Top Chef Cooking Class at Asia Nine

As soon as the finale of Bravo’s Top Chef Season 9 aired, we received an email notice from Asia Nine, a Penn Quarter restaurant that we’ve visited many times before for both dinner and happy hour. They were announcing an Asian fusion cooking class with none other than Chef Paul Qui, Executive Chef of Uchiko in Austin TX and the most recent contestant to receive the title “Top Chef”. Along with Paul was Chef Edward Lee, Executive Chef of 610 Magnolia in Louisville KY and fellow contestant on the show (as well as our personal favorite on the season). Asia Nine explained to us that they chose to host this particular event as Asian cuisine, fusion and authentic, have been a rising food trend this year and have been following the careers of both chefs for a while. Before the cooking class began, we were able to talk with chefs Paul Qui and Edward Lee for a few minutes.

We posed that the culture for many young chefs seems to be moving around to different restaurants every few years or less to gain as much experience under as many executive chefs as possible. Our question was whether it was better to pull inspiration from as many restaurants as possible or to find one restaurant that fit a young chef’s style and develop his or her craft there solely. Paul commented that it is important to get different experiences and learn in different kitchens to develop your own craft, but you need to stick with restaurants that fit your style and not just some big named restaurant. Ed added that some people do try to pad their resume by working in so many kitchens or studying under so many famous chefs, but the most critical thing is to find a place that suits you as a chef.

For our next question, we asked if there were any of their competitor’s dishes they saw in their season of Top Chef that they were impressed enough with to put on their own menu. Both of the chefs immediately said “No”, that while everything on the show was great, their menu “is a matter of pride.”

Asked if either of them were fans of the show prior to being chosen for the 9th Season, Ed said that he hadn’t really seen a full season before and usually jumped in half way through. Paul agreed that when the last eight contestants were left would he pick it up, the last seasons he watched were the end of Season 8 All Stars and Season 6 (Las Vegas). When asked if there was a previous season’s challenge he was glad not to have done, Paul couldn’t think of any, but voiced his loathing for the Culinary Olympics (gondola) challenge, however stipulating, “It is what it is. They can do whatever to me. It’s fine.”

When asked how a novice or average person could best start cooking Asian cuisine, Paul cautioned that “Asian cuisine” is such a broad term, styles differing from region to region, and it was best to first find a style that you enjoyed. Ed reminisced on one of the first books he bought as a kid by an old London chef named Kim Hon who wrote “these incredible Chinese cookbooks…still the best cookbooks for Chinese cuisine, which is kind of like the basis of modern Asian cuisine.” As it turns out, the series is unfortunately out of print.

Since on Top Chef a contestant is forced to compete in a wide range of styles and challenges, we wondered if their experiences in the season caused them to afterwards change their styles or menus of their restaurant. Ed said frankly, “I haven’t changed my cuisine because of what happened on Top Chef…Maybe our scope has broadened, but our process for making and producing is that same as it was, a slow and calculated process.” Elaborating on how their own kitchens work, both Paul and Ed added that there are plenty of voices in their kitchen, each sous-chef having a voice and hand in making a dish. “If you have more palates involved,” Paul said, “it’s like a think tank to create a dish.” “Otherwise, it becomes all about your ego,” Ed summarized.

For our final question, we asked if there were any restaurants in the DC area (besides Asia Nine, of course) that either of them preferred or were looking forward to visit while in town. Having grown up in northern Virginia, Paul said that his mom did a lot of gourmet cooking so he never really had a reason to visit that many restaurants in the area. He did add that he just went to Jose Andres’ America Eats Tavern and was a big fan the chef’s Mini Bar. Ed mentioned that he had eaten at Rasika the night before and imagined he would also visit Graffiato by Top Chef alum Michael Isabella.

As the chefs took to the instruction table in front of the then seated crowd of 110 eager onlookers, Ed announced that he would demonstrate how to prepare Quick Fried Squid and Bacon Salad with Ginger-Apple Zest. Cooking first the bacon, crisping the meat and rendering out most of the fat, he removed the bacon and quickly added the squid. Ed cautioned to only use fresh squid (the man-hole was used in this instance) and that many people screw up dishes with squid because they cook it for too long, producing a protein with the texture of a garden hose. The squid was sautéed quickly, the chef adding soy sauce, lemon, and pepper, and then instructing that the once the ingredients are add the squid is pretty much done already. The bacon and squid combination was added to a bowl of watercress before the addition of a spoonful of fresh Tahini (sesame paste) vinaigrette the chef had also prepared. Finally, Ed grated fresh ginger and a Ganny Smith apple on top of the dish, mentioning how this ginger/apple combination was great on almost anything, especially seafood. As we are served Asia Nine’s duplication of the chef’s dish, we had to agree that the apple & ginger gave the dish a fantastic cool, acidic taste. The smooth Tahiti sauce worked seamlessly with the squid, complimenting the seafood taste perfectly. The crumbled bacon gave savory taste of fat and a nice contrasting crunch to the soft texture of the squid.

