Photographs and Styling by MICHELLE GIORLA
It all started as a tragic misunderstanding. I thought working in close proximity would be better for our relationship, so I became a chef. I’ve always loved food; my search for new dishes and flavors rivaled Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail. What could possibly go wrong? The larger the operation, the less cooking an executive chef actually does. The drudgery of peeling potatoes and dicing onions is replaced by endless meetings, endless paperwork, and playing the post-pandemic game of how many of my employees will show up today? The job had consumed my passion for the craft.
It was time to go back to a restaurant—no more weddings or juggling multiple food outlets or trying to throw together a VIP amenity for the tantrum-throwing guest du jour. I wanted to cook with a small team of people who shared the same passion and creativity. I wanted to enjoy work again. That meant back to cooking.
It started with a promise to myself: cook one thing every day that brings you joy. Joy does exist in a professional kitchen despite what The Bear and Hell’s Kitchen would have you believe. The joy is there; the catch is you have to bring your own. Listen to the food. Ingredients are to a chef what a slab of marble is to a sculptor. A sculptor chips away pieces of drab, lifeless stone to reveal what is trapped inside. Chefs take bland lifeless food and elevate it to its full potential with herbs, sauces, and an array of techniques. That is a chef’s chief responsibility: honor the ingredients.
Every dish can and should be exciting. The most basic of meals is soup and a sandwich: tomato soup from a red and white can and white bread and American cheese grilled to golden brown perfection. Ambrosia from Olympus for a child is a gastronomic gulag to an adult with a palate. Why can’t grilled cheese and tomato soup grow up to be a caprese panino with roasted tomato and garlic bisque? Envision crusty ciabatta bread stuffed with creamy fresh mozzarella and ripe garden-fresh tomatoes with snips of fresh basil.
The grilled cheese is the perfect sandwich to experiment with, and its variations are infinite. A Cuban sandwich is just a grilled ham and cheese elevated with roast pork, pickles, and mustard. Add a bowl of piping hot black bean soup and you will be Havana daydreaming, craving a mojito and ready for the next chapter of The Old Man and the Sea.
A meal that only fuels the body but doesn’t nourish the soul is a wasted opportunity. Food can take you to exotic lands, conjure the memories of departed loved ones, and turn strangers into friends. Being kind and feeding and extending hospitality to others is the beginning point of transforming from a tribal society into a civilization. Feeding others is what brings joy to me, not the task of preparing food but the act of sharing it with others is the true reward.
Listen to the ingredients; in late summer corn speaks loudly. A simple corn bisque celebrates corn for being corn, paired with a grilled fontina cheese and crab sandwich. Posole or white hominy is a type of corn used by the first people of this land. Gritty and earthiness contrast it with its sweet cob cousin but a broth soup with a little spicy posole feeds body and soul.
This month, put away the cookbooks, forgo the $400-dollar Japanese steel knife, the butter from milk of virgin cows and other exotic ingredients. Buy produce from a farm market and listen to the food. Remember, the corn ears, and the beanstalk, and try these recipes: Sweet Corn Bisque with Grilled Fontina and Crab Melts; Chorizo and Asadero Cheese Quesadilla with Chicken Posole Soup; Grilled Peaches, Brie, and Spinach Sandwich with Charred Cauliflower and Garlic Soup. And finally, a Caprese Panino with Tomato Leek Soup.
Bridge the gap between late summer and fall in the simplest way: through food.
Sweet Corn Bisque with Fontina and Crab Grilled Cheese
FOR THE BISQUE
- 12 ears Jersey sweet corn, husked: scrape kernels, reserve cobs
- 1 qt. cream
- 2 qts. chicken or veg stock
- 1 onion, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 2 sticks butter
- 1 cup flour
In a stock pot break cobs in half. Cover with stock and cream, bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes. In a soup pot, melt butter, add onions and garlic and steep for 10 minutes. Add corn kernels and cook for 7 minutes; do not brown. Add flour and incorporate well. Strain cream mixture and whisk slowly into corn mixture over medium heat. Whisk until mixture is smooth and thickened. Purée with an immersion blender, season with salt and enjoy.
