Archive | November, 2012

A Restaurant Is a Team, Gwendolyn’s Chef Tells CIA Graduates

A Restaurant Is a Team, Gwendolyn’s Chef Tells CIA Graduates

Chef Michael Sohocki addresses the CIA graduating class.

Friday was a homecoming for Michael Sohocki, chef/owner of Restaurant Gwendolyn, 152 E. Pecan St. He returned to his alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., to deliver the keynote speech during commencement exercises.

Sohocki advised 49 recipients of associate degrees in culinary arts and baking and pastry arts at the college’s main campus that running a restaurant is a team effort.

“A chef can’t carry a restaurant any more than a captain can carry a ship,” Sohocki told the newest class of fellow CIA alumni. He urged graduates to be nice, to not be afraid to wash dishes, and to listen when they become bosses. “I’ve learned so much more by ‘listening up’ than by ‘talking down.’ Turn off your phone and when people talk to you, give them your undivided attention.”

Sohocki graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the CIA in 2002. The Robstown native opened his own restaurant in 2010 after working for fellow CIA alumnus Andrew Weissman at Le Rêve, Il Sogno and the Sandbar. Earlier this year, Sohocki was named a San Antonio Rising Star by

Restaurant Gwendolyn is at the location of the former Le Rêve on the River Walk, not far from the CIA’s San Antonio campus. The menu features local, handmade, and seasonal ingredients, and changes daily. There are no blenders, mixers, deep fryers, or any other kitchen appliances with a motor. The concept at Gwendolyn is to prepare food the way it was done before the Industrial Revolution.


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Give Your Mushroom Soup a Kick

Give Your Mushroom Soup a Kick

Mushroom Soup

Recipes are guidelines, not written in stone. It’s a mantra we repeat whenever we enter the kitchen, especially when we may be shy of an ingredient called for.

I repeated that to myself when trying this recipe freely adapted from “Joy of Cooking” (Scribner, $35). I had plenty of wanted a little extra mushroom oomph, but I didn’t have the wild mushrooms called for, so I added porcini powder to my mix of button caps and cremini mushrooms.I was fresh out of shallots, so I used little less than 1/2 cup of red onion and minced it finely.

I also like a little extra spice, so I stirred in some Indian garlic pickle. Sriracha or even a dash of hot sauce would work well.

Finally, take a tip from Irma S. Rombauer and her fellow authors of “Joy of Cooking: “Slice rather than chop the mushrooms for a meaty texture and a handsome look.”

So, here’s your outline. Make it as you like it.

Mushroom Soup

3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter or additional olive oil
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, preferably 12 ounces wild, wiped clean and tough stems removed, sliced
1/2 cup chopped shallots
3 tablespoons dry sherry or Madeira
5 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon dried thyme, or less to taste, or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
4 1/2 cups vegetable stock, mushroom stock or chicken stock
2 generous teaspoons porcini powder (see note)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Hot sauce, to taste (optional)
Chopped fresh parsley or fresh thyme, for garnish

Heat in a stock pot over high heat the olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms and shallots. Cook, stirring often until the mushrooms are wilted, about 5 minutes. Add sherry or Madeira, flour and thyme, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, for 5 minutes. Stir in stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. reduce the heat the medium and simmer until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Ladle into warmed bowls. Garnish with fresh parsley or fresh thyme.

Note: You can get porcini powder in the spice area at Central Market.

Makes about 6 cups.

Adapted from “Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker

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‘Food Is Always Changing and Moving Forward,’ ‘Kitchen Vagabond’ Author Says

‘Food Is Always Changing and Moving Forward,’ ‘Kitchen Vagabond’ Author Says

Chef David Gilbert has written a food memoir, “Kitchen Vagabond.”

“What’s your favorite dish?”

It’s a question chefs get asked over and over again, so often, in fact, that many no longer give the matter any real thought. But David Gilbert isn’t like most chefs. His take on the question led him on a journey that resulted in the book, “Kitchen Vagabond: A Journey Cooking and Eating Beyond the Kitchen” (Infinity, $27.95 hardback, $17.95 paperback). In it, he talks about his culinary adventures and includes a few recipes he’s picked up over the years that feed both body and soul.

Gilbert wears another hat. He’s also the chef at Sustenio in the Eilan Hotel Resort & Spa, 17103 La Cantera Parkway.

