The truth is, as a chef, I don’t get to spend as much time cook- ing at home as I would like to. Cooking at home and cooking in a professional capacity are two different worlds. People are always asking me what I cook at home, and they seem surprised when I am not cooking up elaborate meals with cutting-edge techniques and obscure ingredients.
The life of a professional chef is a demanding one. In addition to cooking for your customers on a nightly basis, you are responsible for making sure that all the people that you work with have the tools that they need to do their jobs. These tools don’t just involve pots and pans. They involve the proper training and recipes to execute the dishes to the standards that the customers expect and deserve.
It means that all the equipment necessary to complete these tasks is in good working order. It also involves making sure that they understand the importance of responsible, sustainable sourcing of ingredients and minimizing waste. We change the menu at Novel quite frequently based on what is available at any given time of year from a myriad of purveyors including local vegetable farmers, butchers and dairies.
Cooking at home is a completely different story. In a professional kitchen I have lots of equipment at my disposal that isn’t available at home. For example we keep the ovens preheated at 450 degrees all the time, and when it’s time to clean up, the commercial dishwasher takes about 90 seconds for a full cycle versus more than an hour at home. Cooking at home means that I am using a sharp knife to mince vegetables, while at work I would be chopping them in a food processor that has as much horsepower as a lawnmower. But some of the same principles apply for both situations—I always work clean and try to economize motion and utilization of equipment.
When I cook at home for friends and family, I like to cook simple, comforting food that invokes memories of good times. I like to balance flavors and work with fresh ingredients from local markets, and instead of manipulating food with contemporary techniques, I rely on tried- and-true methods. In the recipes that follow, you will see a balance of flavor as well as an ease of production. I have included ingredients that should be available from your local grocery store, although I encourage everyone to make a trip to their local farmers market to see what is in season at various times throughout the year.
Cooking is more than just the production of delicious food. It is a chance to express your creativity and to experience the instant gratification that you get watching someone savor the smells and flavors of the dishes as they take that first bite. It should be fun and relaxing. Feel free to experiment with substituting different ingredients as they come into season. Real, natural food isn’t available year round. It’s a snapshot of a season and a moment in time and a testament to the hard-working farmers that made the effort to bring product from the land to your table.
As a Kansas City native and Johnson County Community College culinary graduate, Ryan Brazeal had always planned to open a restaurant in Kansas City. After working in several high-profile New York restaurants including two years as sous chef in chef David Chang’s award-winning Momofuku restaurant, Brazeal found towards the end of his tenure he was really focusing on making moves to help him on his way back to Kansas City.
“I never intended to bring New York City to Kansas City, ” he says. Instead he focused on the lessons and techniques he developed while cooking in Manhattan to format a business plan and a proposition to redefine New American Cuisine as Novel American Cuisine. Brazeal’s return to Kansas City was promptly followed by the opening of his restau- rant, Novel, on the Westside in 2013. “There’s an emerging market to move away from the barbecue and give Kansas City its unique culinary identity,” he says.
Arugula is one of the first wild foraged greens to appear in the early spring and is abundant throughout the summer. I like it for its spicy, pep- pery and bitter flavor. It is a great accompaniment to all sorts of entrées, from rich hearty braises to light, summery fish dishes. The recipe below pairs it with cooked white beans, but it’s a versatile base that can be complemented with anything from fresh, shaved vegetables to sliced cured meats. It’s important to season the salad well with salt to counter- act the inherent bitterness of the greens. I like to finish it with a dusting of Parmesan cheese grated on a microplane, but it takes just as well to any other semi-hard or hard cheeses. For fun try this with toasted nuts and a funky blue cheese!
8 ounces baby arugula
1 cup of cooked white beans
2 tablespoons pickled red onions
1-1/2 ounces lemon vinaigrette
Directions: Toss the arugula, beans and red onions in the vinaigrette and garnish with grated cheese.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Directions: Whisk ingredients together.
