Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dinner at Dara's

Being a chef, people are hesitant to cook for you. That can be a bad thing and that can be a good thing. Now that I have prefaced with that statement, I move forward with my story.

Dara Bunjon and I have been friends since we met when I started out here in Baltimore at Sotto Sopra. Dara organized cooking classes in restaurant kitchens throughout the city with her Epicurean Club of Maryland for 12 years. Over the years our paths had crossed on many occasions. When Dara left her corporate job as the public relations and marketing director of Vanns Spices to start her own business I was first in line. Her sense of food is impeccable and her humor runs parallel to mine. Now, that history lesson is done.

Dara has been insistent on having Monika and I over for dinner. It took a year to set the date. I was antsy about the dinner because what if it is bad? You know your hostess is looking for you for praise and looking to see if you were eating what was on your plate. You know they have worked hard. They don't have the staff you have in the restaurant, all the food prep, dining room set up, sommelier, dish washing, all on one person. No one to mise en place those shiitakes.

Dara thought it would be interesting to have the new Italian chef coming to Baltimore, Stefano Frigerio and his wife Dusty Lockhart to dinner as well. We are all the same age; Stefano was from Northern Italy like me. Stefano was the executive sous chef at Maestro restaurant in N. Virginia and spent a number of years working in England. He even did a stint with Marco Pierre White and lived to talk about it. His restaurant, Osteria Cinghiale should be opening sometime in September/October in the East Harbor.

My PR princess was wise and went with a Southern themed dinner. We gathered for hors d'oeuvres in her ...hmmm, she calls it a den. She had pickled shrimp and bourbon spiced pecans-that broke the ice, some wine and we all relaxed.

So conversation around the table was very good and it was all in English. Our salad was a watermelon salad with tomatillos with honey citrus vinaigrette. It was quite tasty and refreshing.

The main course was the juiciest pork I've ever eaten. It was a rack of pork loin that Dara brined in sweetened tea for 48 hours. Monika says it was the best pork she's ever eaten. Dara served oven roasted potatoes and haricot verts with shiitakes and morels.

For dessert she poached pears and made a Melba sauce. She did say she didn't make the ice you think I should hold that against her?

After I got back to the restaurant I called her and told her I was pleasantly surprised and how I enjoyed the dinner. I think a couple days later I offered her a job in my kitchen.

For those of you who would like the watermelon salad recipe and sweetened tea brined pork recipe you will have an opportunity the end of October when her compilation cookbook she co-authored with Jeff Spear comes to market. The book is called YUM-Tasty Recipes from Culinary Greats - recipes from top chefs and cooking instructors from Charlie Trotter to Sara Moulton, Nick Malgieri to Steven Raichlen, Sherry Yard to Elizabeth Faulkner, Rick Bayless to Michel Richard and last but not least Chef Scott Peacock's Watermelon Salad and Chef John Fleer's Sweetened Tea Brined Rack of Pork.

Feel free to check out her blog and sign up for her foodie e-newsletter.

Let me close with the most important thing about this dinner or any dinner - to share food, thoughts and ideas, to smile and break bread with others is what food is all about. It always tastes better with good company.

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