Next up was Chef Paul’s Green Curry Mussels with Spiced Potato Chips and Basil. As he heated a pan and drops green curry and white miso pastes in vegetable oil, the smell of the curry blooming spread through the restaurant like a thick cloud, causing many in the audience to both cough and laugh. Paul added that some people have tried to have him cook with their family’s own curry and the scent usually much more potent. Garlic, shallots, ginger, and large cuts of lemongrass were added and sweated until they’re translucent. Cleaned mussels were then dropped in, coated in the curry mixture and steamed to open after the addition of some white wine. After they open, Paul mixed in some coconut milk and Kaffir lime leaves and simmered. Finally, mentioning that he liked to finish many of his dishes with some sort of fresh citrus, Paul squeezed fresh lime juice over the pan. The mussels and sauce was transferred to a bowl and garnished with potato chips and basil leaves. Although he prefers to use freshly made chips, Paul mentioned that Lays will substitute if you don’t have the time. The curry flavors we tasted in our dish went fantastically with the mussels, the coconut milk elevating what is usually just a broth to a sauce we eagerly scooped up with leftover mussel shells. After given a moment to soak in the same sauce, the basil leaves added a great herb twist.

While it was not demonstrated on stage, our third course was Asia Nine’s own Spiced braised short ribs, a great cut of beef oven cooked with a Panang curry mixture, lemongrass and stock. With only a small nudge from our knife and fork, the meat effortlessly separated from the bone. The short rib was superb, tender and juicy. While the curry sauce that surrounded the beef as it cooked tastes great in its own right, the heavy-handed flavors seemed to cover up the savoriness of the short rib instead of complimenting it. Although each of the dishes we enjoyed were paired with a wine, we have to applaud Asia Nine  for the California red blend chosen to match up with this final course, the Zinfandel, Syrah, and Merlot ensemble by far the best compliment to a dish in our meal.

As the other guest and we finished up our final course, Paul and Ed both returned to the demonstration table to field some questions from the audience. What has changed for them since the end of Top Chef? Less time in their kitchens and many more photo-ops. What was their worst/most difficult challenge? Setting up a restaurant in 5 hours for Restaurant Wars right after an all night BBQ challenge. Best hangover food? Fried chicken. Both of the chefs were in good spirits and took time for pictures afterwards with many of the fans in the crowd. They were great presenters and the dishes that Asia Nine’s kitchen reproduced were fantastic. The entire event was well executed and made us eager to see what the restaurant had planned for the rest of the year. Being in the presence of such great chefs encouraged us to expand our own cooking repertoire and pay closer attention to genuine culinary leaders like Ed and Paul beyond what we see on TV.

For a look at Asia Nine’s prepared chef profiles and the event’s recipes, check out Asia Nine Top Chef Cooking Class Info.

Armed Forces Foundation Fundraiser – Around the Cow in 80 Ways

The Armed Forces Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to supporting members of the military community with financial support, career counseling, housing assistance and recreational therapy programs. To raise funds, they pulled together Adam Richman, from Travel Channel’s ever-popular Man vs Food, and Pat LaFrieda, 4th generation butcher and owner of New York’s famous Pat LaFrieda Wholesale Meat Purveyors.  Billing it as “Around the Cow in 80 Ways” and hosting it at downtown DC’s Occidental, they decided to demonstrate how to butcher and prepare three different cuts of steak: skirt, brisket, and New York strip.

First up was the skirt steak. As he carved the meat, LaFrieda explained that there was huge difference between the inside and outside skirt cut, the inside skirt holding much more flavor and expense. Also known as a Romani steak, the skirt is a thinner meat, known for its flavor more than its tenderness. Meanwhile, Richman prepared the accompanying Chimichurri sauce, a mix of parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic, and crushed red pepper. Elaborating that this sauce worked well with the steak even served cold, the resulting dish was nicely done and showed fantastic garlic & citrus flavors.

The second cut was something more personal for Richman, preparing what he called his mother’s own recipe for brisket. Explaining that the cut of meat is as much a part of a Jewish boy’s upbringing as chicken soup, brisket is the breast of the animal, two muscles lying on top of the other. LaFrieda elaborates that there is a huge difference in marbling between those two sides, the fat that stays with beef the reason for making the meat so great. The sauce is a combination of white onions, garlic, grape jelly, and heinz chili sauce, cooked down. The cut we received was tougher than we expected, but the flavors were spot on. The light and subtle sweet sauce worked great with the beef.

