1/2 cup Coffee ice cream
1/4 cup Crushed or cracked ice
1/4 cup Heavy Cream, whipped
1/4 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon, or as needed

Directions:
1. Blend the espresso, ice cream, ice, and milk in a blender until smooth.
2. Serve at once in chilled tall glasses garnished with a dollop of whipped cream.
3. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Smoked Turkey, Brie, Apple Butter and Arugula Pinwheels
Yields: 40 pieces

Ingredients:
3/4 cup Arugula, chopped
4 teaspoons Fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 puff pastry sheet (from 1 (17 1/4-ounce) package frozen puff pastry sheets), thawed
1 large Cage-Free Egg, beaten lightly
2 ounces Sliced smoked turkey
Brie, sliced
Apple Butter

Directions:
1. In a bowl combine Arugula and sage. On a lightly floured surface arrange pastry sheet with a short side facing you and cut in half crosswise. Arrange 1/2 half of sheet with a long side facing you and brush edge of far side with some egg. Arrange 1/2 of prosciutto evenly on top of pastry, avoiding egg-brushed edge, and top with 1/2 of Arugula mixture, apple butter, and brie.
2. Starting with side nearest you, roll pastry jelly-roll fashion and wrap in waxed paper, make another log in same manner. Chill pastry logs, seam sides down, until firm, at least 3 hours, and up to 3 days.
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease 2 large baking sheets. Cut logs crosswise into 1/2-inch – thick pinwheels and arrange, cut sides down, 1- inch apart on baking sheets.
4. Bake pinwheels in batches in middle of oven until golden, 14 to 16 minutes. Transfer pinwheels to a rack and cool slightly. Serve pinwheels.

Pancetta, Ricotta and Artichoke Frittata
Yield: 8 Servings

Ingredients:
16 large Eggs
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
2 tablespoons Unsalted Butter
12 ounces Marinated Artichoke Hearts, drained and quartered
4 tablespoons Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Beat eggs lightly. Heat oil and butter in a 9- or 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat. When fats are sizzling, add eggs and reduce heat to low. Arrange artichokes in a decorative pattern on top of eggs. Cook gently, lifting edges of frittata to let uncooked egg run underneath, until it is just set on top. Dust with Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Transfer skillet to oven and bake just until frittata is firm on top; do not overcook or it will be tough.
2. Cool in skillet, then slide onto serving platter and cut into wedges. Frittata Can be eaten hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Wild Organic Blueberry and Sour Cream Coffee Cake Muffins
Yield: 16 Muffins

Ingredients:
12 tablespoons Unsalted Organic Butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups Granulated Cane Sugar
3 extra large Cage-Free Eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract
8 ounces Sour Cream (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup Organic Milk
2 1/2 cups Unbleached Organic Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
2 half-pints Fresh blueberries, picked through for stems

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place 16 paper liners in muffin pan.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar until light and fluffy for about 5 minutes.
4. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla, sour cream, and milk.
5. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
6. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture and butter batter and beat until just mixed.
7. Fold in the blueberries with a spatula. Be sure the batter is completely mixed.
8. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each cup just over the top, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the muffins are lightly browned.

For Mother’s Day, The “Private Chefs of Beverly Hills” Remember Their Moms’ Culinary Inspiration

May 6th, 2010

by Betty Ho, Big City Chefs Food Writer

My mother is not a professional chef, but she mastered several Chinese specialties at a young age and continues to wow at family get-togethers and potlucks. And while it saddens her that I’m not as adept as she is in the kitchen, I appease her (and perhaps my own guilty conscience) by saying it is because of her that I love food and writing about food. Family, and mothers in particular, have inspired many a generation to continue culinary family traditions, and some of our private chefs at Big City Chefs are no exception. Three of our Los Angeles area private chefs and co-stars of Food Network’s hit reality series about Big City Chefs, Private Chefs of Beverly Hills, share how their mothers not only ignited their passion for food, but inspired many a successful chef’s career as well!

Chef Stuart of Private Chefs of Beverly Hills Thanks his Mom for Mother's Day

Chef Stuart

Chef Stuart O’Keeffe reminisces about life as a young boy in Irleand, when he helped his mom and aunt cook in the kitchen.

