A Porch Picnic

A portable Fourth of July feast from a former F&W Best New Chef.

Families pass down jewelry, furniture or even houses through the generations. Danielle Custer's family passed down a pot for baking beans. During Fourth of July hot dog roasts on the beach, Custer's mother, a food stylist, used the pot to re-create great-grandmother's recipe. Then everyone would have s'mores as the sun set: a classic American cookout.

Danielle Custer has come a long way from franks, beans and s'mores: After graduating at the top of her class from the Culinary Institute of America in 1990, she left the Northeast to work at Fuller's in Seattle, then Laurels in Dallas. At Laurels her innovative cuisine took advantage of all kinds of American flavors, including Pacific Northwest ingredients and Southern staples such as black-eyed peas and collard greens. Her eclectic menu earned her the distinction of being chosen as one of F&W's 1998 Best New Chefs. This June, Custer returned to what she calls her "culinary birthplace"--Seattle--to launch 727 Pine, inside the Elliott Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Some elements of Custer's Fourth of July menu recall her childhood: Her rich, creamy chocolate cheesecake cupcakes, for instance, resemble the ones her mother served, which were adorned with sparklers. Other dishes are more sophisticated. Her velvety asparagus vichyssoise and her herb-marinated pork tenderloin can be prepared in advance and eaten chilled or at room temperature, making them fit for the dining room, the porch or even the beach. Sparklers optional.

--Jessica Blatt

PUBLISHED July 2001

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