FONTINA AND CRAB GRILLED CHEESE
- 8 slices sourdough bread
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 lb. lump crab
- 1 tsp Old Bay
- Juice of half a lemon
- ¼ cup chopped scallion
- 8 slices Fontina cheese
- 8 slices tomato
Mix half of the mayo with crab, lemon juice, scallion, and Old Bay. Lay out the bread. Place a slice of Fontina on each piece of bread. Place 2 tomato slices each on half the bread. Divide crab mix onto 4 non-tomato slices. Assemble the sandwich. Coat the outside of the sandwiches with mayo. Heat griddle or nonstick pan. Grill 5 minutes per side. Slice in half triangles.
Caprese Panini with Tomato Leek Soup
For the Soup
- 1 bunch leeks, cleaned, split and cut in ½ moons
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 cups cream
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 8 cups canned whole peeled tomatoes, broken up
- 2 cups veg or chicken stock
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
In a soup pot, heat the oil. Sweat the garlic, then add tomatoes, cream, and stock. Bring to a simmer. Purée with an immersion blender and reduce heat. Whisk in pepper and cheese. Enjoy.
- 4 ciabatta sandwich loaves, split
- 16 tomato slices
- 15 slices fresh mozzarella
- ¼ cup pesto
- 12 basil leaves
Brush inside of bread with pesto. Layer tomato, mozzarella, and basil. Close sandwich. Press in panini press or George Foreman grill for 7 minutes.
Chicken Posole with Chorizo and Asadero Cheese Quesadilla
For the Posole
- 4 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
- 2 ½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 quarts chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- 4 Tbsp chili powder
- 2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1 tsp crumbled dried oregano
- 3 cups white hominy, rinsed and drained
- 3 cups chopped cooked chicken (rotisserie chicken is a good cheat)
- 4 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 2 limes, wedged (for garnish)
- Cilantro sprigs (optional)
- 8 radishes, shaved
- 4 jalapeños, sliced in rings for garnish
In a soup pot, heat the oil, sweat onions and garlic. Add chili powder, cumin, coriander, and oregano. Cook, stirring often. Add chicken and tomatoes, cook for 5 minutes. Add stock and hominy, simmer. Season with salt. Divide in bowls and garnish.
For the Quesadilla
- 2 lbs. bulk chorizo
- 1 onion, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped (or parsley)
- ½ cup scallions, chopped
- 2 cups asadero cheese, grated
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 4 10” flour tortillas
Lay tortillas flat (apologies to John Steinbeck). Divide cheese equally over tortillas. In a sauté pan, brown the chorizo and drain. Add onions and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Fold in scallion and cilantro. Divide chorizo over tortillas and fold in half. Heat oil in a skillet. Cook quesadillas 3 minutes per side until golden brown. Slice and serve.
Charred Cauliflower Soup with Peach and Brie Sandwiches
For the Soup
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 onion, minced
- 4 cups riced cauliflower mixed with ¼ cup olive oil, roasted at 425 for 12 minutes until charred.
- 3 cups veg stock
- 2 cups cream
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 4 Tbsp parsley
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
In a soup pot, heat butter, sweat garlic and onion. Add charred cauliflower and stock and simmer. Add cream and simmer for 15 minutes. Purée with an immersion blender while adding vinegar. Fold in parsley, season with salt and enjoy.
For the Sandwiches
- 2 baguettes, cut into 4 pieces then split lengthwise
- 4 peaches, sliced and grilled
- 12 oz sliced Brie
- 1 lb. baby spinach leaves
Lay Brie, peaches, and spinach on baguettes. Close the sandwich and press firmly with your hands. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes until crispy. Slice and serve. ■