A Chef’s Inspiration…

by lifeundeveloped on April 16, 2015

As a chef, there are many questions that I get asked frequently.

“What’s your specialty?”, “What’s your favorite food?”, “How do you work such long days?”

I personally abhor when someone asks me what my favorite food is.  Food is my life, my passion.  It is just not humanely possible for me to choose just ONE thing that I love.  Sorry I cannot answer that question.  Don’t take it personally.

A question I do appreciate is, “Where do you get your inspiration”  or “What inspires you as a chef?”

knives

A chef appreciates people taking the time to understand where they’re coming from.  When you see that crazy special on the menu, instead of jumping to conclusions or assuming that the chef just threw together whatever they had laying around, ask them how they came up with it.  I promise you there’s almost always a reasoning or story behind it.

Keep in mind I’m discussing what inspires ME as a chef.  I’m sure there are many similarities between what I am inspired by and by what other chef’s are inspired by, but please don’t stereotype it.  Every chef is their own individual, with their own inspired ideas.

So where do I get my inspiration from…

coffee

Coffee.

Kidding… Although really, I’m quite incapable of accomplishing anything without a steamy cup of joe in the morning.

Seriously now, here’s what inspires me…

1) Seasonality

berries

I know the whole “seasonality” thing has been beaten to death, but seriously, it’s one of the most important things!  There’s a reason that there’s a specific type of year that tomatoes are at it’s best.  So when it’s that time of year, why not use them in any way possible?

That tomato will never taste as sweet and juicy than that late summer day. I actually find it challenging and fun to try to use an ingredient in as many ways as possible!

tomato

Sticking with the tomato example, you could make tomato pie, salads, salsas, sauces, soups, oven dry them, make killer sandwiches, vinaigrettes, smoke them….. See what I’m saying??  Things lead to things and before you know it you have a Summer’s worth of meals!

2) Trends

Just like fashion, the culinary world goes through changes just as fast.  Back in the day there was nothing better than eggs and caviar together or that molten chocolate cake [Chef movie reference anyone??].

chocolate

Both of which I’ve been guilty of paying homage to.

Nowadays, people’s opinions have changed, and the things that once were new and up and coming are now blase.  That’s just how the world rolls.  I kind of like it that way though.  When things are always changing, it keeps us on our toes and always gets us thinking.

mags

I feel like you constantly have to be on the hunt for the next big thing.  I, personally am always perusing the latest issues of all the foodie magazines.  I follow an insane amount of food blogs.  I read my favorite restaurant’s menus.  Pinterest is the best for just searching a wide variety of food ideas. I call it a “time suck” because I can be on that site for hours.  The best part is I can “pin” things that I find interesting.  Then when I am having one of those days and can’t think of anything new to make, I go to those “pins” and get inspired.

3) Traveling 

When traveling to different places, I probably spend most of my proposed budget on food.  I completely immerse myself in whatever area that I’m in.  All I want to do is eat my way through that city.  I want to eat and drink as the locals do.  You end up finding some really cool and unforgettable things by doing that.  I somewhat recently took a trip with my best friend to Seattle, WA.

seattle

When I came back, I was totally inspired by the cuisine of the Pacific Northwest.  Given, I couldn’t cook with their incredible seafood or giant lobster mushrooms, but I could take some of their influences and incorporate them into the ingredients that I have in my region.

fish

4) Location 

When I say that location influences me I’m saying that where I reside and the style of cooking and ingredients indigenous to that area are a big inspiration.  For example, if you didn’t know this already, I live in North Carolina.  Since, living down here, I’ve learned the importance of a good biscuit, grits aren’t just for breakfast and canning is a way of life.

grits

Why should that not influence or inspire me? This almost goes hand in hand with travel and wanting to eat and drink as the locals do.  You can learn a lot by just planting some roots in a certain place for a while.  Learn from living there. These things will continue to influence you throughout your life.

5) History

There’s a couple of different ways to look at this one.

Family history for one.  By family history I mean recipes and processes passed down from generation to generation.  There’s more than likely a reason why that recipe for gravy [as the Italians would say] or killer pound cake has been around for years and years.  It’s a solid base to take off from.  I’ve found that the younger generation takes those recipes and puts their own spin on it.  Which, in my opinion, is pretty ingenious.

farmersmarket

The other way history plays a part in inspiring a chef is a culture’s or region’s history.  For example, Southern culture has so much history to it.  Back in the day, and even still today, Southerners really did it all.  They grew their own food, raised their own food, canned it, nurtured it.  I mean it really doesn’t get better than that.

