Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chef X

If you could hire anyone to cook for you, whom would you choose?

I ask because my husband and I had an interesting discussion about this last night. He reads The Huffington Post, which receded from politics long enough this week to cover the possible picks for the position of White House Chef by President-Elect Obama.

It's been reported that the Obamas love Frontera Grill. When questioned about the possibility that he might be a pick, however, Rick Bayless demured:
We cook this really wonderful Mexican food, I don't think that's what they want at every state dinner. Maybe every once in awhile we can be guest chefs at the White House.
'Scuse me? I personally would love to have really wonderful Mexican food at every meal.

However, my husband points out that the White House Chef must be versed in good old American-style food. I suppose that he is right; the First Chef is a culinary ambassador to visiting Heads of State. Thomas Keller or Charlie Trotter might be good picks, assuming that (a) the American taxpayers can afford their going rate and (b) they would be interested in abandoning their empires to cook for the White House.

Still, if money was no object, how I would love to have authentic, well-prepared cuitlacoche crepes whenever I so desired . . . how about you? Whom would you choose?

Honey-Roasted Pear Salad with Thyme Verjus Dressing
Available here at Epicurious.com

The original recipe calls for a combination of butter lettuce and arugula, but butter lettuce was not available at my grocery store this week. Because I like the snappy taste of arugula, I used one bunch of that rather than trying to find a substitute for the butter lettuce.

Additionally, verjus is difficult to find, so I went with the combination of white grape juice and apple cider vinegar suggested in the original recipe.

The salad was not harmed by these improvisations and is delicious, particularly on a dark autumn night.

For the dressing
1/3 cup verjus or 3 tablespoons white grape juice and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

For the salad
3 bunches fresh thyme sprigs
4 ripe but firm Bartlett pears (about 2 1/2 pounds), halved and cored
1/4 cup honey
1 bunch of arugula
6 ounces blue cheese, coarsely crumbled (I used a lovely, not-too-stinky Valdeon Blue wrapped in chestnut leaves)
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped

Whisk the ingredients for the dressing together in a small bowl. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scatter the thyme sprigs on a rimmed baking sheet or shallow baking dish. Place the pear halves, cut side down, on a work surface. Starting 1/2 inch from stem and leaving the pear half intact, cut each pear lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Press the pear gently to fan the slices, then place atop the thyme sprigs. Drizzle the pears with honey and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Bake until the pears are tender, about 15 minutes. Let the pears stand on the baking sheet at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours, until they are room temperature.

Place the arugula in a large bowl and drizzle with the dressing, tossing lightly to coat. Because arugula bruises easily, I suggest that you refrain from tossing with any utensils. Divide the salad among four plates and place the roasted pears atop the greens. Garnish the salads with the blue cheese and hazelnuts.

Serves: 4


muddywaters said...

I enjoyed this post because I think about such things all the time.

Have you seen the movie The Contender? It stars Joan Allen, and Jeff Bridges plays the president. In the movie, the president enjoys calling the White House kitchen and ordering food. His goal is to order something that his chefs can't prepare. I can't remember if he's successful. I just remember thinking that this would be a cool perk to being president.

The TV show The West Wing also has a few great episodes where food plays a role. I always notice such things.

I could never be president for a lot of reasons, but I absolutely wouldn't want the job because I would never have time to cook.

If I picked a chef it would be a Southerner: maybe Frank Stitts from the Highland Grill in Birmingham or John Currence from City Grocery in Oxford, MS. I've never eaten at either restaurant, but when I read the menus, it sounds like I would never tire of their food.

Sarah said...

I haven't seen The Contender, but it sounds like it would be right up my alley. Jeff Bridges is one of my favorites! I like Frank Stitt as a possible choice for First Chef. I've never had the opportunity to eat in his restaurant, but I've read a lot about him and I know I wouldn't be able to resist his Southern flair!

Foodycat said...

Lovely salad!

I'd want Giorgio Locatelli - he's classically trained so he could pull out the French stuff were it needed, I never tire of Italian food and he is very handsome. Which would be nice to have around the kitchen! Plus his daughter has very severe food allergies so he is totally used to challenging customers.