Regardless of the season, it seems we are always yearning to transition to what lies ahead. In a culinary sense, it’s the drive for new produce, to taste the season’s bounty and to reap the rewards of hard-working growers and pay homage to their toil on a plate. The work they put in and their devotion to it inspires me to utilize the seasonal harvest at its peak. I’m fortunate that every farmer with whom I have the pleasure of working stands behind what they grow. This ensures I get premium produce that truly reflects the world around us.
October, particularly in the Midwest, marks the transition to cooler, shorter days, and heartier, durable vegetables. Root cellars begin to fill, and hopes are high that frosts will hold off to extend the last glimmers of summer crops.
This time of year inspires grilling and smoking of meats as well as braising. All of these cooking methods allow attention to technique and can transform a good meal to an unforgettable meal.
Cooking at home for me is about simple cuisine and adaptability. I don’t possess the same luxuries at home as I do in my professional kitchen, so the challenge is creating a restaurant-worthy meal out of the confines of my home. These are recipes for dishes that I have cooked for years and have tweaked over the years to improve and update them. I’m a huge fan of cider as well as butternut squash. The two work together harmoniously and for me define what fall is all about. When firing up the grill, I like to cook the whole meal on it. The burnt carrot dish is something that Francis Mallmann, the brilliant South American chef, does and I fell in love with. Sweet fall carrots work phenomenally well for the dish.
We begin to see winter squash, sweet potatoes, fall radishes and beets as well as an array of spicy greens that thrive this time of year. It’s the last bounty before winter sets in and is a brilliant segue in climate, color, taste and tradition.
Winn has understood the appeal of eating well since he was a child. “Both of my parents always cooked and we rarely ate out,” he says, “so I appreciated vegetables in season and home-cooked meals.”
The Kansas City native began working in restaurants as a teenager and started making his own contributions to the family’s dinnertime, which led him to truly enjoy the process. His first real “wearing the chef’s whites” position came when he began his Johnson County Community College culinary program apprenticeship at the Kansas City Country Club.
“I was thrown completely into the fire,” Winn says, “butchering whole fish and tenderloins on day one.” Several of the KCCC staff were CIA grads, so Winn gained a well-rounded balance of banquet and à la carte experience. After that, under the tutelage of Howard Hanna at Room 39 in Midtown, transitioning to the Mission Farms Room 39 when it opened, he was introduced to many of the local purveyors he still uses today.
“It’s where I began farm dinners and refining my craft,” he says. Winn moved to the kitchen at Webster House in May of last year and took over as the executive chef in Webster House by last November. He’s truly come into his own.
1/4 lb. butternut squash split, seeded and roasted face down until tender
8 cups julienned yellow onion
4 ounces pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon toasted caraway seeds
1 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds
1 pinch chili flakes
2 ounces heavy cream
Remove flesh from the squash and drain in cheesecloth or strainer to get purée to the proper consistency. The liquid can be saved for soup or sauces. Caramelize onions in a cast-iron or nonstick pan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Toast seeds in a sauté pan until fragrant, and then grind in a spice grinder. When onions are tender and a dark golden brown add syrup and cream and allow to simmer until slightly thickened. In the food processor purée onions until smooth. Add squash and liquid from the squash if needed to adjust. Purée should be thick.
4 cups carrots, peeled
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Zest of 2 limes
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
While peeling carrots place a pot of aggressively seasoned water on the stove on medium high heat. Cut peeled carrots on the bias in a uniform size to ensure they cook consistently. Size will dictate cooking times. Once carrots are cut, turn your water up to high and wait for a boil. Taste your water—it should taste like sea water. Drop carrots in for one minute and strain in a colander. Spread out thinly onto a cookie sheet until slightly cool. Toss with remaining ingredients and enough oil to coat (1 tablespoon or so). Allow to marinate for a 3-4 hours. Turn grill onto high setting and char off carrots in a grill basket (we use a fryer basket) until good color is achieved and carrots are cooked to desired consistency.
Miso Cider Reduction
I’ve used several adaptations of this cider reduction over the years. I love the staple wintry spice blend but I find that the deep umami flavor of the miso along with a small amount of acid round out the inherent natural sweetness of apple cider. We use this in a multitude of applications in the restaurant when cider is at its peak. It’s so versatile; I’ve used it on both the short ribs and the dessert.
2 quarts apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1 tablespoon tellicherry peppercorns
2 ounces dark miso
1 ounce rice wine vinegar
2 ounces local honey
In a stick bottom pot, add all ingredients whisking occasionally to incorporate the miso and honey. Reduce slowly by two thirds to avoid a sticky boil over. When it is finished, it will coat the back of a spoon. Strain out the spices and store for up to 3 months refrigerated.
2 ounces sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
2 tablespoons roasted garlic puree
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black peppercorns
1 pinch chili flakes
2 pounds boneless beef short ribs, cut into 3.5 to 4 oz. steaks
Combine first five ingredients and work into a marinade. Remove any connective tissue and unwanted fat from the ribs. Place ribs in marinade and allow marinate for 12 hours. The vinegar will tenderize the beef. Heat grill to medium high or get your charcoal grill to about 375 degrees. Pull beef out of the marinade, season liberally with salt and place on the grill. Cook to desired doneness. Allow to rest for at least four minutes before slicing to avoid too much loss of moisture. Garnish with Miso Cider Reduction.
4 tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and quartered
2 ounces ripe fresh figs
2 ounces fresh cheese (I used Green Dirt Farms sheep’s milk but goat cheese would work as well)
1 ounce toasted pistachios, lightly crushed
Pinch sea salt
½ teaspoon rosemary
½ tablespoon miso cider reduction
Dress apples in a small amount of olive oil and mark off on the grill keeping them al dente. While apples are grilling, chop rosemary and cut figs into bite-size pieces. Toss the apples in rosemary and sea salt when they are off the grill and assemble. Place fruit in a bowl, add cheese, pistachios and drizzle with reduction.