Pickled Red Onions
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup hot water
1/8 cup sugar
Directions:Dissolve the sugar in hot water and add the vinegar. Immediately pour into a container over the red onions and allow to cool to room temperature. This will keep in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
This is a favorite of mine year-round. The balance of flavor hits all the right notes, it’s easy to prepare and it invokes fond food memories. This is a base recipe and can be modified for the season or mood. In the colder months I will add rice or rice noodles to make it a little heartier. In the summer i add all sorts of fresh herbs like Thai basil, mint, lemongrass, arugula and fresh blossoms. If there is a special vegetable in season, you bet you can add it to this dish. Sometimes I will even substitute braised pork belly for the chicken.
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 quart chicken stock
8 medium-sized shiitake mushroom caps, slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger root, cut into thin matchsticks
3 heads of baby bok choy
2 tablespoons soy sauce
10 slices of fresh jalapeno pepper
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
2 lime wedges
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Salt and pepper
Directions: In a one-gallon stockpot, heat the oil until it begins to simmer. Season the cubed chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the pot along with the shiitake mushrooms, garlic and ginger. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the chicken is cooked and the mushrooms are soft. Add the chicken stock, and bring to just under a boil. Let it simmer for 20 minutes, then add the bok choy, soy sauce, jalapenos and scallions. Cook for five more minutes then serve. Garnish with the fresh cilantro and lime.
When I cook at home I enjoy making dishes with a long, slow cooking method that fills the house with wonderful smells of simmering meat and vegetables. This is a personal adaptation of a popular pasta dish I served when I worked for a prominent Italian restaurant in New York City. The following recipe calls for chicken thighs but it is just as delicious with ground pork, veal, beef or a combination of the three. You can lighten up the finished dish by omitting the cream and butter. I like to use a nice dried tube pasta like penne, but feel free to experiment with other shapes or even make your own fresh pasta!
4 boneless skin-on chicken thighs
2 tablespoons neutral oil
1 carrot peeled and shredded
1 medium white onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine
1 15-ounce can peeled Roma tomatoes
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 ounce butter
10 torn basil leaves
Parmesan cheese for grating
1/2 pound penne pasta, cooked
Directions: Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. In a four-quart saucepan, heat the oil till it begins to shimmer. Place the chicken thighs skin side down, and cook till the skin is rendered and golden brown. Remove the thighs from the pot, add the carrots, onion and garlic, and cook till soft and fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook stirring often till the vegetables are caramelized and release a nutty fragrance. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan, and cook till almost evaporated. Place the chicken thighs back in the pot, and add the tomatoes, two cups of water and the cream. Bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered for two to three hours till the chicken is falling apart. Check occasionally to make sure it is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. If all the liquid evaporated, add a little more water. It should have a thick sauce-like consistency. When the chicken is finished add the cooked penne pasta and butter. Cook for an additional 10 minutes to reheat the pasta and infuse it with the flavor of the ragu. At the last minute add the fresh basil, and give it a toss. Finish the dish with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.
This is one of my go-to desserts because of its ease of preparation and versatility. During the spring and summer seasons when there is an abundance of fresh berries, I will use the bounty from the market in any combination of ways. In the fall and winter, simply replace the berries with stone fruit, such as peaches or cherries. Late in the year is a perfect time to substitute apples fresh from the market. This simple cobbler works just as well with frozen berries or fruit year round. Feel free to finish it off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or a sprinkling of powdered sugar for an elegant presentation.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
6 ounces butter
2 cups blueberries
2 cups diced, peeled apples
Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the butter into small cubes and distribute evenly over the bottom of a 9×9 inch baking pan. Mix together the dry ingredients, add the milk, and stir until just combined. Pour the batter evenly over the butter into the pan. Place the berries and fruit evenly over the top and bake immediately for 30 to 35 minutes until the top is golden and the cobbler is cooked all the way through. Let it cool to room temperature before you unmold it. Turn it upside down onto a cutting board, and cut into individual servings.