Elijah Gurman, of Eden Restaurant, the first-place winner of $1,500.00 in the California Table Grape Commission’s 2010 Foodservice Chef Recipe Contest, is our featured culinary professional. His prize-winning recipe “Grape Fennel Flan” is pictured below.
Elijah Gurman, who currently resides in North Miami, Florida, was the first-prize winner for his “Grape Fennel Flan” in the California Table Grape Commission’s 2010 Foodservice Chef Recipe contest. The recent Johnson & Wales graduate created the recipe while serving as line cook/round man at Eden Restaurant in South Beach, Florida.
We recently posed a few questions to the young culinary whiz. Here are his responses:
What was your inspiration for “Grape Fennel Flan”?
I worked over the summer in California at a Spanish market selling these delicious flans. I really felt that grapes would be a great complement to the caramel/custard flavors. I also like desserts with savory elements. Fennel seed with its anise notes seemed like a natural with grapes.
What benefits do grapes offer as a culinary ingredient?
I like the variety – the different colors, tastes and textures that provide the opportunity for nuanced cooking. They also offer a balance between sweetness and acidity that can give balance to a dish. Anything rich, like sweet breads, I like to combine with fresh grapes. You can also use them whole, halved, sliced, roasted – really they’re very versatile.
What is your food philosophy?
I’m developing one, that’s for sure. I’m trying to learn by preparing other chefs’ food right now.
I try to rely on simplicity. There’s a tendency for chefs to want to add “just one more thing.”
I’m also becoming more and more respectful of the process – every plate that goes out is about the hours that it takes to prepare the ingredients. Sometimes the hardest thing is to make sure you take the extra second to care intensely about the plate you’re working on rather than just pushing out the food.
What made you decide to become a chef?
I don’t think I belong anywhere else. My dad worked in restaurants as a general manager at a chain restaurant. He also ran a catering company on the side. I certainly got the interest in food and the drive to succeed in the business from him.
I attended Eastside High School, which had a magnet program for Culinary Arts. We had competitions and provided catering services to pay for the food and equipment. We learned many of the basic techniques you need in order to be prepared for a job or for other culinary schooling.
I think what really did it for me though, was my job at the Red Onion Neighborhood Grill in my hometown. There was nothing extraordinary about the food, but I fell in love with the atmosphere of the kitchen – the rambunctiousness, the feeling of satisfaction after a good night, the camaraderie – I just really loved it.
Working in a kitchen means I’ve never worked a day in my life. It’s what makes me keep caring after 3 double shifts and still be ready to go back in and cook some more.
Did you/do you have a mentor and if so, what did that person do for you?
Any chef I’ve worked for has been a mentor. If I had to name one, it would be my chef at Eastside High School, Chef Billie DeNunizo, and her team of sous chefs Steve Poole and Wendy Robertson.
That’s hard to pick. Right now it would be “The River Cottage Meat Book.” It goes into the science of meat and has a great section on how to justify eating meat.
What do you see as the top food trends?
Smoking of food – using smoke as a flavor component. We actually smoked a cake a couple of months ago!
What food would we be surprised to see in your kitchen at home?
Wood chips. I don’t have a smoker, but I put a hotel pan of wood chips in foil and heat them on top of the stove and then pop them into the oven. You’d also see lecithin tablets and a ton of chocolate.
What are the most overrated ingredients/seasonings?
I’m unimpressed with truffles. They’re overused. I had an internship in Germany and we went on truffle hunts. That was very cool. But I think they’re lacking in flavor. The aroma is wonderful. But honestly, I would rather spend that kind of money on a really good steak.
What are the most underrated ingredients or seasonings?
Cumin. I don’t see it used too much in finer cuisine. Also coconut milk.
What is your favorite kitchen tool or gadget that you can’t live without?
A good, proper kitchen spoon – thick metal with a large wide mouth so it can scoop a lot at one time. I use it to mix, baste, and for plating. For example, I’ll use that spoon to prep risotto or plate a prawn dish.
Is there a particular food you just don’t like?
I’m blessed with not being a picky person. There is only one food that I’ve tried that I don’t like – durian – it’s a really smelly fruit that Andrew Zimmerman can’t take. I didn’t think the smell was terrible, and the flavor was okay, but the texture was like rotting flesh.
What is your dream job as a chef?
An executive chef at a 3-star Michelin restaurant! Actually, I don’t prefer any specific region or style of cuisine. I’m focused on fine dining and composed dishes. I’m trying to make really, really good food that is also interesting.
Right now, I’m at my dream job. I like the food and I like the people.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about working as a chef?
Exactly how difficult it is! You can explain it, you can read books on the subject, but people are not prepared. For example, let’s say you start your shift and you find out that there are two 20-tops that have just been reserved and you have to open early to accommodate them. You’ve got to get your prep done, maybe something burns – there’s just tons of stress. More than anything you have to love what you do or you will be miserable.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere. Obviously at other restaurants and from other cooks, but I get so much inspiration in the process. Finding how something relates to what I’m doing – to make it relevant – it becomes an inspiration in and of itself.
SHOW US YOUR BEST
Do you have a great recipe featuring fresh grapes that you serve at your restaurant or noncommercial enterprise? We’d love to hear about it! You could be the next chef featured here in Chef’s showcase. Contact us!