Food and Dining Radio Show – 3.20.08
Linda Gassenheimer (LG)
Joseph Cooper (JC)
Fred Tasker (FT)
Carlos Fernandez (CF)
JC: This Sunday is Easter and many will join friends and family to celebrate. But there are more options than the ubiquitous ham. Of course the Lunch Goddess is here.
LG: Not only Easter weekend but spring is also starting this weekend. What foods come to mind this time of year? How about spring lamb? Eggs? And of course, chocolate. Can’t leave that out! Here to talk about Easter celebrations is Chef Carlos Fernandez from Hi-Life Café.
CF: Thanks. I’m so happy to be here.
LG: Also here is Fred Tasker who writes the wine column in the Miami Herald. Fred, what are we drinking today?
FT: I’m talking about the kind of wine that goes with ham and lamb, thank you ma’am.
LG: [laughing] Well Chef, you really have a loyal following at the Hi-Life Cafe.
CF: Yes, we have been there 12 years, four stars from the Miami Herald and Sun Sentinel and a great loyal base.
LG: That’s really amazing.
CF: We treat everyone like our family. It’s like home for me and we’ve created the quintessential American bistro.
LG: It’s that warm feeling; people feel they’re really welcome.
CF: Yes, and it’s small. Only 65 seats.
LG: Yes, and it’s nice to know the Chef is actually there.
CF: Yes, I have the burns to prove it!
LG: What do you suggest for Easter?
CF: Spring lamb and ham comes to mind. Also green peas, asparagus, strawberries and mangoes.
LG: Sounds delicious. You’re open for Easter dinner, not lunch. What are some dinner things?
CF: I brought rack of lamb with me today. I’ve taken some Japanese bread crumbs, Dijon mustard and rosemary. I top it off with parmesan cheese to get a nice brown crust.
LG: How did you get it to look so nice and neat?
CF: I sear them first with salt and pepper and then I place the rest of the topping.
LG: Sear them?
CF: Yes, on the stove top.
LG: So you take the lamb and season it, then place it in a sauté pan, sear them on both sides…
CF: Yes, and then you take your mixture and spread it on top of the lamb. Then the lamb goes in the oven for 25 minutes at 375 for rare. Parmesan is what makes the wonderful crust on top.
LG: I can never get it to stick on. That’s why I ask.
CF: Don’t add the crumbs too early to the Dijon mustard. I’m not a big fan of mint jelly. I prefer mustard and rosemary.
LG: What’s the sauce on the asparagus?
CF: I love to grill it plain with salt and pepper.
LG: On an outdoor grill?
CF: Or indoor…
LG: I like to roast my vegetables. You can put it in the same oven on a lower shelf.
CF: You could even get white asparagus.
LG: What about brunch?
CF: My favorite item is the spiral ham. If you’re trying to entertain a large group you’re not at the carving station all day long.
LG: How do you pick a good spiral ham?
CF: I think they’re all pretty much the same. But I like an extra glaze on the side with Dijon mustard, honey and cloves. That keeps it pretty and moist.
JC: Do you grind the cloves?
LG: You put it in the oven?
CF: I would suggest 35 minutes to get the center bone hot.
JC: And good pea soup.
CF: When I make pea soup I reserve a few to garnish the plate. I also like to thicken it with potato instead of cream to be more healthful.
LG: You add the potato to the soup while you’re cooking it?
CF: As soon as it’s fork tender go ahead and puree it.
LG: So we’ve got vegetables and ham. That doesn’t sound like brunch to me though.
CF: Oh brunch is anything really. Another favorite thing I like to make is a frittata. That can be made beforehand and then I heat it up when guests get there.
LG: Tell me something. We’re going to go and put things out on the table and have lots of people in…there are safety problems here. Even though a house is air conditioned, I don’t think it’s cool enough for the food.
JC: What a kill joy. [laughing]
CF: Well number one is the heat. Try to do all the baking in the morning so your house won’t be hot and you don’t have to raise the air conditioning.
LG: Okay, well we’ll return to that in a moment. We’re talking with Chef Carlos Fernandez of the Hi-Life Café in Fort Lauderdale. I’m Linda Gassenheimer. We’ll take a short break and be back with more.
LG: And we’re back. We’re talking with Chef Carlos Fernandez of the Hi-Life Café in Fort Lauderdale about Easter Brunch and Lunch. Just before the break we were talking about food safety.
CF: It’s very important. Keep cold food cold and hot food hot. If you’re not going to serve hot food right away get yourself a chafing dish.
LG: Chef, aside from that, you were a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef. How did you become a contestant?
