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- Wednesday, 29 May 2013 19:58 | Written by Matthias Tesi Baur
- Dear Frankie, you are a chef coming from a Lebanese background and living in US. You are also the owner of the website “The Elegant Gourmet.” Can you tell me about the website and how you had the idea to launch that website?
Frankie: A few years ago, I started a weekly blog of my favorite recipes after a lot of encouragement from friends and family. Within a few months my blog started being read by a wider audience, with Facebook helping to spread the word. My Facebook page has now more than 3000 “likes,” which I find amazing. I get feedback from all over the world regarding my blog, which I’m very thankful for because it encourages me to continue working on my website and blog. I’ve heard from readers as far away as Africa, but feedback usually comes from countries like Italy and Germany. One way I use my website is to feature other food bloggers and young chefs. I also use my website to promote and support a variety of charities, such as The American Cancer Society and Stop Children’s Cancer, Inc., which are organizations dedicated to fighting cancer.
- Please tell me more how you support these charity organisations through your website?
Frankie: I participate in silent auctions in which people can bid to win a five course, sit-down dinner with wine pairings prepared by me in their home, choosing recipes from my cookbook, Entertaining with The Elegant Gourmet. I love creating a dinner experience that matches good food with good wine, and all of the proceeds go directly to the charity.
- As a chef coming from a Lebanese background, can you tell me how Lebanese and Arabic cuisine is unique and what other cultures can learn from the Arabic food culture?
Frankie: Arabic cuisine differs from region to region, so there isn’t one Arabic cuisine - the variety is just too great! Arabic cuisine has been influenced by places like North India and African and even the Mediterranean. One great example of the uniqueness of Arabic cuisine is B’learwa (pronounced bet-LAY-wah). In Greece, this dish is called Baklava and is made with honey, cinnamon, and clove. In Lebanese tradition, we make it with a simple syrup and rose water. In my family we use a lot of dried fruits, eggplant, cinnamon, and sesame, as well as sumac and za’atar (ZAH-tah), though I especially love the taste of sesame. It is great to see that Arabic cuisine is becoming more popular in the USA. I think this is also part of a wider trend of people wanting to have truly unique dishes, and Arabic cuisine is simple and different. There aren’t many Arabic restaurants in the USA, but the number is growing, which I think is great.
- Could you please complete following sentence for me: A perfect gourmet experience is...
Frankie: ... where ingredients are presented in a unique and imaginative way, and where great food courses are matched with great wines. No gourmet experience could be ever complete without a perfectly matched wine! For me, the right combination of ingredients, presentation, and wine can make a gourmet experience perfect.
- Tell me about your favourite “secret” recipe (maybe Lebanese) you would cook for your best friends?
Frankie: We grew up with beautiful Arabic pastries that were just the sweetest of desserts. Our family never ended a meal without a variety from which to choose. My aunts were incredibly talented and made every one of them picture perfect – I wish I had been able to take pictures back then. As life has it, our large, vibrant family has dwindled over the years, growing older and more worried about our waistlines, and the dessert platter has all but disappeared. I strive to keep my family traditions alive though, and I’m so proud that my children have been sharing them with their families!
I do not profess to be a baker, but these little Bird's Nests are more approachable than you might think at first glance, not to mention incredibly addicting: They’re deliciously crunchy, buttery, and satisfyingly sweet with a little saltiness from the pistachios that makes it the perfect bite. My own flair was to garnish them with candied kumquats, a few lightly toasted fennel seeds, and just a splash of orange water. You will be able to find the ingredients for this dessert at your local gourmet or ethnic store. Whether you make these for a special occasion or just because, seeking out the few ingredients that you might not normally find on the local supermarket shelf is well worth it. Orange and rose water will last a long time on the shelf, so seek out other recipes that use them. Aromatic water is the secret ingredient in many Middle-Eastern desserts and is sure to have people think you’re a baking genius!
For the nests:
- 1 package – Kataifi (shredded phyllo (also filo or fillo) dough)
- 1/2 C – Clarified butter or Ghee, melted
For the simple syrup:
- 1 ½ C – Sugar
- 1/2 C – Water
- 1 T – Karo syrup (optional: helps prevent crystallization)
- 2 tsp – Orange flower water or rose water
- Squeeze from fresh lemon
- Chopped pistachios
- Candied kumquats, rose buds, or orange peels
- Fennel seeds
Thaw package of phyllo overnight in refrigerator.
When ready to make nests, preheat oven to 350.
Begin by making your simple syrup so it has time to cool. Add sugar, water, and Karo (if using) to a saucepan over medium heat. Swirl pan gently until sugar is melted. Let simmer 15 minutes or until thickened and syrupy. Remove from heat to let cool (or place in the refrigerator). After it has cooled, stir in the orange water and lemon juice.
If you decide to use a candied fruit garnish, you’ll want to make it at the same time as the simple syrup. Thinly slice about a dozen kumquats. Lightly toast 1 tsp fennel seeds in a small saucepan, then add sliced kumquats, 1/4 C water, and 1/2 C sugar. Bring to a boil, then let simmer about 10 minutes to thicken. Set aside to cool.
Next, begin to assemble the nests. Grab medium-sized hunks of dough, trying to keep them equal in size. You can either wrap it around one of your fingers or shape it into a ball with an indentation in the middle, as I have done. Set each nest on a baking sheet, and continue with as many as you want. Drizzle melted butter over each nest once all have been shaped.
When ready to bake, turn oven down to 300 degrees, and bake until browned and golden, about 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer hot pastries to a serving platter, and drizzle plenty of COLD syrup over the HOT pastry. Let the nests sit for at least 2 to 3 hours to absorb the syrup. Top with nuts and other garnishes when ready to serve. (http://www.frankieselegantgourmet.com/apps/blog/birds-nests)
- What does good food mean to you?
Frankie: It’s difficult to put that into just a few words! Good food means absolute freshness to me. Good food should be sourced carefully and be organic, sustainable, and colourful. Colourful represents vibrant and healthy eating, so I encourage everyone to eat the rainbow with the abundance of nature. If a dish brings all this together, if the presentation reflects that the food was prepared with love and respect, if the food symbolises a big sense of hospitality, healthiness, and generosity then I call it good food!
Thank you very much, Frankie!
Matthias Tesi Baur
For more information, please visit: http://www.frankieselegantgourmet.com