A DINNER INVITE
I am in the middle of The East Village in New York City probably one of my favorite places in the world- New York City. Every type of cuisine is represented here from the high-end dining to the expediency of the food trucks that dot the city. I feel lost; the normal frenetic energy of this city that usually soothes me is weighing heavily on me.
Where to eat? What to eat? The adventurous and intrepid diner in me is in hiding, defeated by what seemed like a never ending day of meetings, e-mails and phone calls. As I walk from neighborhood to neighborhood night falls and I can’t even count on the darkness to find solace. The aptly lit city with its flurry of whizzing traffic and herds of people moving in perpetual randomness has me light headed. My phone is vibrating like an epileptic teenager after an all-nighter of video games and energy drinks.
And then, like out of a TV pilot a friendly and familiar ringtone. I answer and am glad to hear the voice of Gennaro -my mentor- a man whose quest for culinary excellence is surpassed by no one. None of the uber, celebrity chefs you see on TV can hold a candle to this guy.
“You cannot leave NYC without coming over for dinner” he says “Can you cook with us tomorrow” Like a thirteen year old girl in front of the “Bieber” my voice cackles out a “Yes”. I am elated and look forward to the experience.
I arrive early the next day and after a warm welcome and the introduction of family and friends we head to the kitchen. We prepare our mise en place garlic, onions, cilantro, peppers, celery, tomato all succumb to our chef’s knives in preparation of our mirepoix. In accordance to our leader Gennaro who at the moment is leading the choir of our actions, we chop, dice, slice and prepare with the precision of surgical ninjas.
The controlled chaos comes to a standstill with the introduction of a guest “This is Luis, he wants to help” Gennaro tells us. He is led to a salad “station” and told to cut tomatoes for our first course. As the new guy looks around he is awestruck by all the fresh ingredients, preparation and quantity of food around him. He asks “Why go to all the bother of baking bread and making sauces and salad? I must have passed about a dozen bakeries and delis you could have bought all of this”. Immediately, like Tigers about to leap on a victimless prey we notice the lack of knife lacerations, steam burns and as will become apparent later on in a whimsical manner the lack of the asbestos fingers. All common to cooks after years of working the line in environments only suited for the passionate and the indigent souls often outcast by society. In a father like manner known to all of us he gently puts his hand on Luis’ shoulder and says “you will see”.
The aromas of garlic, peppers, onions seasonings and spices fill the air and the aroma transports me to my childhood, a time before the necessity of 2 income families. The dinner table was quality time and not burdened with modern day interruptions of social media updates, smartphones and the pesky marketing calls.
After several exhausting yet therapeutic hours we are ready to enjoy not only what we have cooked but the company of our family and friends. A bottle of Barolo which was personally chosen in Italy is opened and our host toasts to our health and families. In his native tongue he says “Mangia” and with a wink and a wicked smile says “A Buen Tiempo “ a nod to the 20 plus years he has spent living and traveling all over the Caribbean, Central & South Americas.
Our 1st course consists of Burrata Cheese, Heirloom Tomatoes and Baby Arugula drizzled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Aged Balsamic Vinegar. The Burrata Cheese with it’s liquid-creamy, luxurious center mixes in with the Olive Oil and Aged Balsamic Vinegar to form what can only be described as Heaven’s bounty on a plate. The tomatoes and Baby Arugula although delicious on their own serve as a vessel to break up the richness of the Burrata.
Our 2nd course is Caldo Gallego a broth filled with spicy Chorizo, Kale, Potatoes, White Beans and allowed to stew and thicken. The soup is not only delicious but welcome in the frigid winter temperatures. The perfect example of how a few simple ingredients come together to form more than what is presented on a plate.
Our 3rd course is a Steak seasoned with Salt & Pepper, Paprika and cooked in Garlic Oil until perfect light pink, this is a steak that makes vegetarians want to return to the Neanderthal times and cook meat over a fire. Served over Cannellini Beans which were cooked in a chicken broth and tossed with Andouille sausage, cilantro and red pepper flakes it makes me want to be a card carrying Neanderthal.
In what seems like overkill we have also prepared white rice, arroz con gandules, and pasta carbonara. There is freshly baked bread, assorted cheeses and salumi – a plate of different cured and dried meats. Served with olives and cured vegetables known as Gardinieri it seems that our friend Gennaro wants to kill us with his hospitality. In what seems like a gluttonous punishment we are served espresso - perfect balance of bitter coffee and sugar topped with crema (the mark of good coffee and preparation) and Crème Brulee – an Italian cousin of the flan with a crust made by burning sugar on the top of the custard.
As we dig into the Crème Brulee and spend the rest of the evening enjoying the company of our rambunctious kids, kitchen war stories and share what will become an unforgettable evening I see Gennarro gently place his hands on Luis’ shoulder and say “That’s Why”
John Capellan is the owner of www.sugarsaltlime.com a company devoted to bringing “Products for a gourmet lifestyle” to the masses as well as co-owner of www.tisojewelrydesigns.com “Enhancing your inner Beauty” has owned managed and consulted for Retail, Customer Service and the Restaurant Industry. Has a passion for cooking, the business world and entertaining for family and friends.