Chefs spend years honing their craft and putting their own twist, style, and flavor on the dishes they create. Often times they're inspired by memories from their childhood or past experiences, and other times inspiration comes from leaving their comfort zone and stretching themselves in new ways.
This week we are bringing you 3 dishes from 3 unique chefs, and the stories behind how they developed these meals. Hear in their own words their inspiration and process for creating dishes that are both delicious and exciting. You can learn more about each chef's background here. We hope you enjoy!
Chef Shaza Banna - Mezze Platter
There’s a proverb in Arabic culture, “If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart.”
When it comes to hosting guests, Arabs take this role very seriously and this proverb straight to heart.
Growing up, I never realized how abundant our tables were until I left for college. Mezze platters are quintessential to my family's and culture's eating habits, offering a variety of flavors in smaller formats that cover a large range of textures, temperatures, and ingredients. Typical mezze platters could be a compilation of dips, like hummus and baba ganoush, mixed with some fresh salads or cured cheese products alongside vegetable-centric dishes. If the gathering falls during a normal meal time the items are typically heartier, incorporating grilled lamb kabobs, chicken shish tawook, and beef koftas, all enjoyed with freshly baked breads and spiced flatbreads.
When I had the opportunity to bring a little tradition from the Levantine cuisine to Lazuli, I immediately wanted to do a mezze platter. I chose my favorite six mezze components; I wanted the dish to be hearty yet light, leaving the diner energized to finish the day. Lazuli's version reflects an assortment of cuisines in hopes to attract a broader audience, from the more common hummus to a unique tamarind coated eggplant dip. The cuisines of the levant are an exemplary leader when it comes to foods that illustrate balance between rich ingredients and refreshing produce. I pride myself in creating dishes that reflect this ideology and more so try to use my different experiences to share with everyone the best part of me.
Sous Chef Will Thanapistikul - Tandoori Salmon with Masoor Daal
The Tandoori Salmon with Masoor Daal is my favorite dish that I have developed - to me it truly encompasses what it means to be a chef.
Being from Thailand, my early culinary expertise was in my native Asian cuisine. It was during a trip to India I gained a deep appreciation for the depth and complexity of its food, a love of the Indian culture, and I was inspired to add it to my culinary repertoire.
I started with the daal and went through piles of Indian cookbooks, each with their own versions, which gave me a better understanding of the dish and the process behind it. I also went to multiple restaurants and tried each of their daals to explore the different flavors, notes, and textures of each one. Once back in the kitchen, I experimented with recreating flavors in a consistently delicious way.
Over time, I have expanded the range of Indian-inspired food that I create for our menu. I strive to create unique, complete, protein-packed dishes. I love bringing regional nuances and a wide variety of Indian flavors to life at Dabbawalla with my own a unique twist! In this spin on the traditional tandoori chicken I opted for an unexpected protein, salmon. I am glad that I can share the Tandoori Salmon with Masoor Daal with you.
Chef Shy Leong - Spicy Beef Noodle Soup
Growing up in Southeast Asia, noodle dishes are staples apart from rice. This particular version of Spicy Beef Noodle Soup is my all time favorite.
As I child, I ate this once a week when I visit the farmers market with my mother. After having completed our shopping chores, we sit at our favorite vendor and enjoy a bowl of spicy beef noodle soup before heading home. I believe that the sense of taste and smell trigger memories. To this day, each time I eat the noodle soup it puts me back in time. Now that I cook professionally, I would like to share why I love this dish at a whole different level.
At first glance, it appears to be simple peasant food. A deeper look reveals the deep complexity of flavor profile that captures the essence of indigenous spices, herbs, and chilies historically harvested locally. It is hearty, warming, fragrant, savory and spicy. Slurping down the piping hot noodles accompanied by flavorful soup and tender bites of beef laced with succulent bits of fat is incredibly enjoyable. It works as a jump starter in the morning, a hearty lunch, mid-afternoon snack, or dinner as you wrap up you day of hard work.
From the technical standpoint, I love this dish for its originality and intent. Successful execution of this dish requires one to be pretty good at various food handling techniques. You do not need to be an expert from the get go, this dish lets you develop the skills as you practice frequently. Imagine being a street vendor that sells this noodle dish as a staple for years; having good knife skills in butchering beef, removing the brisket with just the right amount of fat and extracting tendons between muscle groups is the first key. Followed by cleansing and searing the beef to the right state before tenderizing it by simmering. You also develop techniques for blanching vegetables while maintaining its natural bright green hue, immaculate dough mixing and noodle pulling techniques, and lastly a good sense of timing for steeping a good batch of fragrant, pungent, and numbing chili oil.
In order to keep a dish intact, we must pass down the primary knowledge and the taste memory to future generations. Food cultures evolve very quickly and many traditional techniques and dishes are disappearing due to rapidly changing lifestyles. At my house, we keep these traditions alive by making food, talking about how grandma used to make it, and how new technologies are making the process more efficient and accurate. And most important, by enjoying it together. That said, eat it. Better still, learn how to make it to promote the continuity of a great culinary product.