“They are the two who influenced me to start cooking,” he says. “I have always had a love for good food, and I got this from my mom.” Chef Stuart’s insistence on quality can also be attributed to his mother, who, regardless of how little or how much money she

had, always bought the best quality ingredients. “Mom believed that putting good quality food in your body would keep you fit and healthy,” Chef Stuart says. “I followed in her footsteps today by cooking whole foods and by buying foods in their most raw form.” Learn more about Chef Stuart’s culinary passions at his personal blog. He is also available for bookings by contacting us.

 

Chef Jesse Brune says "Thank You Mom!"

Chef Jesse

“I love you Ma!” shouts Private Chef Jesse Brune, another of our expert private chefs in the Los Angeles area and co-star of Private Chefs of Beverly Hills. A fiercely “independent woman,” mom Tina Brune inspired him to become a chef.

“It’s a no brainer,” says Chef Jesse. “My mom was a southern gal who made the meanest fried chicken in the world.” Her love for cooking and preparation of

“countless family meals (which often included a hungry childhood friend or two),” inspired Jesse to “leap into culinary school” and continue the tradition of cooking for family and friends.

 

Chef Manouschka of Big City Chefs thanks her grandmother for culinary inspiration.

Chef Manouschka

For Chef Manouschka, a Haitian grandmother and mother made a powerful pair, inspiring her to cook and learn the basics. It was also these two women’s limitless hospitality and generosity that inspired Manouschka to take her love for food one step further and pursue a culinary career. No matter what time of the day or who you were, whether you were the mail carrier, a family member or a long lost friend, Grandma Olga, despite her limited English, always knew how to ask, “Do you want something to eat?” and according to Chef Manouschka, that was all it took for people to fall in love with her. “When anyone stepped into her home,” Chef Manouschka recalls, “it was like magic: within minutes, you would have something fantastic to eat.” Realizing she was spoiled, she now laughs that at the time, “I thought this was normal!”

Mom Jacqueline did the same, and it was only natural for Chef Manouschka to continue the tradition, even after moving from Miami to LA. “My friends were blown away!” Anytime someone came over, Chef Manouschka would remember her grandmother’s words and provide a delicious meal. Carrying her mother’s and grandmother’s torch of hospitality made her transition to Los Angeles an easy one.

Her new friends joked that Manouschka should become a chef but she laughed it off. To make ends meet however, she began a “tiny” catering business but still refused to call herself a ‘chef.’ “Cooking was my therapy,” Manouschka says, “and like my grandmother and mother, I stubbornly called myself a ‘cook.'” It seems, however, that Chef Manouschka’s grandmother had a secret that she carried to the grave. This month will mark the three-year anniversary of Grandma Olga’s passing, but at her funeral, it was revealed that she had, in fact, attended a prestigious French culinary school in her hometown, making her a bona fide accredited chef! Learning this, Chef Manouschka could only accept her very delicious fate: “My foray into becoming a chef was the legacy she left me, and I am now proud to call myself a chef,” says Manouschka, “but I’m even more proud that my grandmother’s legacy can continue! With that, I’d like to thank Tom and Big City Chefs for believing in me!”

Thanks to our Big City Chefs for sharing their wonderful stories with us! Happy Mother’s Day from all of us at Big City Chefs!

 

Turn Up the Heat at Your Cinco de Mayo Party with These Spicy Fiesta Recipes!

May 3rd, 2010

By Caroline Gibbs, Big City Chefs Food Writer

Though you never need an excuse to throw a fantastic dinner party, you can use this Cinco de Mayo as a reason to invite over your closest friends and enjoy delicious food and celebrate Mexican heritage and culture. Here are a few dishes to spice up your menu this May 5th. Arriba, arriba, andale, andale to the kitchen!

Enjoy these Cinco de Mayo Recipes from the Private Chefs of Beverly Hills' agency!

Don't even think about touching the sombrero.

(Recipes taken from The Big City Chefs Cookbook: Easy Recipes for Everyday Cooking and Entertaining)

Spicy Pinto Beans
Yields 6 servings

Ingredients:
2 cups Dried pinto beans
6 cups Water
Salt (pinch)
1 Tomato, seeded and diced
2 Serrano chilies, seeded and diced small
½ White onion, diced small
1 clove Garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Cilantro
Salt

Directions:
1. Soak beans in water overnight. Boil beans for 1 ½ – 2 hours or until tender and bursting. Or you can buy whole cooked pinto beans in the can. Drain them before using.
2. Saute garlic, onion and chilies together in oil or drippings until onions are clear. Add tomatoes, cilantro and cooked beans. Cook for several minutes while smashing beans with a spoon or mashed potato press. Only smash about 2/3 of batch. Add S and P to taste and serve immediately. Garnish with jack cheese.
Note: Green chilies pair best with white wines, and you can find the perfect white by matching its acidity to that of the dish.

