My Guest Chef Experience at Mandrava Kitchen

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Last week I cooked and served a mediterranean tapas dinner as a guest chef at Mandarava Kitchen in Newburyport. At 39, I wasn’t expecting to feel the exhilaration of a new experience, but I did. It was incredible and I loved every minute!

Before I tell you all about what it was like to be a chef for the night, let’s rewind ten years. I didn’t enjoy cooking, not even a tiny bit. I was queen of all things in a box: pasta with a jar of sauce and macaroni & cheese were a few of my greatest hits. We ordered takeout or went out to eat about 5 times a week.

Here I am now, a stay at home mom with a few cooking lessons plus hours of cooking at home asked to be a guest chef! I’m still pinching myself. How did this even happen?

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

It all started on Instagram. One day I posted a picture of a salad I made for lunch and Chef Mary Vyn commented saying that I should come cook with her at Mandarava. The next time I was in for lunch I asked, “Were you serious? I’d love to!” And so the planning began for my debut as a guest chef!

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Mandarava is a vegan, organic restaurant that offers one bowl for lunch based on the buddhist philosophy. It’s a scratch kitchen and their homemade bread is almost always gluten free. Therefore, our entire menu for my guest chef dinner was both gluten free and vegan: a perfect match for me. It’s such a challenge to eat out when you are conscious about what you eat. At Mandarava, I know the food is always going to be healthy and delicious.

When I arrived at 2pm, Mary and I enjoyed a cup of tea together while going over the menu details for our tapas dinner. We loosely put together the menu via emails and texts with room to create on the fly. So we nailed down some details over tea and decided who would start cooking what. With 6 courses, we had a lot of chopping ahead of us!

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

I made the gazpacho, hummus, roasted carrots, and salad from start to finish. Mary created melt-in-your-mouth vegan cheez-its, mission figs, paella, and peaches. Together we baked the bread, garnished, and plated. The entire meal was truly a collaboration.

Tapas Menu:
– Stuffed Mission Figs with a Cashew Cream
Gazpacho Andaluz
– Marjoram Skewered Rainbow Carrots with Hummus
– Arugula Salad with Oranges and Pepitas dressed with Newburyport Olive Oil & Vinegar
– Sweet Pepper Paella
– Grilled Peaches with Maple Cream

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Mary made me feel so welcome in the kitchen, but when I got started I was a little unsure of myself. Once I knew where to find everything, things went smoothly and I was super comfortable. We chatted and listened to the Cowboy Junkies. Chopping and roasting, blending and baking. It was actually quite relaxing, and so much fun.

Even though we’d never cooked together, Mary and I had such amazing synergy in the kitchen. We completed each others dishes and finished each other’s sentences. It was such a beautiful collaboration of creativity. I learned so much about what it’s like to work in a kitchen that night.

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

When the guests arrived, one of my friends called me Chef Westermann. That’s definitely something I’ve never heard before! After it registered, it sounded really good.

I never dreamed of being a chef. Now that I’ve planned, prepped, cooked, and served a successful six course tapas dinner at Mandarava Kitchen, maybe that’s a possibility. Who knows what the future holds! I could actually see myself going to culinary school. Either way, it’s certainly a passion.

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

I’m beyond grateful to Chef Mary for the opportunity to cook in her magical kitchen. It was already a happy place for me and I’ve definitely made it even happier by experiencing what it’s like to be on the other side of the counter. Thank you to the mother daughter owners of Mandarava Kitchen: Ellie and Mary, for trusting me and welcoming me into your special space. I look forward to setting a date to cook together again in the Fall!

Thank you to our dinner guests. Your constant mmmmm’s and easy conversation made my job a breeze! It was wonderful to cook for my super supportive friends and husband that night. It’s been humbling to have so many people believe in me.

Meg Manion Photography beautifully captured so many moments from that evening, even though the lighting was not ideal. Thank you Meg!

Blogging has opened some intriguing doors. Thanks for joining me on this adventure. Stay tuned for recipe posts from our tapas menu coming to the blog soon!

Schmaltz Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Shallot Puree

Schmaltz Roasted Brussel Sprouts - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Did you catch last week’s post about Ceia Kitchen + Bar? If you can’t make it to Newburyport, you can experience a taste of Ceia in your own home with this delicious recipe for Schmaltz Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Shallot Puree from Ceia’s Executive Chef, Jeremy Glover.

I’ve made these brussel sprouts twice since Jeremy shared the recipe with me. You are going to love them! Brussel sprouts are so decadent roasted this way. With the sweet and tangy puree on top, Bean couldn’t get enough of it! 

I’m not going to pretend Schmaltz was part of my culinary vocabulary. I had to look it up. Wikipedia says it’s “rendered chicken or duck fat used for cooking in European cuisine.” You can skim the fat off homemade bone broth, or cheat like I did and pick up a container of duck fat at a local market like Grand Trunk World Market or Whole Foods. For a vegan option, just roast the sprouts with olive oil and follow the rest of the recipe for the shallot puree. Chef Jeremy recommends this olive oil.