The final steak was a New York strip, taken from the bottom back of the cow. As LaFrieda made cuts into beef, he explained that the boned meat often goes through a drying process to draw out the water and magnify the beefy flavor. As it chars on both sides, Richman prepares the pizzaiola sauce, a combination of tomato, oil, white onions, basil, garlic. As strip then cooked on top of the sauce, a small amount of shredded Romano and Mozzarella was added on top (the mozzarella more for heritage sake than anything else). What we were served was wonderfully cooked, the crust on the steak having both a nice crunch and savory flavor, matched only by the rich quality of the steak. We have to admit that there was a large difference between what the restaurant’s kitchen served to us and the dish prepared on stage, the latter having much more of a punch and harmony of flavoring. It goes to show that Richman is not just some guy who does food challenges, but a talented chef in his own right. The beautiful butchering from LaFrieda also allowed for us to get the best cut of meat possible, enjoying plenty of composed fat and an expertly charred crust.

Once the demonstration ended and the final course of sorbet & berries arrived, Richman took a more personal note to explain that some of his relatives are in the armed forces and was thankful to everyone who served. LaFrieda added that it was an honor to serve those who had sacrificed so much for their country and was grateful for events like those by the Armed Forces Foundation. The fundraiser was a spectacular event and we give tremendous kudos to the AFF for pulling together such two great speakers.

On Tap Special: Amrut Whiskey at Jack Rose

On Tap Special: Occasionally we are invited to tastings by DC restaurants. Occasionally we find beers or booze that are magnificent. Occasionally we share them with you.

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We’ve been to Jack Rose before and always enjoyed ourselves, so it wasn’t hard to accept an invitation from them to attend a tasting. We are big fans of whiskey in its many forms and Jack Rose is the holy grail for any spirit enthusiast, boasting the largest collection of single malt whiskey in at least the United States. What made us particularly curious about the event was it showcasing Amrut, the first Indian single malt to hit the U.S. market and its Fusion  single malt boasting placement as the 3rd finest whiskey in the world in Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible 2010. Although most of their selections are made exclusively with Indian barley. Fusion gets its name for combining Indian barley with Scottish barley and peat.  The result was a complexity of fruit and smoke that we’ve never experience in a Scotch whiskey, the sweet notes working well with the classic flavors. Also offered by Amrut were the Single Malt, Single Malt Peated and Old Ports Rum. Much like the Fusion, each had that sweet undertone and, for better or worse, made the whiskey stand out from other brands we’ve had. We were even lucky enough to gain some insight from Harvey Fry, whose own world renowned collection of single malts was the inspiration for Jack Rose. Harvey offered us a comparison to Amrut’s higher end Cask Strength version of its Single Malt. The smooth, silky body and complex grace in the flavor reminded us why we drink whiskey in the first place. None of us are whiskey experts, but we do enjoy a good snifter of Scotch. If you’re looking for something new, Amrut’s Fusion or (if you’re feeling rich) Cask Strength Single Malt should be on your list to try. If you’re looking for a place that serves great food and is a liquid library of bold & beautiful whiskies, Jack Rose should be your destination this weekend.

DC Wine Week

Finally a week celebrating local wineries and restaurants has made it to Washington. The Capitol City has always had a drinking culture and these past weeks have seen their fair share of beer weeks and Oktoberfest events. Now, the first year of DC Wine Week will give Washingtonians a chance to support local wine producers at some of the best restaurants and wine bars in the area at events tailored to celebrate the District’s vibrant wine culture.

DC Wine Week kicked off this past Saturday at Sonoma on Capital Hill, the restaurant offering the guests tastes of a few bottles from their impressive wine list and samples of their fantastic dinner menu. Even though it has always been a popular destination for some of the most influential members of the DC community, it is an adamant supporter of nearby producers and local wineries, making it a perfect location to kick off a week full of events. The pairings of food and wine offered made for a night to remember (the mussels and Castle Rock wines were among our favorites).

Whether you are a wine connoisseur looking to expand your taste or a newbie wanting to expand your cultural horizon, you’ll be able to find an event you’re interested in. The effort put into the week’s schedule of events by creators Lisa Byrne of DC Event Junkie and Vanessa French will make sure you experience some of the best that DC has to offer. Be sure to take advantage of the specials, pairings and seminars planned through October 22. The full schedule can be found on DC Wine Week’s website. Event tickets are going fast so be sure to take advantage soon.