Spicy Ranchero Chicken
Yields 2 servings

Ingredients:
2 Organic chicken breasts
1 1/2 large Tomatoes, finely chopped
1 1/2 green Chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, finely chopped
1/2 medium Onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup Chicken broth
Kosher salt, to taste
Jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon All-Purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons Chili powder
1 1/2 tablespoons Vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups Water
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/3 cup Monterey jack cheese, grated

Directions:
1. Poach chicken breasts in boiling, salted water 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 450F.
2. In saucepan, mix together tomatoes, green chiles, onion and chicken broth.  Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer thirty minutes or until vegetables are soft.  Add salt, to taste, and jalapeno pepper.
3. In another pan, blend flour; chili powder and oil. Add water and salt, and bring to a boil. Simmer gently 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour sauce into a 9-inch square baking dish and place chicken breasts on top of sauce.
4. Pour green chile and tomato sauce over the chicken breasts and sprinkle generously with grated cheese. Bake uncovered 15 to 20 minutes, until chicken is tender and cheese is melted.

Creamed Green Chilies, Corn Soufflé and Jicama Slaw

Ingredients:

For the Jicama Slaw:
Salt
Pepper
1 Medium jicama
1 Small carrot
1 Small zucchini
1/2 Red bell pepper
1 tablespoon Cilantro, chopped
4 Key limes, juiced
1 teaspoon White vinegar3 tablespoons Olive oil

For the Creamed Chilies:
1 tablespoon butter
2 Poblano chilies, roasted, peeled, seeds removed and cut into strips
8 ounces Mexican “crema” (or heavy cream can be used as a subsitute)

For the Soufflé:
1 cup Whole kernel corn
2 tablespoons Butter
1 cup Milk
1 cup Cream
3 tablespoons Flour
3 Egg yolks, beaten
3 Egg whites , beaten stiff
3/4 cup Cheddar cheese

Directions:
1. Jicama slaw: Cut all veggies (jicama, carrot, zucchini, red bell pepper) into shoe-string size matchsticks and toss. Add remaining ingredients (cilantro, key limes, white vinegar, olive oil) and toss again.
2. Corn Souffle: Make a roux by combining butter and flour and cooking on med. for a couple minutes. Add cream, S and P, and milk and bring to a simmer. Add beaten egg yolks and mix well. Cook 1 minute. Add cheese and corn. Mix well. Add half the egg whites and mix. Fold in the rest of whites and immediately place in soufflé cups or cupcake pan. Place on a sheet tray with a thin waterbath for even cooking. Cook at 350 for 45 minutes or until souffle’ browns and is firm.
3. Creamed Green Chilies: Add butter and chilies to saucepan over medium-high and cook until softened. Add cream and lower heat slightly. Let cream and chilies simmer until the mixture has reduced by half. Remove from heat.

Private Chef Packages Celebrate The Best of Spring

May 3rd, 2010

By Caroline Gibbs, Big City Chefs Food Writer

Spring has sprung, and aren’t we all the happier for it! And with spring comes warmer weather, beautiful flowers, spring fashions, and of course, delicious seasonal fruits and vegetables. Yes, it’s finally time to say goodbye to heavy winter dishes and hello to fresh and light spring favorites! So why not make the most of spring this year and enjoy your favorite spring seasonals while enjoying the beautiful outdoors! Big City Chefs’ chef Rebecca Gruwell in New York says, “It’s popular this time of year to start bringing entertaining and dining out of doors – not only to enjoy what it feels like to be outside again, but to enjoy the best of what spring has to offer while being outside. It makes the whole experience feel really complete.” To celebrate the season right, Big City Chefs has a few ideas on how to welcome back spring in style this year.

