20 Questions

Remember all of those events I mentioned?

Well with lots of events comes lots of paperwork. For one of the upcoming events (Savor Pittsburgh!), I was asked to complete a series of silly and fun to answer questions for my bio. I had a great time answering them and reflecting back on all of the funny and not so funny experiences I’ve had over the years.

It turns out, however, that I was mistakenly given the wrong set of questions the first time around. So I gladly answered another set. And rather than waste the first set, I decided to turn them into a quick Q&A blog post. (Thanks to Andrea at Savor Pittsburgh for the Q’s!)

On which cooking reality show would you most like to participate and why?

Iron Chef – the Japanese version. I don’t really watch reality cooking shows, but that’s one I do enjoy (remember the Iron Chef Habitat competition?). I’m also not sure that I would do well on this show. It looks really tough.

What is the worst mistake you’ve ever made on the job (or while cooking?)

I make mistakes all of the time, but none are really that memorable…maybe ask my staff? I’m sure they’d be happy to point some out. Ha!

What is the most unreasonable (or strangest) request you have had from a person dining in your restaurant?

I’ve gotten this request (or something similar) many times and it always confuses me. Someone will order a very healthy meal (i.e., poached egg whites with grilled tomatoes) or order their meal with “no butter” and then ask for extra hollandaise sauce. What is that about?!

What flavor or ethnic culture has the most influence over your cooking style?

Asian. I like the lightness and subtlety of it.

What cookbook is a “must have” for the average person who is not a professional chef?

Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. I also recommend White Heat by Marco Pierre White and On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee

To see my answers to the other questions, you’ll have to come to Savor Pittsburgh on September 1!

Hot (and Hungry) Child in the City

When I moved to Pittsburgh, I was happy to learn that summers in this city are filled with food-related festivals. There are the ethnic and community festivals like the St. Nicholas Greek Festival in Oakland, Littly Italy Days in Bloomfield, International Village in McKeesport and many others that I’ve yet to discover.

Then there are the big fundraiser and social events centered around food like Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurants Party (which Habitat recently attended), Cosmpolitan Pittsburgh (Habitat and Andys will be there), Summer Safari at the Zoo (Habitat will be there), Savor Pittsburgh (Habitat will be there) and many, many others that I either attend on my own or with the restaurant and hotel.  And, of course, there is the always-growing list of farmers’ markets (my favorite is Farmers at Firehouse in the Strip) throughout the city.

Yes, there are plenty of events to keep you busy and full in Pittsburgh throughout the summer. And I’m adding one more to the list! On Thursday, July 14th I will be teaching a cooking class at CRATE Cooking School. I taught a class at CRATE in the fall about root vegetables and really enjoyed it. See?

This summer’s class is all about tomatoes. The tomato is one my favorite and most versatile summer ingredients (remember my gazpacho recipe last summer?). I’ll be featuring local ingredients and sharing simple recipes and techniques for tomato sauce, panzanella, tomato sorbet and many other refreshing summer dishes. And I’d love to see you there. Learn more about CRATE and sign up for my class here!

What’s your favorite Pittsburgh food festival? I’m always on the hunt for the best ones.

Eggs, Glorious Eggs

It’s hard to believe that Easter is already upon us. Spring is moving so quickly, but I’m doing my best to enjoy all the beautiful food, foliage and weather (still waiting on that one) this season brings. And I can’t think of anything more symbolic of spring than the egg.

As a chef, I especially appreciate the simplistic beauty, incredible health benefits and endless culinary possibilities packed in these delicate shells. But even I am guilty of taking the egg for granted. Humans have been eating eggs for literally thousands of years, so it’s easy to see why they’re often overlooked.

Thanks to Maggie Henry (aka the Farmer’s Wife) at Henry Family Farms, I’ve taken a renewed interest in eggs recently. She introduced me to some wonderful eggs from local heritage chickens. These eggs can be summed up in one word…superb! Habitat is now offering them to our guests in addition to the commercially raised free range eggs we have on the menus.  We put a bowl on the pass each morning so guests can see them and even select their own egg.

They’re all chicken eggs, but you can see they come in different shapes, sizes and colors. These eggs are also significantly more expensive than other eggs because of the way the chickens are raised and the time needed to properly raise them.

In order to be considered a “heritage chicken,”  a chicken must meet very specific criteria set by the American Poultry Association. To simplify, a heritage chicken is slow growing (giving the chicken time to develop naturally),  naturally mated (without artificial human intervention) and given a long productive outdoor life (aka is pastured).

I encourage everyone to try these eggs. The difference between these and eggs from the supermarket is incredible. You really can taste and see a difference.

And speaking of eggs, I recently came across this very interesting egg article in the Guardian and had to share it.

Happy Easter everyone! (Please note that I refrained from making any corny egg  jokes throughout this entire post. You’re welcome.)

