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Archive for December, 2009

“Top Chef” contestant Eli Kirshtein leaving Atlanta [updated]

Eli Kirshtein1“Top Chef” contestant Eli Kirshtein is leaving his job as head chef at Eno By Zaza to become a “guest chef” at Solo restaurant in Manhattan. It is a temporary position, and he hopes to return to Atlanta afterwards.

According to its Web site, Solo is an eclectic Kosher restaurant, serving Mediterranean- and Asian-inspired food. Former “Top Chef” winner Hung Huynh has also done a tour as guest chef.

According to Kirshtein, he will be leaving in mid-January “for at least a month” at Solo where his sole duty will be preparing a five-course tasting menu to supplement the standing offerings.

As for his decision to leave Atlanta, the 25-year-old Kirshtein says, “Cooking in New York is a fantastic proposition. Plus, I’ve been at this job for a year and two thirds, and I feel like I’ve outgrown what Eno by Zaza is becoming.”

Kirshtein’s sous chef, Justin Cox, will take over the kitchen at Eno by Zaza. Cox has formerly worked for some of the country’s top talents, including Thomas …

Continue reading “Top Chef” contestant Eli Kirshtein leaving Atlanta [updated] »

Unlikely breakfast ideas

eggWe go through a huge amount of brown rice in our family. I buy 25-pound bags of an organic Korean short grain variety that I find at the Buford Highway Farmers Market and prepare it in an electric rice cooker. I usually make enough so that we can eat off of it for the next three days — to pack in lunches, to have on hand for an after-school snack, to stir-fry with minced leftovers for dinner, and to make into fantastic rice pudding with maple syrup, milk and cream.

Brown rice is also the basis for my favorite quick breakfast. I pat some down in a bowl, crack an egg over the top, break the yolk and microwave it for 90 seconds. Then I finish the dish with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, salt and loads of black pepper. It’s so satisfying, and it really sets off the unique flavor notes in the olive oil better than just about anything.

I have fairly odd notions of breakfast, though. A few of my favorites are:

  • Avocado smeared on toast
  • A roasted sweet potato
  • Miso soup and …

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Sunday Column: That eggy je ne sais quoi


Omelet at the Red Hen

On omelets French and American, past and present.

The 17 of us stood by our cook stations — each with a cook-top range, a seasoned eight-inch skillet, a spatula and two eggs.

The white-jacketed French instructor, Pascal, stood before the assembled students and tried to impress upon us that today we would learn one of the most important lessons of our two years in cooking school: how to make an omelet.

“Typically, if a cook in France applied for a job, I would ask him to prepare an omelet, ” Pascal said. “If you can’t make an omelet, you don’t belong in my kitchen.”

Omelet? Our eyes rolled.

But we quickly learned that French omelet-making involves a mad, 30-second ballet of purposeful scrambling and precise hand placement, of tipping and folding, of faith in the transformative power of heat and of a serious voila moment in front of the stove.

Pascal demonstrated. After pouring in the beaten egg, he held the pan’s handle in his left hand and shook it back …

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Top Chef Recap: It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Pregnant Lady Sings



By now we all know who won:

  1. A Feature in Food & Wine Magazine
  2. $100,000 in perfume, undergarments, Zhu Zhu pets, pressure cookers and other assorted items from Macy’s
  3. $125,000 in cash from the Glad Cosa Nostra of Products
  4. A chance to hand out precious nibblies to women in fur-lined cowboy hats and torquoise pendants within sight lines of Cher’s house at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic.

Yes — sob! — that guy.

I know, I know. I’m here to recap, not to curse the stars, so let’s whip through this recap in a disgruntled hurry, shall we?

As the show opens, Kevin is sitting at the table in his luxurious resort and spa with a Voltaggio sandwich.

“I wonder what Jennifer’s doing?” he asks.

“Probably detoxing,” quips Michael.

The dudes talk, they button their jackets (”for the last time,” says Kev), they pack their knives and they report to a vineyard.

Padma the Banged (I am, of course, referring to her hair style) and Tom greet the finalists with meaningful looks. They are to …

Continue reading Top Chef Recap: It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Pregnant Lady Sings »

Q and A with Kevin Gillespie of “Top Chef”

AJC Staff

AJC Staff

Q: Were you disappointed with the judges’ call?

A: After watching the show, I’m less disappointed in many ways. I basically lost due to a difference of opinion about the pork belly and a technicality about the mushroom. Every ingredient had to be used, so there was no way of leaving that matsutake mushroom off.

Q: Have you ever cooked with matsutakes before?