Set up your puree ingredients while the sprouts are roasting. Pre-measure your olive oil. Pour the shallot vinegar and honey into the blender or food processor. I used my 15 year old Cuisinart and it was totally fine. Once the shallots and garlic were roasted, the shallot puree came together quickly. I can see myself making it with other meals for sure.

I served these Schmaltz Roasted Brussel Sprouts on a weeknight with a roast chicken, butternut squash, and quinoa.  The flavors meshed really well with the sprouts. There was plenty of shallot puree to drizzle over our plates, which we did. Maybe even more than a drizzle! It tasted amazing over the quinoa. 

Schmaltz Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Shallot Puree may sound complicated, but it’s not a hard recipe to follow. Add it to the menu for your next dinner party because it will definitely impress your guests! These fancy sprouts will be a gorgeous addition to any holiday table with their festive combination of red and green. Cómelo todo!

Schmaltz Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Shallot Puree
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Ingredients
  1. 24 Brussel sprouts
  2. 3 tablespoons chicken or duck fat
  3. 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  4. 2 shallots, cut length wise
  5. 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  6. 2 tablespoons raw honey
  7. 4 tablespoons quality extra virgin olive oil
  8. 12 pomegranate seeds
  9. Salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cut sprouts in half lengthwise, smash the cloves of garlic, cut shallots, and toss together with warm chicken or duck fat and salt.
  3. Roast on sheet pan until Brussel sprouts are dark and crisp. The garlic and shallots should be soft as well. This may take 20 – 25 minutes.
  4. Take sheet pan out of oven, peel shallots, place one and a half in blender with vinegar, honey, and garlic. Blend mixture until smooth. Drizzle oil slowly until fully emulsified.
  5. Arrange sprouts in a pile, petal out the half shallot that isn’t in the vinaigrette. Place vinaigrette in a few spots on the sprouts. Finish with the pomegranate seeds.
Adapted from Executive Chef Jeremy Glover
Adapted from Executive Chef Jeremy Glover
Under the Monkey Bars http://underthemonkeybars.com/

 

Cheers to Ceia!

Cheers to Ceia - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

It’s not often that you land a seat at the bar at a place like Cheers. A seat that welcomes you back time after time, with that cozy feeling of home. Here in Newburyport, Ceia Kitchen + Bar is our Cheers.

With restaurants coming and going, not much stays the same long enough to become part of you. We’ve tried most of the 80 restaurants in Newburyport during the 6 years that we’ve lived here. In fact, we’ve lived in Newburyport longer than any other city since Don and I got married almost 15 years ago.

It’s almost momentous, realizing that you’ve found that perfect spot. Many heated discussions have taken place in Ceia’s leather barstools. Don and I chose to celebrate buying our home there. We’ve shared drinks with friends, celebrated birthdays, enjoyed family meals, and slipped away for date nights.

When we got back from our trip to Paris and Madrid a few years ago, Ceia was where we wanted to be. The restaurant always magically transports me to Europe, even if it’s only for a few hours. The brick walls and copper bar create that old world feel with a modern edge. There’s bistro style seating on the sidewalk for people watching in the warmer weather. House made charcuterie plates are presented artfully on slate. Incredible smells drift through the restaurant from the open 2nd floor kitchen. And all those European wines!

JeremyGlover, Executive Chef at Ceia Kitchen and Bar in Newburyport - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

I recently had the chance to chat with Ceia’s Executive Chef, Jeremy Glover. He chooses to drive 45 minutes from Maine to Newburyport because he totally loves his job at Ceia, mostly because he has an amazing boss in Nancy Batista-Caswell, proprietor and wine director.

Chef Jeremy runs a scratch kitchen, which means everything is made fresh at the restaurant. This is super important to me as a food allergy mom because less suppliers means more control in the kitchen. I was really impressed with Jeremy’s philosophy on food allergies. Here’s how he handles food allergies in the kitchen at Ceia:

I try to not put allergens on the menu. 80% of our entrees and apps are gluten free. I don’t have pine nuts or peanuts, and no soy products. If we do get a food allergy customer, we take precautionary steps. Wash your hands. Wash all utensils. Put on gloves. If someone has been using nuts all night, and we get a nut allergy order, I’ll have another chef make it. I try to minimize it rather than having allergens everywhere and trying to control a chaotic event.

A food allergy Mom’s dream! There aren’t many restaurants that I trust to feed my monkeys because of their severe food allergies (peanut and Celiac). We feel safe at Ceia, and a lot of that has to do with the tone the chef sets in the kitchen. Here are some snippets from our chat:

UTMB :: Menu inspiration?
JG :: Usually what’s coming into season and what I want to eat.
UTMB :: Favorite kitchen gadget?
JG :: Blazen knives from Epic Edge.
UTMB :: Best olive oil?
JG :: Frantoia Barbera Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil (#shoplocal at Grand Trunk!)
UTMB :: Advice for home chefs?
JG :: Use salt! Don’t be afraid of real butter.
UTMB :: Make at home?
JG :: Comfort food like roast chickens with root vegetables.

Check the blog next week for a recipe from Jeremy Glover’s kitchen. I’ll be telling more Food Stories from different areas of the industry in 2016. Until next time, friends!