I also have to mention that Habitat will host Easter Brunch on Sunday, with seatings at 11:00 am and 1:30 pm. If you haven’t made your reservation yet, I’d encourage you to do so quickly. See you there!

Iron Chef Habitat – The Finals

After four rounds of competition and numerous dishes, the winner has been selected! Congratulations to Jason Sherrill, winner of the Iron Chef Habitat competition. Congratulations also to Michael Rapuk (aka “Puck”), our runner-up.

It was an intense final round. In addition to regular competition nerves, the finalists also had to deal with 2 photographers snapping photos of them in the kitchens. Whirl Magazine and the Post-Gazette were both there capturing the entire competition, from prep to final judging (You can read all about the competition in the Post-Gazette and watch a fun photo slideshow!).

Contestants had to make a dish using tuna as the main ingredient, as well as several items from a secret ingredient box, including asparagus, peas, ramps and other spring ingredients. Our panel of judges included myself; Len Czarnecki, Fairmont Pittsburgh GM; Victoria Bradley, Executive Editor of Whirl Magazine and Edible Allegheny; and Gary Saulson, Director of Corporate Real Estate, PNC. Both Jason and Puck created delicious dishes and impressed the judges with their poise and creativity. We had a tough time selecting a winner but in the end chose Jason’s poached tuna with a miso barbeque sauce. You can find a version Jason’s winning tuna dish on the new spring menu.

I’d like to thank all of the cooks who participated in the competition. They  took what was just an idea and really ran with it. Their creativity and enthusiasm impressed me and went above my expectations for the competition. In fact, the competition was such a success that I’d like to do it again in the fall for the winter menus. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on that.

Congratulations again to Jason and of course, Allez Cuisine!

I believe that groundhog said something about spring?

According to Pennsylvania’s own weather-predicting groundhog, spring is just around the corner. And because we all know that I don’t do anything before consulting clairvoyant rodents (is a groundhog a rodent?), I can now begin planning my spring menus.

Truthfully, it’s been so cold and grey lately that I’ve taken comfort holing up in my kitchen and writing menus filled with baby vegetables, fresh herbs and other ingredients that scream “spring.” It’s nice to know that warmer weather and sunny skies are closer than we think and that Habitat will launch its spring menus on March 21 (just 45 days from now!).

Some highlights from the new spring menus:

  • We’re bringing back Elysian Fields lamb.
  • We’re featuring a delicious striped bass. (Striped bass is one of my favorite fishes – it has great flavor and texture and offers generous pieces of meat. And we’re lucky enough to be close to some of the best tributeries for bass, including those of the Chesapeake Bay and the Hudson.)
  • Other TBD springtime dishes filled with spring peas, fava beans, baby leeks and more.

I hope this glimmer of springtime is enough to get you through the next few weeks. And if that groundhog was wrong, I can think of a few other dishes we’ll be serving on the spring menu. I kid! Groundhog is actually very chewey. I kid again!

Celebrate Like a Chef…With Last Minute Gifts

A lot is happening in Habitat over the next few weeks. We’re running our $4 Burger promotion during lunch until the end of December (If you haven’t taken advantage of this offer yet, you’re missing out. Grass-fed beef, local cheese, smoked bacon and a side for just $4!). We’re getting ready for Christmas Day Brunch and Dinner, our New Year’s Eve Celebration and the launch of our new Winter Menus on January 3.

Needless to say, I haven’t had much time for holiday prep in my personal life and will be doing a lot of last-minute shopping. Since I’m sure many people are in similar situations, I thought I’d offer up some simple recipes that are perfect for parties, hostess gifts and last-minute presents.


Heat 1 pint of cream on the stove until it simmers. Pour over 1 pound of chocolate in a bowl and stir until the chocolate melts. Pour mixture into a shallow dish (so that the chocolate is about 2 inches deep) and allow to set in the fridge. Scoop out with a melon baller and roll in cocoa.

You can also add your favorite spice to the truffles to really make them special. Add the spice to the cream and let it simmer – try saffron, sea salt, curry, hot chili or cardamom. Strain the cream and then add to the chocolate as above.

Tandoori Popcorn

Heat a small amount of oil on the stove and add popcorn kernels. While it’s heating, add 2 teaspoons of each of the following: curry powder, cumin, marjoram, sea salt and cayenne pepper. Stir and allow the popcorn to cook as normal.

You could also just pop a bag of microwave popcorn, add the spices when it’s done, shake and serve.

This recipe is courtesy of my sous chef, James Phillips. James created this when we ran out of peanuts in Andys one evening, and he had to whip up a bar snack very quickly. It was a big hit!

Package the truffles and popcorn in tins and festive bags, and you’ve got a simple, delicious gift to stuff in stockings, bring to parties or enjoy while wrapping presents late into the night on Christmas Eve (like someone I know…)

Enjoy and Happy Holidays from Habitat!