By going back in time and looking at what made the South tick, you can discover some pretty fascinating things.  Through that you can preserve and carry on traditions that would otherwise be lost to future generations.  That my friend, is pretty darn inspiring.

me

And that folks, is a little bit about what makes me tick.  What keeps my mind going.  How I come up with the ever so crazy specials that I feature at the restaurant.  Hope you enjoyed this little glimpse.

Until next time….

Vanessa.

{ 4 comments }

Daily Special: Buffalo Cauliflower Taco

by lifeundeveloped on April 11, 2015

Hi friends!

As part of giving you a “behind the scenes” look at the restaurant, I decided to create a post called “Daily Special”.  What this means is that I will take you through, step by step, on how I create some of our specials at the restaurant.

Today’s Daily Special is:

THE BUFFALO CAULIFLOWER TACO!

taco

Wowzah!

This is one of my favorite specials that we do at the restaurant. It never fails, every time I get an order for a taco I always throw in an extra piece of cauliflower for myself.  If I’m in a generous mood, I’ll throw in a few extras and tell my the staff there’s “Scooby Snacks”.  They LOVE those.

scoobysnack

The aforementioned “Scooby Snack” bowl.

 Anyways, let’s get down to business.  How to make these spicy bites of deliciousness.

**Note: At the end of the post, I will have the recipe for this in its entirety. I’m simply going to show you the process visually with some tidbits in between. **

Here’s what you’ll need:

batterstation

[From left to right]:  Cauliflower florets, batter, buffalo sauce.

[Not pictured]: Blue cheese slaw, oil and tortillas.

*I explain how to make the blue cheese slaw in the recipe at the end of the post.  Make that ahead of time and keep it in your fridge until you are ready to go!

First step is to make your batter.

Batter

I feel like people get intimidated by making things like batters.  When really, they are super simple.  This batter is just simply equal parts water and flour, baking powder and some seasonings.  Alternatively, you could make a beer batter or a tempura batter, whatever floats your boat!

Before you start the frying process, I suggest making your sauce.  As a chef you live by a motto: “Mise en place”, meaning everything in its place.  Even if you’re not a chef, live by it.  It’s makes your life infinitely easier.  Think about it, if you get everything you need ready for a recipe first before even starting it, you will be much more relaxed.  No running around while, in the meantime, something is inevitably burning.  If you take anything away from this blog, do that.

Once your batter is made, dip the cauliflower into the batter and place it gently into your hot oil.

fry

Obviously at the restaurant have this giant, commercial fryers that hold GALLONS of oil.  At home, heat your oil on the stovetop in a pot with high sides.  If you are health conscious and do not want to fry, you can bake them in the oven for, I’d say about 20 minutes at 450 degrees F.  Just make sure you grease your baking sheet!

tortilla

While your cauliflower is cooking, heat up your tortillas!  Keep them wrapped in a towel to stay warm until the cauliflower is finished.

fried

Once fried or baked to golden, take the cauliflower out of the oil and let drain for a few seconds. Then drop the fried cauliflower into your buffalo sauce and toss them until they’ve got a nice, thick coating on them.

saucey

Now it’s time to assemble!

Follow this order: Tortilla, cauliflower, slaw.

taco2

Mmmh. I’m getting hungry just writing this post!

taco1

Hope you have a chance to make yourself or some friends this taco!  Buffalo cauliflower is delicious on it’s own as well.  Make them as a side dish with some homemade ranch or blue cheese on the side.

If you REALLY are feeling like you can conquer the world, fry the cauliflower as you would for this application and make a different flavored sauce to toss it in.  There’s asian.  Like a general tso kinda thing.  Or barbecue. Or a jerk seasoned pineapple  sauce. Or… well you get the gist.

If all else fails, come into the restaurant and we’ll make it for you !

Vanessa

Buffalo Cauliflower Taco

by Vanessa Smith

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

    For the Taco

    • Cauliflower florets,12 each
    • Flour tortilla, 4 each
    • Canola oil, 2-3 cups, depending on the size of your pan.

