Tell your friends you’re going to eat at a gastro-pub tonight, and the likely response will be “gastro-what?” “Gastro-pub” is a British term for a public house (“pub”) that specializes in high-quality food a step above the more basic “pub grub.” Gastro-pub was the theme for last night’s party. That winds me up because I love fish and chips as much as the next guy, and the idea of pub food put me in a beer frame of mind.
The chefs I invited had one interesting thing in common: all were self-trained. Most chefs have restaurant training or culinary education, but self-taught chefs learned by doing or by turning a hobby into a profession. Some of the most famous celebrity chefs you see on TV are self-trained.
Competing were: Chris Calcagno, Executive Chef of Café Amici in New Jersey; Janet Kim, Chef at Gordon Ramsey at the London in New York City; and Kevin Gaudreau, Executive Chef at the Pier Restaurant in Newport, Rhode Island.
Chris has worked mostly in mom and pop restaurants, but is known for bringing New York City flavors to the table. His signature dish was a Blackened Mahi Mahi fillet with Citrus Shallot Beurre Blanc, Sweet Corn Mash, and Sautéed Spinach. Beurre Blanc is a classic French butter sauce. The taste of a good beurre blanc can make you moan with pleasure. It’s a simple emulsion — a reduction of shallots, wine and vinegar, and an absurd amount of butter. By “absurd amount,” I mean there is so much butter involved that you could use the leftovers to grease the axles of your car. Beurre Blanc can be terribly fragile if you don’t follow a couple of basic rules. The butter should be cold and go in slowly. The emulsion, once bonded, needs to be kept at the right temperature. If you let the sauce boil, it will separate, or “break.” I think that’s what happened to Chris’s beurre blanc.