Author and Cooking Channel chef Jeffrey Saad stopped by Tampa's Publix Apron cooking school last week. The chef, restaurant owner, and tv personality (he hosts United Tastes of America) recently published his book Recipes Without Borders. Speaking to Creative Loafing earlier this week, Saad says cooking with ethnic ingredients doesn't have to be intimidating.
CL: Why did you want to take on the concept of global cuisine in your book?
Jeffrey Saad: It's my version of dragging my tongue across the globe and getting the flavor profile of each country. No one can master every single cuisine, so it's about taking the home cook and giving them the experience of each country along with some history on the flavor profiles.
What sparked your interest in food from other countries?
I'm an overly excitable cook. There's a big beautiful world of flavor and I can't imagine someone spending their entire life just eating pot roast and grilled cheese. When we travel with our family, we can understand the place through the food. We all eat to live, let's make it an exciting journey. My first restaurant, Sweet Heat in San Francisco, was a Mexican restaurant. I traveled there years before and fell in love with beans and spices and tortillas. My wife was born in Iran and raised in Italy. I'm from Chicago, so we love a good simple pasta or grilled cheese (with prosciutto of course) too. There's a food for every mood.
While you were in Tampa, you talked a lot about cooking with beans. I hear there's a recipe for black bean brownies?
People were blown away with that recipe. We did four days in Tampa and they were such a big hit. It resonated in a different way for everyone. I had a dietitian says she's excited about tricking her kid into eating good food. Others noted the earthy flavor the beans added, someone compared it to a ganache. All it does is replace some of the starch from the flour. It's great to go, "hey, guess what's in these brownies?"
You mentioned you travel with your family. Do your kids try all the food?
My daughter is 17, my son is 13. From say one they ate what we ate. They tried it and loved it all. My daughter had a thing for Chinese long beans stir-fried with spicy Hoisin sauce. Now, they're good with peanut butter and jelly. They've gone full circle and are enjoying some of the basics. We love standing around the butcher block though, eating nachos with pinto and black beans, Monterey Jack cheese, and onions. There's a place for basics.
You've been in this business for a while now. What have you noticed about the public's openness and awareness of ethnic flavors? How have those perceptions changed?
The Food Network and Cooking Channel have changed the world forever. They've exposed everyone to these flavors. I remember standing table-side for 10-minutes at my first restaurant, explaining what a chipotle pepper was. Now we've got a chain called Chipotle. It's definitely part of the way we live now, you can tweet or Pinterest a recipe quickly. People are more willing to cook those flavors at home and to go out and eat it.
What advice to you have to folks trying to cook with more international ingredients?
At the end of the day, no matter how adventurous you are, nothing tastes better than a cassoulet with sausage and beans. Where do you find the greatest chefs at 2 a.m.? At the spot with the best burger and beer.
What's projects and flavors are you getting into now?
I'm waist-deep in the flavors of Mexico with my next restaurant, La Ventura, opening up. It's modern Mexican. Think calamari tacos with pineapple habanero salsa. Carnitas, Carne Asada, duck with mole sauce, and a lime chicken soup with corn tortillas pureed into the broth. Tonight, I've got friends coming over and I'm making short ribs braised in soy sauce and Hoisin. I'm dragging my tongue all over the place. I wake up and say to my wife, let's make short ribs tonight. She says, "let's have coffee first."
Finally, and tips for us budding home cooks?
Always organize your spice rack by country. Instead of alphabetical order, start off by organizing two spices per country. It'll be easier to play with those flavors that way.
Hungry? Try this bean-centric chili recipe from chef Jeffrey.
Chicken Chili Bean Chowder
From Chef Jeffrey Saad and Bush's Beans
Makes eight servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 whole rib of celery finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic chopped
1 cup chicken cooked and shredded
2 16-ounce cans of chili beans, drained
1 4-ounce can of diced green chiles
1 cup frozen corn, thawed and drained
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups milk, whole or skim
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Heat oil in four-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. Cook five minutes, stir often. Add all over ingredients, except cilantro and cheese. Bring to a simmer and cook 20-25 minutes. Serve topped with cilantro and cheese.