- Roasted Dungeness crab salad w/ cinderella pumpkin & fermented garlic
Finally! Invited to the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach. Well, The Loft. This doesn’t suck. Just look at the view.
“Hey, get out of my pool!” Don’t worry, we’re here to shoot Casey. You should’ve seen the looks…
What is your definition of chef de cuisine? I just see myself as the chef of the restaurant. I would hope that all chefs are chef de cuisine. If you’re just pushing pencils and paper and whatever else then are you really a chef or are you an administrator? Those are 2 different things to me. So, I guess I’m more boots on the ground, I’m in the food. I’m cooking every day and that’s where I want to be. I never want to be anything less than that or anything more.
I love that. “I’m in the food.” I’m in the food.
He’s not *into* food, he’s *in* the food. This is going to be a fun shoot. Yeah, it’s going to get messy.
What does it mean to be chef de cuisine at The Loft? It means basically being very versatile and using the ingredients that are local to the area and working with the personalities that are local to the area. You know, I think the big part of The Loft is the personalities that are in this restaurant. They make it very gregarious and very fun and exciting, but it’s also having a lot of amazing ingredients and resources. It’s a great challenge because you have to not mess it up, I guess would be a good way to put it [he laughs]. That’s what it means to me. Making great food in a relaxed, elegant atmosphere.
Are you a risk taker? Absolutely. Definitely. I try to never make the same dish twice and even if it’s great, I won’t put it on the next season. I won’t do it again. I don’t have a signature dish specifically to me and I like that because I think if you rest on your laurels, if you rest in flavor profiles, you get complacent. The food burns out and then 10 years later you’re wondering what happened, you know?
When did you know that food had power? When I was first out of high school I got a job in a kitchen right away, because I loved cooking at home. How that translates into an actual restaurant environment is very different, but it was an open kitchen and I remember making something really simple, I believe it was a prosciutto and melon salad. I basically helped make it. When I say ‘helped’ I mean I got the guy the plate and I handed him the ham and he plated it. But I saw it go out to the guest and I saw them eat it and smile and enjoy it and that’s when I immediately knew that it was a drug, right away. It was something that just captured me. The smell of food, the sound of it. A lot of people don’t listen to food enough and I think that’s a very important part of it.
So food has power over my life. I enjoy giving that gift back to others and watching them experience something that’s extraordinary because everybody has a choice. Every night you have a choice to stay home and watch a movie instead of coming here. Or go dancing. Or go on a boat. You have a choice to do anything and for them to choose to come here and experience food, you know it has power because we have people that return and return and return.
With all the rare wines offered here, do you ever lie about your wine knowledge? No. You can get—especially if you find someone that really knows what they’re talking about—you can get yourself in trouble quickly. It’s important to talk about flavor profiles, I think that’s what’s most important. Chefs have an interesting skill set because you’ve probably seen more flavors than other people.
Even folks that are in the wine world, they don’t necessarily know what dried blood orange peel smells like, they’ve never experienced that. You can pick up different nuances in the wine. Maybe you don’t know the specific vintage or winemaker or know what the rainfall was in 1978 in October on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius in someone’s back yard underneath a totem pole or something. Who cares. What does it taste like? That’s what I care about. So no, I don’t really lie about it, I just talk about flavor.
Who would you most like to cook for and why? A chef or… person?
Anybody. Alive or dead. Let’s go there. Okay yeah let’s go. The person I would like to cook for the most would be my grandfather. I cooked for him, his last meal, 10 years ago and he wanted venison. I was a much different… I had just started off cooking, and it would be nice to see what he thought of my food from then to now. He’s someone that I miss greatly.
But as far as chefs go, the chef I’d like to cook for the most would be Jacques Pépin. I absolutely adore that guy. I think that he is old school to the bone. He’s seen it all. He’s cooked for presidents, he’s seen world wars, I mean that guy would definitely have some stories to tell and his technique is perfect and that I admire.
I used to watch him years and years ago and then found him again on whatever channel he’s on. He’s still the same. A little slower, but… Watch him dice an onion.
Oh he does, he moves. It’s pretty insane.
Roasted Dungeness crab salad (w/ cinderella pumpkin & fermented garlic)
- 2 whole Dungeness crab
- 1 head frisee
- 6 oz. fresh pumpkin, diced
- Chicken stock
- 1 head fermented black garlic
- 1/2 c. toasted hazelnuts
- Olive oil
- Meyer lemon
- Pomegranate seeds
- Chinese five-spice powder
- Take two live crabs and rub them with oil and the five spice.
- Roast the crabs whole on seaweed either in the oven or on hot charcoal.
- Roast for 20 min. or until the crabs turn bright red.
- Pick all the meat and reserve the crab fat.
- In a sauce pan, sweat the shallots and the pumpkin then add chicken stock and simmer until tender puree and reserve.
- In a separate sauce pot add the crab fat and fermented garlic with a 1/4 c. of chicken stock season with the meyer lemon and add 2 tbls olive oil along with a pinch of five spice.
- To put the dish together, arrange the puree on the plate top with the crab and garnish with the hazelnuts, frisee, and pomegranate seeds. Using a hand blender froth the crab fat then spoon over the salad.
w/ Organic Wine Exchange + guest wine expert
The 2010 Riesling from Domaine Eugène Meyer, produced biodynamically in France’s Alsace region, is delicious with shellfish, salads, and Asian-inspired cuisine—making it a peerless partner for this recipe. The wine’s ample texture and vein of minerality beautifully balance the rich, savory crab and roasted nutmeats, while its flavors of citrus, lychee, and ginger polish the salad’s top notes of pumpkin, pomegranate, Meyer lemon, and Asian five-spice powder. It’s an integrative pairing, one that will partner gracefully while highlighting the sublime interplay of flavors in this elegant dish.
Meg Houston Maker, CSW, is a writer curious about nature, culture, food, wine, and place. Her freelance writing focuses on traditional foodways, artisanal food and wine production, sustainable agriculture, and the human connection to landscape. Meg contributes regularly to many food and wine publications. Find her creative writing at Megmaker.com and her essays on food and wine at Maker’s Table. Follow her on Twitter @megmaker.