But it was the book that he wanted to focus on in the following conversation:

Q: You’ve recently written a book, “Kitchen Vagabond.” What disciplines, if any, that you learned in the kitchen helped you when writing?

A; I could have never written this book had I not been taught by my parents the mentality to work hard for what you want, and always follow through. The book writing process is a challenge in self-discipline, much like perfecting the culinary craft. I took the same focus to writing — and completing — “Kitchen Vagabond” as I do with projects in the kitchen. For me, this meant relentlessly pushing hard every single day and never loosing focus on the end goal. There were a lot of uncharted waters in learning how editing, book layout, publishing and distribution work. It was all foreign to me, but humbled myself and took a step back to learn to take a step forward to grow.

Q: Your book is about your culinary journeys around the world and dishes you’ve discovered along the way. What dishes have you learned since your move here?

A: San Antonio shocked me with the amount of its deep-rooted culture that makes this city so wonderful! There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of off the beaten path restaurants! I have recently been introduced to the famous puffy taco and from what it sounds like my new local friends have more treats to introduce me to.

What are yours? Please let me know! Email me at

Q: What culinary journeys do you have planned for the future?

A: There is no shortage of destinations I would like to experience, starting with Vietnam (one of the few Asian countries I did not have the chance to visit while living/traveling in Asia), Southern India, Nepal, Israel, and Egypt. I am currently holding a multiple entry visa into Brazil (a trip I had to cancel last minute) so, who knows what’s next?  Guess we will just have to see!

 Q: What food trend or trends are you excited about these days?

A: Food, as we know it, is always changing and moving forward. However, the refinement and flare of avant-garde cuisine is still there — there has been a slow shift in delivering simple and familiar foods with the edge of avant-garde presentation.

The most current trends, I feel, are more in the crossover between the kitchen and the beverage program. Chefs are getting involved to assist with flavors and modern techniques. For example, we slow roast pumpkin with clove, all spice, and cinnamon for our bar team for the rum-pumpkin cocktail. The truly chef driven magazines, blogs and information emerging are all pushing the incorporation of chef-driven ingredients into the mixology forefront.

Q: And, in honor of what prompted the book, what are your favorite dishes?

A: The idea for “Kitchen Vagabond” came as a response to the question, “What’s your favorite dish?”

All over the world, people select foods, they cook and they eat. We all receive an early education in these processes, based mainly on where we live and on our national history and culture. I didn’t imagine until well into my teens that I would embark on a career that would direct my restlessness towards what other people cook and eat, how they do it, and what it tastes like. If we are interested and attentive, we cannot separate a dish from the people, places, and events that create the sensory experience of its taste. The ingredients, the preparation and the satisfaction of eating a favorite dish have been the vehicles for me to reflect on the developing flavors of my life. Currently my favorite dish is green papaya salad — sitting on the Kata Beach, Thailand. Now that hasn’t always been my answer, as my environment has changed so has my answer, and I bet by the time I am done traveling and experiencing more of those countries we just talked about then, perhaps, my answer may change.


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Griffin to Go: Shawarma Fit for a Superhero

Griffin to Go: Shawarma Fit for a Superhero

Shawerma on a spit.

I finally caught up with one of the year’s biggest blockbusters, “Marvel’s The Avengers.” The comic book series had been a favorite of mine when I was in grade school, and I think the idea of seeing them on screen made me a little nervous. The feeling was not helped by the spotty track record of recent Marvel transfers: “Captain America,” “Iron Man,” yes; “Thor,” a yawning no.

Sure enough, the movie was, at times, too lugubrious and self-important, but it did have its moments, especially when Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man was on. Toward the end of the film, he offered a much-needed injection of humor when he said, “Good job, guys. Let’s just not come in tomorrow. Let’s just take a day. Have you ever tried shawarma? There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don’t know what it is, but I wanna try it.”

And sure enough, in the final scene, after the credits, we see the Avengers in street clothes, quietly munching away on their shawarma while the rest of the building around them seems to be one light breeze from disintegration.

Shawarma, some of you have said, what the heck is that?

Sharon Tyler Herbst’s “Food Lover’s Companion” describes it as a Middle Eastern version of gyro consisting of “spiced, marinated lamb (sometimes chicken or veal) that has been molded around a vertical, rotating spit and slowly roasted. Thin slices of the meat are shaved off as the spit keeps turning. The hot meat is wrapped in lavash or pita bread, spread with hummus or tahini and topped with shredded vegetables.”

