A Cello Prodigy
Everyone raves about 1998 F&W Best New Chef Laurent Tourondel's deft hand with fish at his restaurant Cello in Manhattan, but pastry chef Jean-François Bonnet deserves accolades of his own. A 25-year-old Frenchman who's only been in New York for a year and a half, Bonnet takes an unusual approach to a craft that prides itself on precision and discipline. When creating a new dessert, he says, "I like to smash everything together and see what happens." This is the technique that led to one of his more exotic desserts, banana soup with olive oil ice cream. While working with olive oil, Bonnet licked some off his finger, ate a piece of banana and found the combination irresistible. Not all of Bonnet's desserts are quite so avant-garde: Bananas (hold the olive oil) turn up again in the attached recipe.
Grain of Salt
On a recent trip to Istanbul, I was caught in a snarl of shoppers at the spice market on a hectic Saturday afternoon, wedged right in front of a stall selling a captivating selection of colorful spices, fragrant herbs and tantalizing dried fruit and roasted nut snacks. My good buddy Lori Longbotham nudged me and pointed to a shimmering pile of jagged crystals. "Try this," she said, handing me a shard. I was in no way prepared for the intensely tart sensation that nipped my tongue. "It's lemon salt," she said. Lemon salt, otherwise known as citric crystals or sour salt, is derived from citric acid and is used as a preservative, pickling agent and flavoring throughout Europe, Eastern Asia and the Middle East. Found in this country in Middle Eastern grocers and the kosher-food sections of some supermarkets, lemon salt adds a unique tang to soups, stews, brines and pickles. It brings out the best flavor in the beet soup recipe that follows.
It's been said that the best cooks are ex-dishwashers, and there's no better proof of that than Generoso Bahena (a.k.a. Geno), who is currently the chef and owner of three Mexican restaurants in Chicago: Chilpancingo, Ixcapuzalco and his newest, Generoso's Bar and Grill. At 16, Bahena moved from Mexico to Chicago and took a position as a dishwasher just to be in the kitchen. His break came when a cook was late one morning and he was given the chance to peel potatoes and garlic. "My hands bled for days, but I got promoted," he says proudly. In 1987, Bahena started working for Rick Bayless at Frontera Grill and made his way up to managing chef. After traveling through all 31 states of Mexico to study his native cuisine, Bahena opened Ixcapuzalco, his first restaurant, in 1999, serving some of the most sincere, authentic Mexican food in Chicago. Now Bahena pays someone else to do the dishes, while he prepares outstanding dishes like his Ensalada Chilpancingo.