CF: At that point I had been in business for 10 year and I had been self-taught. So I thought this would be a way to get my Bravo Degree. I sent in a tape but, being the go-getter that I am, I showed up to one of the casting calls in person in Chicago. It was the middle of winter and only 37 degrees!
LG: You flew out to Chicago?!
CF: Yes, after the interview they put me on film right there and then.
LG: What was it like behind the scenes?
CF: It was chaotic. They adhere to all of the rules. When they say you have 30 minutes to do something, they actually enforce that on the show. What I learned the most from was getting 14 other different view points. It was nice to see how everyone else interpreted the challenges.
LG: Even though you didn’t win it seems to have helped your career.
CF: I left halfway through so I felt a little demoralized. But then they invited me back to do 14 web episodes. So I felt good about that.
LG: Fred, what are we drinking?
FT: Well you know during Easter you are going to eat ham or lamb. The rules are quite easy. So with white meat you have white wine, red meat you have red wine, and pink meat you have pink wine. So a nice Rosé, especially something like SanGiovese from Swanson Vineyards.
CF: Swanson has a beautiful tasting room as well if you ever get out that way.
FT: The perfect wine with lamb is Rioja. I was in Spain a few years ago and they served roast land with old bottles of Rioja. It was fabulous. Even a nice new Rioja is perfect. Merlot also goes nicely. Of course these days a lot people have brunches. You could go to Azul and spend $95 on brunch. Guess what my recommendation is with that? You might as well go for some real champagne, and if you’re eating ham at the brunch you can have pink champagne.
LG: What about those of us who don’t want to spend a lot of money on Easter?
FT: Go to a cheaper brunch and have some nice Spanish Cava.
LG: Chef, you agree?
CF: I’m going to follow his lead. Rioja is a wonderful idea. Rosés are a lot of fun and can bridge the gap. But you don’t want a too sweet Rosé or something too dry, so try to find something in the middle.
LG: For people who might be outside having lunch and it’s going to be warm, what can they drink?
FT: If you’re outside get something sparkling water with ice and maybe a little fruit juice.
LG: No alcohol?!
CF: You must hydrate!
FT: As far as I’m concerned, if it’s hot just go for something cool.
LG: I get a lot of questions about making things in advance and re-warming it.
CF: Let’s start with the cold. If you have a great salad, don’t dress it beforehand. Wait until right before you serve it.
LG: Food doesn’t taste good right out of the refrigerator. Take it out about 30 minutes before?
CF: Absolutely, as a Chef it’s hard to prepare great food ahead of time.
LG: Are most kitchen not air conditioned?
CF: Right, most are not. Most people see it as a waste. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!
FT: How hot does it get?
CF: You can shed about 3 pounds per service!
LG: What about meat beforehand?
CF: I like to do a quick warm up in the oven right before in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes max.
FT: So hotter keeps it from drying out?
CF: Yes, and then you let it rest for a minute after you take it out of the oven.
LG: That’s interesting; I always say 300 degrees for 30 minutes. That’s great advice. So now let’s talk about dessert.
JC: We passed over the crab cake, you know.
LG: Oh no. Go ahead and explain what it is.
CF: It’s jumbo lump crab meat with a little garlic and I make a sweet garlic and rice wine vinegar sauce.
FT: The ratio of crab to filling is amazing.
LG: Where do you get your crab?
CF: I have several sources. It comes in a can fully pasteurized. I put the bread crumbs in a food processor first so I don’t have to use as many.
LG: Okay, we’ll get to the desserts after the break. We’re talking with Chef Carlos Fernandez of the Hi-Life Café in Fort Lauderdale. I’m Linda Gassenheimer. We’ll take a short break and be back with more.
LG: And we’re back. We’re talking with Chef Carlos Fernandez about Easter. As I mentioned earlier we have lots of people calling saying they really like your restaurant, The Hi-Life Café. Okay, let’s talk about dessert.
CF: I have two, both homemade at the Hi-life Café. Nothing is brought in. The first is an orange coconut pie, it’s an orange custard with wisps of coconut. It came in number three in the Miami Herald restaurant ratings but numbers one and two aren’t around anymore so I consider it the best dessert in South Florida [laughing]. There’s also a pecan pie there made with chocolate chips and pecans with a bourbon cream.
JC: This is so great. And I want to give my thanks to the many people who pledged and made this fund drive a success.
LG: Thank you all for supporting us. It’s been a great drive and now we can relax and enjoy ourselves and eat!
JC: It’s a rough job [laughing].
LG: We talked about you being on Top Chef. I understand you’re on Telemundo now?
CF: Yes, I do a six minute segment call Cada Dia.
JC: You’re going to be on Food Network soon.
