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Published: Tuesday, 3/25/2008

Celebrity chefs and area chefs showcase trendy foods

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Taste of the Nation Toledo is a part of spring in northwest Ohio. Celebrity chefs rub shoulders with local chefs and area foodies are out in full force. This year, trendy foods and hometown favorites will be featured at the 13th annual event held at 5 p.m. April 27 at Navy Bistro at the Docks.

The annual Share Our Strength fund- raiser showcases the Toledo food community like no other event during the year. Restaurateurs and chefs prepare their best foods with fabulous flavors and presentations. The event that has raised more than $800,000 for grant recipients since the Toledo event began in 1996.

Three celebrity chefs and more than 31 restaurants and food vendors, restaurateurs, and chefs will participate.

Michael Mina will be among three celebrity chefs at the event. Named Bon Appetit Chef of the Year 2005, the 39-year-old has 12 restaurants from San Francisco to Atlantic City, including two at the MGM Grand in Detroit. In 2002, the James Beard Award-winning chef founded his own company, the Mina Group, with business partner and former tennis pro Andre Agassi.

Two other food celebrities, Iron Chef Michael Symon of Lola and Lolita restaurants in Cleveland and Don Yamauchi, executive chef at Mr. Mina s Bourbon Steak and Saltwater in Detroit, will be featured. Both Mr. Symon and Mr. Yamauchi have participated in Taste of the Toledo in previous years.

Mr. Mina, who has never visited Toledo, will showcase the dish he and Chef Yamauchi will feature: butter poached lobster with Israeli couscous, dried fruit, and Thai coconut sauce.

Under the auspices of the Mina Group, Mr. Mina has opened several concept restaurants, including Michael Mina in San Francisco, Seablue at MGM Grand in Las Vegas and in Atlantic City; Bourbon Steak in Detroit, Miami, and Scottsdale, Ariz., and Strip Steak at the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino in Las Vegas. He also remains managing chef at Michael Mina Bellagio (formerly Aqua Bellagio).

I love to cook, he said in a phone interview. Cooking for me is unique. It s my career. I love to cook for my family and socially and professionally. I have so many concepts. I develop new concepts all the time. There is always a new technique.

His family includes his wife, Diane, and two sons, ages 6 and 10. My wife is half Italian and half Puerto Rican, he said. She ll cook pasta dishes. She cooks her mother s recipes and even makes rice and beans.

With the opening of the MGM Grand Detroit and the restaurants Saltwater and Bourbon Streak in 2006, Mr. Mina spent the first month in Detroit and then went back three times. Now he goes back every other month for four days. I enjoyed the experience, he said. There s good clientele in Detroit. People were excited with restaurants of this caliber. They are well-traveled.

Although he was born in Cairo, Egypt, Mr. Mina considers Ellinsburg, Wash., his hometown. He moved there when he was 1. It is a farm area with produce, meat, dairy, he said. The wine movement was just starting.

Among the trends he sees in the food world, product and technique are king, he said. People want restaurants that are more social with a high level of food and service. People are product savvy with food and wine. They care about sustainable, all-natural meat, and organic produce. The technique has to be there.

Using Piedmontese Beef at his Detroit restaurants, the most unique technique at Bourbon Steak is how the beef is cooked: it is slow-poached in butter and finished on a wood-burning grill. This requires special equipment in the kitchen which allows the meat to be submerged in different oils or butter. Pork is cooked in bacon fat, poultry in duck fat. This unique process makes for a tender and delicious entree.

Assisting Mr. Mina will be Yamauchi, executive chef at Bourbon Steak and at Saltwater at the MGM Grand Detroit. Mr. Yamauchi was formerly the executive chef at Tribute in Farmington Hills, Mich. until he was recruited by Mr. Mina. He participated in Taste of the Nation Toledo in 2006 and 2007.

Michael Symon last participated in Taste of the Nation Toledo in 2003. He was named the Next Iron Chef in last fall s Food Network which has catapulted him into chef superstardom. The light is shining on Cleveland food and his restaurants: Lolita is just west of downtown Cleveland and Lola is in the heart of downtown.

For Taste of the Nation Toledo, he will prepare sheep s milk ricotta ravioli with egg and almond.

More than 30 local restaurants will be represented at Taste of the Nation Toledo.

Among the presentations, Chef Mike Rosendaul of Ciao! in Sylvania will feature one of the restaurant s new appetizers: shrimp and crab stuffed artichoke hearts served with sun-dried tomato cream sauce. At Ciao! the appetizer includes three roasted whole artichoke hearts for $7.95. Ciao! is part of the Mainstreet Ventures restaurants that also include Real Seafood Co. and Zia s, which are also participating in the fundraiser.

From Beirut and Byblos, expect to see the signature lamb chops, hummus, and grape leaves and from Poco Piatti, there will be coffee bean-encrusted beef tenderloin with pomegranate reduction and wild mushroom risotto, according to Elias Hajjar.

Cousino s Restaurants corporate chef Lance Scott reports that Navy Bistro will serve Kansas City Style BBQ with a Tangy White Bean Puree served on a mini brioche. Tango s will feature grilled shrimp rubbed in a roasted chili powder and finished in a Margarita Cream Sauce.

New to Taste of the Nation is Asian Tea Tree Bistro in Levis Commons (owned by the family that owned Fu Yi for so many years on Airport Highway).

Mancy s Blue Water Grille, Mancy s Italian Grill, Mancy s Steak s, and Shorty s Ture American Roadhouse will all be at Taste of the Nation.

Also participating are Avenue Bistro, Frog Leg Inn; Georgio s Cafe International, Gladieux Catering, La Scola (also new to the event), Manhattan s, Premier Catering, Rosie s Italian Grill, Rouge Bistro, and Stella s.

There will be sushi from Koto Buki and Yoko Japanese Restaurant.

Desserts and coffee will be from Handel s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt, Katz Sisters Cheesecake, and Petit Fours, Barry Bagels/Beaner s Gourmet Coffee, Cake in a Cup, and Eastons.

Tickets for the black-tie optional event are $150 each. For information and tickets, visit www.toledotaste.org or call 419-539-0266.

Proceeds benefit grant recipients: Toledo Grows, Toledo Day Nursery, Aurora House, and The Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank.

Kathie Smith is The Blade s food editor. Contact her at food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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