Shawarma rolled in a pita with vegetables.

In other words, it’s a halal version of the carnitas you find on the west side at Taqueria El Chilaquil, and some places will crisp the edges of that meat, caramelizing them slightly to make them even more irresistible.

But don’t take my word for it. Go out and eat some shawarma like a superhero yourself.

You can find beef and chicken shawarma on the menu at Jerusalem Grill, 3259 Wurzbach Road; both locations of Pasha Mediterranean Grill, 9339 Wurzbach Road and 1207 N. Loop 1604 W.; and Gypsy Cafe, 2813 Thousand Oaks. Doner kebab, the Turkish version of shawarma made with lamb and beef, can be found at Turquoise Turkish Grill, 3720 N.W. Loop 410, and Mediterranean Turkish Grill, 8507 McCullough Ave.

Or you could make your own at home. It’s easy with the help of shawarma seasoning packet, such as the one Sadaf makes. It’s sold at the various Middle Eastern markets in the city, and its ingredients let you know you’re in store for something wonderful: ginger, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, salt, clove, nutmeg, turmeric, parsley, chili, fenugreek, cinnamon and black pepper.

That way you could enjoy your shawarma while watching “The Avengers” all over again.


Want to make your own? You could start with a shawarma seasoning packet.

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Christmas Is Coming. That Means It’s Time for Tamales!

Christmas Is Coming. That Means It’s Time for Tamales!

Tamales! returns to the Pearl Saturday.

Christmas meals mean tamales in many San Antonio homes. So, it’s a sign that the season is drawing near when the annual Tamales! Holiday Festival returns to Pearl Brewery.

The third annual celebration will be from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free.

“We’re so excited to invite all of San Antonio to come celebrate the holidays at our third annual Tamales! Festival,” said Elizabeth Fauerso, chief marketing officer at Pearl. “This event is becoming a real San Antonio tradition, and it’s so great to see people from near and far get together to enjoy great food, music and to honor our San Antonio culinary traditions.”

There will be more than 35 different tamale vendors, and visitors will be invited to explore the full range of tamales from traditional San Antonio classics to South American to sweet, vegetarian and many more. The Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio will partner with Pearl to bring the whole property to life with the new Brew House Plaza, Boiler House alley and outdoor kitchen. Regional amateurs, culinary students, popular restaurants and esteemed chefs will showcase a blend of innovation, experimentation and classic tamales. Among the participants are chefs Jesse T. Perez and Johnny Hernandez, Los Barrios and Tellez

The competition features such categories as best chicken tamal, best pork tamal, a wild card category and, new this year, best tamal using H-E-B Primo Picks products.

Pearl Farmers Market will still take place this Saturday, but it will be in the East Parking lot of the Full Goods building for this one time.

Pearl is located 303 Pearl Parkway. For more information about events at Pearl, visit

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What’s the Buzz? The San Antonio Coffee Festival Is Saturday

What’s the Buzz? The San Antonio Coffee Festival Is Saturday

Get ready for a caffeine jolt this Saturday when the San Antonio Coffee Festival runs from noon to 5 p.m. at La Villita on South Alamo Street at Nueva.

The event will feature locally roasted and artfully brewed coffees from all over the world. Visitors can appreciate the many masterful hands that pilot a coffee bean from crop to cup, all while tasting, learning and shopping. Roastmasters will offer information about coffee’s origins, growing and harvesting, roasting, grinding, blending, brewing, cupping, food recipes, fair trade, bird-friendly, and organic certifications as well as health benefits.

The Specialty Coffee Tasting Flight is the highlight of the San Antonio Coffee Festival, showcasing more than 30 coffees. Coffee Tasting Flight tickets include four-cup tastings and are available for purchase ($5) at the event. Packaged coffee is available for purchase.

Among the local Texan coffee companies exhibiting will be Bantai Civet Coffee, Ferra Coffee, La Bella Vita Gourmet, RedBud Roasters, Independence Coffee, JavaJack’s Coffee, KIVA Coffee Roasters and Fara Coffee.

Admission to the event is free. The City of San Antonio’s Department of Culture and Creative Development is sponsoring the event, along with La Villita.