The Tuscan Dinner Party for 6

Let Big City Chefs transport you to the sun-drenched countryside of Tuscany with this gourmet dinner party for six. With a four-course menu of seasonal and rustic old-world Italian cuisine, you and your guests will be sure to enjoy this outdoor dinner party featuring seasonal favorites such as Panzenella Bread Salad, Spring Pea Ravioli with a Lemon Cream Sauce, and Asparagus Risotto with Shaved Pecorino. Price Estimate: $425

Wine Country Dinner Party for 6

Visit California’s beautiful Napa Valley this spring in your own home! Let Big City Chefs’ expert chefs bring you an elegant multi-course meal that captures the essence of spring and the rustic yet refined flavors of Northern California’s wine country. Possible seasonal dishes include a Spinach Salad with Warm Sherry Vinaigrette with Sonoma Goat Cheese, Cream of Asparagus Soup with Crème Fraîche and Meyer Lemon, and Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken Breast Stuffed with Rosemary and Goat Cheese. Price Estimate: $425

Spring Picnic Basket

Big City Chefs can create a custom picnic basket for you and your friends to celebrate spring this season. Enjoy the freedom to dine anywhere you choose out of doors this spring, and bring along a picnic basket filled with delicious seasonal dishes such as a Wild Rice Salad with Chicken and Apricots, Pancetta, Ricotta and Artichoke Frittata, and a Strawberry-Cherry Tart. Price Estimate: See BigCityChefs.com

Free Download: Twelve Tips for Hosting the Perfect Dinner Party

April 21st, 2010

America’s elite private chef agency boils down ten years of demanding clients into the most essential tips for making your next dinner party a showstopper.
By Tom Stieber, CEO, and Caroline Gibbs, Big City Chefs Food Writer

So you’re hosting that special occasion coming up – maybe a milestone birthday, a visiting relative, a “girls’ night in,” or just a get-together with your foodie friends. And of course, you’re looking to impress your guests with Martha-Stewart-style (ahem, “Big City Chefs” style, that is), but like most of us, you have little time to pull it off. Fear not, because we’ve put together our Top Ten Tips for Hosting the Perfect Dinner Party, guaranteed to make you the star of your next dinner party without missing a beat.

> FREE DOWNLOAD

Chef Question of the Week: Spotlight on Chef Sasha – Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

April 17th, 2010
Chef Sasha of Big City Chefs and "Private Chefs of Beverly Hills"

By Betty Ho, Big City Chefs Food Writer

I can easily churn out the names of authors and books I read growing up, from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, all of which nurtured the aspiring writer in me. You don’t wake up one morning and shout “I’m going to be a writer/designer/chef!” without having seen what it is these people do and create. The path to becoming anything begins with opening your eyes and enjoying the works of those already established in their fields. For me, it was reading the books of my favorite authors and then taking the first step to write in my journal the thoughts their works inspired in me. For many chefs, it might very well have been the dishes their mothers or grandmother’s prepared – and that’s a post for another day. For some of Big City Chefs’ private chefs, however, family had little to do with in terms of culinary inspiration. More specifically, in Chef Sasha’s case, it was the dishes that her parents weren’t preparing:

“My cooking career began purely as a survival instinct,” says Private Chef Sasha Perl-Raver of Big City Chefs and co-star of that agency’s Food Network’s series, Private Chefs of Beverly Hills. “It’s not that my parents aren’t good cooks, it’s just that they’re not really cooks, period.”

Chef Sasha admits that while her mother has “one great dish,” a “bangin’ roast chicken and vegetables” which she served every Friday for Shabbat dinner, her mother’s patience for the culinary arts ended there. Her father, on the other hand, “tries his mighty best when it comes to matters of the kitchen, but everything he makes involves either pickle juice or Dijon mustard- usually both.” I cringe when I hear her father’s creative concoctions: “Eggs with pickle juice and mustard; salad dressing with pickle juice and mustard; oatmeal with pickle juice and mustard…Okay, maybe not oatmeal, but just about anything else.” No wonder a young Chef Sasha took charge. “From a young age, I saw that somebody had to save mealtime from pickle juice tyranny and I was that person.”

A tall order for a small child, but Chef Sasha met the challenge with gusto! She had a “bizarre preoccupation with food” from a young age, and even now she’s not entirely sure whether the fixation developed out of necessity or was a gift. “I recently found a writing assignment from the first grade,” says Chef Sasha, recalling a fill-in-the-blank exercise that began: Bring me…

And what did Chef Sasha fill in the blank with? “FOOD!” of course!

