A couple of years ago I had this crazy idea: “what if…. I became a personal chef?” That was right around the same time I decided to go live with Five Senses Palate, so I started focusing my little free time to this blog and creating content to publish here. Behind the scenes though, I continue to push myself in the kitchen, and I love challenges! While putting together the silent auction for Centro Hispano’s Annual Banquet, I had a beautiful idea. I would donate a multi course dinner to the auction, that would give me the opportunity to be a personal chef for a day.
Centro Hispano is the largest non-profit serving Latinos in Dane county. I have been involved for 8 years, I was elected president of the board of directors last May, and I continue to be invested in their mission of helping Latino families achieve their dreams. Donating this dinner for the auction was really just one small thing I could do in my role. I wasn’t even sure that someone would be interested at all, but to my surprise there were biddings placed, and the dinner sold for few hundred dollars. Because it turned out so well, I did it again last fall, I auctioned a five course dinner menu that I would cook at the highest bidder’s place. It was sold once again!
Last year’s dinner was a great experience, I learned few things about prepping and timing to do better “next time.” Remember I am not a real chef. One thing is for sure: I could not do this alone! I am incredibly thankful to my husband whom not only supports my crazy ideas, but also serves as my kitchen helper, server, and dish washer 🙂
My planning started once I got contacted by the diners. We picked a date, they chose a “theme”, and then I planned a menu based on their requests. The request was classic Italian, no allergies, no sea food please! Ok, got it. Here is the menu I came up with and I’ll share a little bit of the cooking of each course.
Even though it may seem like a 3-hour job to serve this dinner, there was a lot that went in the preparation of this small event. Here I’ll give you a timeline.
One week before: Made basil oil. Tested and tasted recipes: Made asparagus soup, made some adjustments to the recipe, made pasta carbonara and chicken picatta, took note of the cooking times.
Three days before: I made a list of ingredients. Wrote a “to do” list for the day of the dinner.
One day before: Went to the market, ran around town doing all the shopping. Made butter and started the bread. Made candied oranges (this recipe was a headache and did not turn out the way I wanted).
The day of: Woke up early and did a rundown of my “to do” list making sure I wasn’t missing anything. Spent all day in the kitchen doing all the prep work and making all the sub recipes. Made the cake. Cooked porkbelly. Organized everything. Two hours before: baked the bread, roasted the carrots. One hour before: packed the coolers and a basket with all the tools I would need, and away we went. Then it was show time!
Homemade rosemary bread and butter. I love making bread, it is a tedious process that takes up few hours, but the first bite of that crunchy crust and soft dough still warm coming out of the oven makes it all worth it. I had never attempted to make butter at home, it was easy, messy, and absolutely delicious. It was well taken by the diners.
1st Course: Porkbelly with Pomegranate glaze on top of market greens
I purchased the porkbelly at Underground Butcher, seasoned it with coriander, salt & pepper, and cooked it in the pressure cooker for 45 minutes with chicken broth and sage. It came out oh so tender! I made a glaze by simmering 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid (fat skimmed), pomegranate juice and a splash of pomegranate vinegar until it reduced to about a third of the liquid. It was syrupy, sweet and acidic, just perfect. For the salad I used a fresh spring mix from the farmer’s market, made a very simple vinaigrette (garlic, Dijon mustard, pomegranate vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper). Right before serving I sliced the porkbelly, seared it on a very hot pan for about one minute on each side, brushed it with the pomegranate glaze, and served it on top of the dressed greens. This was the hostess favorite!
2nd Course: Asparagus soup
I wanted to include something very seasonal, right now asparagus is very much in season. This soup was inspired by the beautiful pictures of the book Manresa by chef David Kinch. Although it is my own recipe, I used some of his techniques and ingredients as inspiration. This recipe was labor intense, peeling asparagus has to be my least favorite. They are quickly blanched, then blended and sieved (very time consuming), to come up with a very creamy result that was equally satisfying. This one I will have to make into a post to share the recipe, because it really was amazing. I topped the soup with halved asparagus tops, pickled ramps, chive flowers, and basil oil that I had made a week earlier. The presentation was beautiful. I was going in a little bit nervous about this course, thinking that people may love it or hate it, and I was so pleased when I saw all empty bowls coming in the kitchen. Score!
3rd Course: Pasta alla Carbonara
A classic Roman dish that I grew up eating and calling it something else (different story!) For this course I wanted to do a traditional pasta. I am not a spaghetti and meatballs kind of girl, and carbonara is one of my favorite sauces because it is so simple. I bought fresh RP Pasta linguine, which cooks in 3 minutes, perfect for a sauce that comes up rather quickly. Pancetta, eggs, shredded pecorino, and lots of pepper. Finished it off with some good extra virgin olive oil. I struggled a little bit plating this one, and making the portions small. Well, I guess no one complained about having too much pasta, and everyone loved it.
4th Course: Chicken Picatta
For the “secondi”, or the meat course, I made this chicken picatta, an Italian classic usually made with veal. The chicken breast was tenderized (meaning I beat the crap out of it), which makes for a faster cooking time. I placed them in a zip lock bag with seasoned flour. While I was serving the pasta, Matt started cooking the chicken. Then I made the sauce with the pan drippings, white wine & capers. I skipped the lemon juice and instead I used preserved lemons which gave a very intense lemony flavor to the sauce. Served it with roasted carrots that we warmed up in some butter.
5th Course: Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
Oh dessert! I love making dessert! This dish had a lot of components, the candied orange was sort of an experiment that didn’t necessarily work out (long story), but I wasn’t about to waste them, so I decided to still use the sweet orange pulp on the plate. For the sauce I reduced orange juice with some corn starch. The olive oil cake was adapted from the book Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller. I used a blood orange olive oil that I bought in San Diego, and made some minor changes to the original recipe to make it very very orange flavor. Right before serving I whipped mascarpone cheese with heavy cream and some powder sugar. Needless to say that it was the perfect end to the meal.
For course 1 & 2 – a nice fruity and intense Chardonnay – Bourg Lachamps Chardonnay 2014
Course 3 & 4 – a nice young Pinot – Boutique Australian Pinot Noir RedHeads Tommy The Pinball Lizard Pinot Noir 2015
Course 5 – Finally for dessert a fragrant, sweet, and bubbly Moscato d’Asti – Risata Moscato d’Asti
I was able to join the diners for dessert, which allowed me the opportunity to talk a little bit more about Centro Hispano, its mission, the community, the programs, upcoming events, and the wonderful work of the staff. I truly enjoyed doing this, it gave me some personal satisfaction, but most importantly it gave me the opportunity to introduce others to the mission of Centro, and hopefully it will serve as the beginning of a long lasting relationship.
As for this year’s silent auction… there are some people already in line to bid on the dinner, so… until next year! 🙂