Music will be offered, and the shops at La Villita will be open.

The schedule of events include:

  • 1 p.m. — What is Specialty Coffee?
  • 1:30 p.m. — Coffee is 97% water, so good water is key!
  • 2 p.m. — Iced Coffee / Cold Water Brewing
  • 2:30 p.m. — Civet Cat Coffee
  • 3 p.m. — What Is Organic Coffee?
  • 3:30 p.m. — Coffee Brewing

For more information, click here.

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Holiday Mingle & Jingle Your Chance to Shop, Support Nonprofits

Holiday Mingle & Jingle Your Chance to Shop, Support Nonprofits

La Cantera and Tiffany & Co. host the sparkling Holiday Mingle & Jingle on Thursday, Dec. 6 from 6-9 p.m. at the Shops at La Cantera, 15900 La Cantera Parkway. The event will be located at the Fountain Court between Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom’s.

This shopping event, while fun, also is a means for six selected charities to raise funds for their respective causes. There will be holiday fashions, special shopping incentives, cocktails and exquisite food to nibble on.

The nonprofit Viola’s Huge Heart Foundation is one of the charities for that will benefit from Holiday Mingle & Jingle.

To date, Viola’s Huge Heart Foundation has awarded two full scholarships to two deserving young women. Abigail Issarraras is a senior at Incarnate Word High School. Daniela Portillo is currently in her junior year at Providence High School. Both of these young women continue to do great things in their schools and communities.

“Thanks to the contributions of many, we can continue to help other young women, who face challenging obstacles in their lives, reach their greatest potential,” said a foundation spokesperson.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 at the door (cash only). To purchase your ticket(s) and support one of more of these charities, phone numbers and online sites are below:








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Crab Quiche with Havarti and Dill

Crab Quiche with Havarti and Dill

Crab Quiche with Havarti and Dill is perfect for a brunch with family or lunch with friends,

This definitely qualifies as a first-world problem: having leftover jumbo lump crab meat from Thanksgiving dinner. One guest who attended the traditional meal wasn’t into turkey, so the obvious solution was to make a second entree — of crab cakes.

We ended up with a cup or more of leftover crab. That’s what led to the decision to use it up quickly and make a  quiche, put it in the freezer and save it to have at Christmas.

We also improvised with the cheese for this quiche.  The cheese often used in quiche is Swiss or Gruyere. We had some Gruyere but not quite enough — but also on hand was some creamy Havarti, and a chunk of medium sharp, yellow cheddar. We nixed the cheddar and used the Havarti as a stand-in. A bunch of fresh, organic dill from the farmers market was a natural accompaniment.

The quiche demanded to be eaten soon after it was taken out of the oven, of course. But, after taking our picture, into the freezer it went. No, not the ideal way to treat a quiche, but it will work. And, warm quiche out of the oven and ready for Christmas brunch will be a real treat.

Crab Quiche with Havarti and Dill

1 pie crust, homemade or purchased
4 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Dash of hot sauce, to taste
1 cup grated or chopped Havarti cheese
½ cup grated Gruyere
1 cup jumbo lump crab
2 green onions, chopped, using some of the green
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

This quiche is creamy on the inside, golden on the outside and a great option for a holiday brunch.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay the crust into a 9-inch pie plate, making sure to push it down gently. Bake the pie crust until you see it just starting to color and remove it from the oven. Allow to cool.

In a mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Stir in shredded cheeses, the crab, onion, chopped parsley and dill. Pour the batter into the cooled pie shell and put it in the oven.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven. Then, try this trick that we learned making cheesecakes: turn the oven off, but leave the quiche in the oven while it cools. Over the next 2-3 minutes it will firm up. This is a way to have a quiche that doesn’t crack on the top or to overcook the eggs.

Take the quiche out and let it cool so that it is still very warm, but slices easily and cleanly. Serve and enjoy.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Bonnie Walker

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Spice Up Your Stocking Stuffers

Spice Up Your Stocking Stuffers

Silver Cloud Estates offers extracts, spices and herbs.

If there’s a foodie — or three — on your Christmas list this year and you need the right stocking stuffer, consider a jar or two of spices, herbs, extracts or seasonings they might not have.

There are numerous choices out there, some of them local and some you can have delivered to your door.