A: No I haven’t. I assumed they would cook like a porcini, but when I tried them it was clear this is not what should have happened, and they were not tender.

Q: Was the mystery box a problem for you?

A: I was very vocal about it being too many things to put on a plate. I thought it was kind of clunky. It didn’t play to my strengths.

Q: It seemed that Preeti didn’t give you much help in preparing it.

A: I projected a lot of my anger and frustration onto Preeti, and she didn’t deserve it. For once in this entire competition I let my emotions get the better of me. I know you know what was going on in my personal …

Continue reading Q and A with Kevin Gillespie of “Top Chef” »

“Top Chef” Winner Chosen

mvoltMichael Voltaggio — the younger of the two brothers competing — was named Top Chef this evening after serving judges an impressive four-course menu in California wine country that showed his creativity and technical prowess.

Voltaggio beat his brother, Bryan, and Kevin Gillespie — the chef at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta who was the runaway fan favorite for his flavorful, soulful food and friendly demeanor on the show.

Gillespie had some hard luck for the final challenge. His two helpers, culled from former challengers, were among the weaker contestants. Then, he had to cook with unfamiliar matsutake mushrooms, which can be very tough if mishandled. He clearly had an off night and judges remarked his food wasn’t up to his usual standards.

Voltaggio wins $225,000 in cash and merchandise, a spread in Food & Wine magazine and a showcase at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colorado. Volgattio is chef de cuisine at the Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena, California. …

Continue reading “Top Chef” Winner Chosen »

Here’s to Kevin Gillespie


If I could afford what was on the left,ggdine.0327+01

I’d raise a glass of it to the fellow on the right.

Kevin Gillespie is one three finalists vying for the title of “Top Chef” tonight at 10 p.m. on Bravo TV.

Come back after the show and we’ll update you on whether he won and we can share thoughts.

Thanks for a great showing on “Top Chef” this season, Kevin. We’re all rooting for you tonight. You’ve made your hometown proud.

Continue reading Here’s to Kevin Gillespie »

Lunch with the Coaches Shula


Son, I've got two words for you: "steak house."

What we have here is a 1995 picture of legendary Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula (left) and his son, Dave Shula (right), who was then head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. Two two faced off on October 1 of that year, and the Dolphins eked out a 26-23 victory.

That was then. Now they’re in the restaurant business.

The Shulas were in town Tuesday and Wednesday for the opening of the 30th restaurant in the franchise company of four steak-house concepts that bear their name. They invited me to join them for lunch.

Shula’s 347 Grill — so named for the number of Don Shula’s career victories — opened in the new Atlanta Marriott Buckhead Hotel & Conference Center, across from Lenox Square. It’s not as white-tablecloth fancy as Shula’s American Steak House, nor as sports-bar casual as Shula’s 2 Steak & Sports, but right in the middle.

shulasaladThe menu here offers a number of hearty burgers, sandwiches and salads, such as this Caesar topped …

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New Atlanta Food Forum

285jpegA new online forum called 285 Foodies debuted quietly in late October. It was founded by a group of people who used to post on the Atlanta Cuisine forum but grew weary of that site’s closures and format change.

If you’ve never gone to a food forum, you should check it out. The message board format is easy to search. If there’s a topic or restaurant that interests you, you can quickly scan several opinions and learn to follow those that align most closely with your own.

Be sure to read the posting guidelines before chiming in. They are there to prevent people from promoting their own businesses and to ensure civil discourse. Frankly, there was sometimes so much vitriol on Atlanta Cuisine that I was disinclined to check it out. But 285 Foodies looks like it’s off to a nice start.

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Lola Bellini Bar to close

AJC Staff

AJC Staff

Here to Serve Restaurants is pulling the plug on Lola Bellini Bar — its Italian spot in Buckhead’s Terminus building — after New Year’s Eve. The restaurant opened in 2007 with a bounteous display of antipasti, a rolling gelato cart and a variety of champagne cocktails.

But Here to Serve isn’t giving up the space. After a quick changeover, it will reopen in early January as Cantina Taqueria & Tequila Bar. Look for margaritas and the kind of absorption foods that go with: guacamole, cheese dip and posole stew. The restaurant will also issue a 5-pound burrito challenge. If you can eat the chihuahua-sized tube, it’s on the house. You can supply your own inappropriate-for-a-food-blog jokes.

This is the latest example of an interesting trend. Restaurateurs are no longer simply closing shop when a place fails to keep its business. Instead, they’re swapping out concepts. Riccardo Ullio also went the taco route earlier this year and turned his stylish Midtown Spanish venture, …

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