Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cooking Demo by Chef David Bazirgan

I haven't blogged about a cooking demo in a few years, although I attend at least one every Saturday morning.  But I wanted to share a glimpse into the SF cooking demo scene, in particular, a glimpse into a really great demo.

First, a bit about demos in general.

Everyone knows San Francisco is a fabulous city for food, but that goes beyond just dining in restaurants and shopping at farmer's markets.  The local chefs constantly engage with the community, through fundraisers and special events, including hosting cooking demos.  For example, every Saturday morning at 11am, CUESA, the organization that runs the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market hosts a demo.  Sometimes there is a second one at 12pm too.  They are held outside, in the midst of the market, rain or shine.  The theme of those demos centers around using products that can be found at the market.  Unless the recipe being shown is something I'm allergic to, or really dislike, I attend the demos as part of my Saturday morning Farmer's Market routine.

Or at least, I always did, until Embarcadero Center started hosting Saturday morning demos.  Also at 11am.  Not held with the same regularity as CUESA, and only held during the summer.  One year they held them inside the old Williams-Sonoma space, but this year they have all been outside in the courtyard inside Two Embarcadero Center.  Since there is not demo kitchen outside, the theme has been grilling.

Now, I was a CUESA regular.  When I first heard about the Embarcadero Center demos I was torn.  The Embarcadero Center lineup featured more well known chefs.  The dishes they were preparing sounded better.  But ... I felt loyal to CUESA.  That is, until I attended an Embarcadero Center demo.

I love the CUESA demos, don't get me wrong.  I really appreciate that they are held without fail, every single week.  They showcase seasonal produce, and introduce the audience to many fruits, vegetables, and herbs that were previously unknown.  But ... the Embarcadero Center demos are just more enjoyable, and, generally, far tastier.

The biggest difference between the demos is that the CUESA demos have a brief introduction and a few questions from a host, but the majority of the time is left for the chef to fill.  The Embarcadero Center demos are fully hosted, by Liam Mayclem, aka, the "Foodie Chap", who you can find on KCBS.  He makes all the difference.  The demos start with a quasi-interview, digging into the background of the chef, usually telling a few embarrassing stories along the way, and often filled with PG-13 jokes.  He manages to get even the most shy chefs to really open up and creates a memorable dialogue.

This isn't to say the Embarcadero Center demos are highly produced or anything, they are on a sidewalk, subject to everything that can happen in the natural environment.  At the last demo I was at there, it was very windy, and the banner backdrop went flying, almost clocking the chef doing the demo in the head.  The time before that, there was a cement mixer pouring cement literally the entire time.  But even when things are going slightly wrong, it is still entertaining.  I genuinely enjoy these demos, for the content, the stories, and of course, the food.

Which gets me to the next point, the food.  I'm obviously a food lover.  I love to taste and try everything.  And at demos, you always get to taste the dish being prepared.  It usually comes in a small appetizer size, which is just perfect for me.  Depending on the venue, you can get a dish prepared by a top chef themselves, or, with the assistance of those running the event.  I'll never forget tasting a few dishes by Chef Daniel Humm during his booktour demo at Williams-Sonoma a few years ago.  I didn't need to go all the way to New York to get a taste of Eleven Madison Park, and, I got it prepared by Chef Humm himself!

Anyway.  Back to today's demo.  Like always, I was torn between CUESA and Embarcadero Center.  The CUESA demo was the chef from A16, and the dish sounded appealing.  But, the Embarcadero Center demo was Chef David Bazirgan, and he was doing a dish with scallops, which, as you know, is one of my absolute favorite ingredients.

Chef Bazirgan is at the helm of Dirty Habit, a restaurant on the fifth floor of the Hotel Palomar.  It opened in early May, and the whole team actually came to my office before the opening to do a little preview.  The bar program sounds incredible, and, at the preview event, I think the drinks even stole the show over the food, although it was all excellent as well.

But I'm familiar with the crew behind Dirty Habit, as it opened in the space that used to be The Fifth Floor.  The concept is entirely different however, and the space has been completely remodeled, and now features an amazing outdoor dining area (or, so I am told.  I still haven't been!)  The Fifth Floor did have a lovely lounge scene, but was mostly a fine dining establishment, serving tasting menus filled with french cuisine.  I'd been to The Fifth Floor several times, like when I held a fairly last minute large group dinner there, or when I went to one final foie gras dinner before the ban.  I always found it good, but I wasn't ever blown away.  Well, I take that back, one of the most memorable desserts I've ever had was when Emil and I went once just to dine in the lounge, and had the very first dessert that I've ever seen Emil actually like: fried rhubarb pie, with foie gras ice cream, and pie crust foam.  It was simply one of the best things I've ever tasted.  I was already a fan of their pastry chef, Francis Ang, before that night, but since then, I've been to every demo he has done around town, like the ridiculously tasty beignets from a few years ago at a CUESA demo.

Anyway, back to Chef Baz.  The demo began with a story of his growing up on the East Coast, and of his time working for Barbara Lynch in Boston.  I didn't ever blog it, but I went to her flagship restaurant, No. 9 Park, a few years ago with my parents.  My father is not at all comfortable with fine dining, so we just ate in the lounge, and he didn't want anything on the menu, but my mother and I had a great meal (I adored the hake, lobster, and corn dish).  The demo was enjoyable, but, most importantly for me, it was delicious.
Grilled Scallops, Creamy Corn, Blistered Padron Peppers.
The scallops were what I was most looking forward to.  I really love scallops.  During his demo, Chef Baz talked about how he normally grills or sears them quickly, as he likes them to remain a bit rare in the center.  Yes!  Me too.  Over cooked scallops make me so sad.  The ones served to us were prepared by an assistant, so I think they were a bit more cooked than chef would have done himself, but they were still nicely done, not at all rubbery, and I loved the grilled flavor to them.

The scallops were served over an incredible creamed corn.  First, who doesn't love creamed corn?  I'll be honest, I even still sometimes eat the stuff from a can, I love it that much.  But this barely resembled the familiar canned mush.  The corn itself was super flavorful, incredibly fresh.  Corn season is at its peak right now, and it showed in this dish.  But the secret ingredient wasn't the corn.  Nor was it the copious cream.  It was ... shallots!  They added another dimension of flavor that elevated it far beyond any other creamed corn.

Corn and scallops are always a pairing I enjoy, as they seem to bring out the natural sweetness in each other.  The peppers added just a touch of heat, and I could imagine this being delicious with diced hot peppers added to the creamed corn too.

Overall, a delightful dish, well conceived, nicely executed, and absolutely perfect for a summer day.  And, it turns out, a more complex version is on the menu at Dirty Habit right now, so if you'd like to enjoy it yourself, you just need to head there.  Which you should, and let me know how it is :) 
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