As far back as she can remember, Chef Sasha “read cookbooks the way other little kids read comic books.” She grew up on a steady diet of Julia Child and Martin Yan, learning from these master cooks with the same ferocity as other kids watched Jem and She-Ra. At seven she was making pizza from scratch, “from dough to sauce,” and by sixteen she declared to anyone who would listen that “cheffing” was her profession. Here, Chef Sasha pauses and reflects, acknowledging that while many factors influenced her to become a chef, the greatest inspiration of all was the food.

“Food has been my inspiration from the time I could eat,” she says, “and when I realized it was possible to make money from my obsession, I dove in headfirst.” Now, Chef Sasha is a successful Big City Chefs Private Chef who has cooked for clients from Beverly Hills to Malibu to Los Angeles.

While her parents find it ironic that their culinary shortcomings led to a professional chef in the family, Chef Sasha thanks them. “I have to admit though,” she says, “after a decade and a half as a chef, one thing I’ve realized is my dad was onto something: pickle juice, when used in the right ways, can be a stellar secret weapon!

Endangered Species: They’re Not What’s for Dinner.

April 13th, 2010

By Betty Ho, Big City Chefs Food Writer

Recently, I watched as the producers of “The Cove,” a documentary exposing the killing of dolphins in Japan, won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Towards the end of their acceptance speech one of the producers raised a hand-made poster: “Text DOLPHIN to 44144,” it said. The next day, a sushi restaurant in Santa Monica was discovered to be serving illegal whale meat. The story broke on the New York Times and was the topic of an Atlantic Monthly blog post, in which author Trevor Corson raises an interesting point: “I think the issue of harvesting non-endangered whales, as Japan does (along with Norway and a few others), ought to begin with the same moral concerns I would bring to lobsters and everything else: how sentient is the creature, and how much did it suffer during the process?” What really struck me about Corson’s post however, was his rather simple question regarding the eating of whale sashimi: “If whale sushi isn’t even that tasty, why bother eating it at all?”

I remembered back to the first time I tried Kobe beef sashimi at a fancy Japanese restaurant in Taipei. The meat was a beautiful, deep red, and I couldn’t believe I was about to put raw beef in my mouth – but I did, and I distinctly remember the taste: nothing.
“That’s what good sashimi is supposed to taste like,” my uncle said smugly, for he was the one treating us to this fancy dinner. He finished off his final sliver of beef and savored it. “Some foods are eaten for texture rather than the taste. If you taste something, it’s most likely that the sashimi isn’t fresh.”

Raw beef is neither rare nor illegal, but I wondered what the appeal was, aside from the fact that it was quite expensive (we all know that something being expensive makes it that much more appealing to some people). This leads me to wonder about the numerous other delicacies I was taught to revere. Chinese people enjoy many tasteless albeit textured delicacies – all of which are rare and expensive. The one that comes immediately to mind is shark’s fin soup, which I had recently at a cousin’s wedding banquet. A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit a Taiwanese fish market and rather than fish, I remember only dozens upon dozens of shark carcasses lying about the floor. Some were female sharks who had been on the verge of giving birth and their unborn fetuses lay lifeless on the cement next to them. Every shark was missing its fins, all of them, some cleanly, others left with ragged skin where the cut hadn’t been so clean. It was a gruesome spectacle – and while Taiwanese people do eat the meat of the shark, the bodily flesh was not nearly as popular as the fins and I knew most of the carcasses were to be discarded like fish bones.

The fin itself is pure cartilage, and like a clear noodle, it holds flavor well but has none of its own. Chinese people cook it in extremely reduced chicken or seafood broth with a variety of spices, mushrooms, and Chinese herbs – thus giving the shark fin soup its distinct flavor not from the fin, but rather from the combined, slow simmering of the less costly ingredients. I cringe every time I see it on the menu, but I eat it anyway (as I did at the wedding) – after all, if the animal has already suffered and died for it, it would be more of a waste to throw away what has already been served on the plate in front of you.

Like Corson, I’m not saying we shouldn’t eat the things we enjoy, but that we need to consider our short and long-term impacts on the environment so that we can continue enjoying these foods in the future. But these things, of course are easier said than done. With increasing population and wealth, rare and perhaps endangered delicacies are more and more in demand. As always, it starts with the individual: making the decision to order something sustainable (and legal) whether its from the sea or from the land. For me, beef sashimi and shark’s fin soup are two delicacies I needn’t try ever again.

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