    For the Buffalo Sauce

    • Hot sauce 1 cup
    • Unsalted butter 2 Tbsp.

    For the Batter

    • All purpose flour, 1 cup
    • Water, 1 cup
    • Baking powder, 1 Tbsp
    • Granulated garlic, 2 tsp.
    • Seasoned salt, 1 tsp.

    For the Slaw

    • Green cabbage, shredded 1 cup
    • Carrots, peeled, julienned 3 medium
    • Yellow onion, peeled, small diced 1/4 cup
    • Celery, washed, small diced 1/4 cup
    • Blue cheese dressing, 1/2 cup, enough to coat, add more if desired
    • Salt and black pepper, to taste

    Instructions

    For the Batter

    Mix together the dry ingredients.

    Add water and whisk until smooth. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before using.

    For the Buffalo Sauce

    Heat together the hot sauce and butter in a pan on the stove.

    Once butter is melted, whisk together and remove from heat.

    For the Slaw

    Combine the prepared vegetables in a medium sized bowl

    Toss together with blue cheese dressing until dressed to your liking. I suggest starting with a smaller amount and then adding more if you would like it. Remember you can always add more, but cannot take out!

    Keep in the fridge until you are ready to use.

    For the Taco

    Heat oil in pot with high sides on the stove until it reaches 350 degrees F.

    Dip the cauliflower one at a time into the batter and then drop lightly into the hot oil.

    While the cauliflower is frying, heat the tortillas up. You can do this one of two ways, in a pan on a stove for maybe about 20-30 seconds on each side or wrapped in damp paper towels in the microwave for about 15 seconds. You just want them to be warm and pliable.

    Once cauliflower is golden and crisp, turn off the oil and drain the cauliflower with a slotted spoon. Transfer to a bowl and ladle buffalo sauce overtop. Toss together until equally coated.

    To assemble: Take your warm tortilla and put 2-3 pieces of the buffalo cauliflower in the middle. Then top with the blue cheese slaw.

    **Notes: You will most likely have some leftover batter, slaw and hot sauce. The batter and slaw can be saved in the fridge for a few days. The hot sauce can be saved for even longer. So make as little or as many cauliflower bites as you’d like!**

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    The Next Chapter…

    April 6, 2015

    Hello blogesphere.  It’s been a while.  I hope you all are still out there. Where have I been you ask?  Well here’s the scoop… Since my last post, I left my job as sous chef at the Bobcats, Time arena downtown. I packed up my 600 sq. ft. apartment in the heart of Charlotte and […]

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    Peppermint Walnut Snowball Cookies

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    Where I’ve Been, What I’ve Been Doing…

    November 4, 2012

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    Blackberry Barbecue Sauce

    August 28, 2012

    Hey readers! So somehow, this last month of Summer flew by and September is upon us. Seriously how did that happen?! As much as I love Summer though, I must admit I am a bit giddy with excitement thinking about Fall! So with that being said, last week I decided to celebrate the last of […]

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    Panzanella Salad

    August 11, 2012

    Happy weekend! Before we talk about food, can we just talk about how insane it is that it is already AUGUST?! Where did this Summer go? At any rate, I know I am going to try to make the most of it while it lasts! Fall is always magical though. Changing of the leaves, cool […]

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    Dole Banana Party

    July 31, 2012

    Recently, Dole asked my friend Mary and I if each of us would like to host a banana party. I’m pretty sure as soon as we both got the email we talked to each other about it and unanimously decided it would be amazing if we hosted a joint party. That was the easy part! […]

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    Zucchini, Carrot and Corn Fritters

    July 22, 2012

    Happy Sunday Funday!!!! Why do we call it Sunday Funday when Monday morning is right around the corner? I know, don’t remind you huh? Ok, let’s change the subject to… THAT. What is that, you ask? A new creation that has changed my life. Zucchini, carrot and corn fritters.  I had my doubts about these […]

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    Summer Vegetable Gratin

    July 13, 2012

    Hey guys!! For the past two or so months I’ve been on the go a lot for work. Now it seems that for the remainder of the Summer I am grounded as far as travel is concerned [with the exception of a special trip home]. So what does that mean? I’m hoping to get back […]

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