CF: From your lips to God’s ear [laughing].
LG: Tell us about your wine dinners at Hi-Life Cafe?
CF: It’s a seven course dinner with a different wine during each course. The dinners are all different. Some are a trip around the world and others are specific to one wine region.
FT: Do you have winery personnel who come to the tastings?
CF: Yes, last year I was able to have winemakers there. They were telling us all about how the wine is made.
FT: That’s really the best way to learn about wine.
CF: I also suggest getting yourself a flavor wheel.
FT: You’re giving away our secrets! People think we make that stuff up.
LG: What do you mean by a flavor wheel?
CF: That will actually divide up the components. For example, Sauvignon Blanc will be grassy, grapefruit…cabernet you’ll be talking about leather and tobacco. Those are just flavor profiles that make sense memory come alive.
LG: Also you’re doing some other work?
CF: There’s a national beverage company that has a cooking company and I’m the judge! It’s come full circle for me. Anyone can enter it.
LG: Earlier on we were talking about food safety. Here are some safety tips that the American Egg Board sent to me. You can store your eggs in the refrigerator for 3-5 weeks. But it should be in the original carton. Also, if you’re going to be filling up your refrigerator with a lot of food make sure to turn it down. Hard cooked eggs can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator. If you want to have your eggs outside, don’t leave them for more than 2 hours. Don’t let your kids eat those. So maybe stick with the chocolate eggs.
FT: Those plastic ones are also an option and you can keep reusing them. But make sure there’s no lead-based paint on them.
CF: Try not to boil your eggs for more than 10 minutes to avoid getting that green hue around the yolk.
LG: I put them in cold water, bring it up to a simmer, and then let it sit for 10 minutes.
FT: There are different ways here.
LG: I’m sure the Chef has to do everything quickly. Well, I’m Linda Gassenheimer. We’re talking with Chef Carlos Fernandez of the Hi-Life Café in Fort Lauderdale. We’ll take a short break and be back with more.
LG: We’re back. We’re talking with Chef Carlos Fernandez of the Hi-Life Café in Fort Lauderdale. Now it’s dinner in minutes time.
LG: Well we’ve been eating a lot today. The Chef brought lots of food including this wonderful lamb. You also had crab cakes. My dinner in minutes is Florentine Lamb with Tomato Linguine. I use leg of lamb. It’s a steak about ¾ of an inch thick. You should ask the butcher and they’ll cut it for you. You cook it like a steak under the broiler. If you want the recipe it’s in today’s Miami Herald or see my website www.dinnerinminutes.com and link to my recipe. Fred, are we pod-casting?
FT: You can find us at miamiherald.com/wine.
LG: Fred, you’ve given us some wine suggestions for Easter. And you shocked us all when you said to drink water if it’s really hot outside.
CF: Sangria is also nice if it’s hot outside. White Sangria is made with white wine, brandy, some sugar water and fruit.
LG: Fred, this is your best friend! [laughing] So there’s wine news, right Fred?
FT: There’s some news in the wine world. Joe, how much do you think your nose is worth?
JC: My nose?! [laughing]
FT: Ilja Gort, the owner of Chateau de La Garde in Bordeaux, has just insured his nose for 5 million dollars. It covers the loss of his nose and loss of smell. It was insured by Lloyds of London. They said that the nose of a winemaker is as important as the fingers of a Chef. There’s a picture of this man on my blog. They gave him lots of tests and determined that he has an above-average sense of smell.
JC: Well there’s got to be a benchmark.
FT: He had to agree not to ride a motorcycle, take part in boxing matches, participate in a knife-throwers contests…
LG: So this goes along with insuring your legs.
FT: Yes, like Jennifer Lopez insured her boody! Lloyds of London will pretty much insure anything. Should we talk about the Chef’s Wine Spectator Award Winning List?
CF: Every year the Wine Spectator sends out a form to restaurants and you send in your wine list. And we’ve received that award for the last seven years at the Hi-Life Cafe.
LG: What is the secret to a good wine list?
FT: It goes along with the food your serving.
CF: They want to see fairness and value, different regions from around the world, and a copy of the menu to see how well it goes.
LG: I like that they include a fair price for the wine.
FT: Chef Carlos was telling me about his markup.
CF: You can markup less expensive wine three times, the more expensive twice. It makes the entire experience more affordable and people want to come back.
LG: Chef Carlos, thank you so much for coming.
CF: I love the show; it was a pleasure.
LG: Jospeh Cooper and Fred Tasker, you both ate well today.
JC: Yes we did.
LG: I’m Linda Gassenheimer. Join me next week to talk about pressure cooking.