Alamo City Pepper Products is a local line of gluten-free seasonings. If you enjoy adding a kick to your food, try the Hatch Green Chile Salt or Jalapeño Salt, while the Honey Chipotle Seasoning adds a sweet-hot touch to most any kind of meat. If someone on your list is a real hothead, you can get Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Chile), the hottest chile on the planet, in two forms: dried or powdered. You can find Alamo City Pepper Products at Whole Foods. You can order them, too, at

Penzeys Spices hasn’t opened a store in San Antonio, but that doesn’t make them a stranger to many from who have been in need of anything from mulling spices to Peri Peri Seasoning. Turkish bay leaves, celery flakes and salt-free corned beef spices are just a few of the beauties you can find online as well as an impressive array of dried chiles, including dundicut peppers from Pakistan, Sanaam chiles and Turkish aleppo peppers. To learn more, click here.

Alamo City Pepper Products are gluten-free.

Silver Cloud Estates bills itself as being more about vanilla beans and vanilla extract, but it also has an exciting array of spices, herbs and extracts. Among the pure extracts are allspice, cappuccino, coconut and ginger, while the spices include Grains of Paradise, Korintje (Indonesian cinnamon), epazote powder, bourbon pepper and Moroccan raz el hanôut. For more information, click here.

You could also shop locally at any of the city’s many ethnic markets for spices and seasonings from around the world. A few favorites include:

  • Ali Baba International Food Market, 9307 Wurzbach Road
  • Himalayan Bazaar, 8466 Fredericksburg Road
  • Hung Phong, 243 Remount
  • International Food Market, 2449 Nacogdoches Road
  • Las Americas, 6623 San Pedro Ave.
  • Mustafa, 4081 Medical Drive
  • Salaam International Food Market, 3727 Colony Drive
  • Sari-Sari, 5742 Wurzbach Road
  • Seoul Oriental Food Market, 2415 Harry Wurzbach Road,
  • Tim’s Oriental Food Market, 7015 Bandera Road
  • Vietnam Market, 5360 Walzem Road

A few other places where you can find an array of spices include Gaucho Gourmet, 935 Isom Road; Melissa Guerra Tienda de Cocina in the Pearl Brewery, 200 E. Grayson St.; Sur la Table, 15900 La Cantera Parkway; and Central Market, 4821 Broadway.

You might also want to consider a spice book or two to add to the gift. A few suggestions include:

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Get Medieval with Mushroom Pie

Get Medieval with Mushroom Pie

Mushroom Pie

Ever wonder what people ate in medieval times? You can find a few answers at, a website that features authentic ideas modernized for today’s kitchens.

This recipe for Mushroom Pie seems almost too easy, yet it’s a rewarding meatless entree that’s perfect with a side salad. One note: When I tested the recipe, I didn’t drain the mushrooms as much as I should have. It didn’t affect the flavor or texture, but it left juices at the bottom of the pie plate.

Mushroom Pie

2 pounds mushrooms, sliced
2 cups Swiss cheese, divided use
2 teaspoons Powder Fine (recipe follows)
1 (9-inch) pie crust

Save some cheese to sprinkle over the top.

Sauté mushrooms in small amount of oil to cook the mushrooms and release their water. Drain and cool. Press the juices from the mushrooms.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix mushrooms with 1 1/2 cups of cheese and Powder Fine, and place into the pie crust. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and bake for 30 minutes until done.

Let cool 15 minutes before serving.

Source [Le Ménagier de Paris, J. Hinson (trans.)]: Mushrooms of one night be the best and they be little and red within and closed at the top; and they must be peeled and then washed in hot water and parboiled and if you wish to put them in a pasty add oil, cheese and spice powder.

Item, put them between two dishes on the coals and then add a little salt, cheese and spice powder. They be found at the end of May and June.

Makes 1 pie.

Powder Fine

Powder Fine

“Many medieval recipes call for spice mixtures without detailing the exact spices,” says. “While it is tempting to assume that each particular spice mixture had a consistent recipe, there is evidence of substantial variation for different times, regions, budgets, and cooks. The recipe below is for one of the more commonly called-for spice mixtures. I strongly encourage altering it to suite your own tastes.”

3 tablespoons ginger
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon grains of paradise (see note)

Source [Le Ménagier de Paris, J. Hinson (trans.)]: FINE POWDER of spices. Take an ounce and a drachma of white ginger, a quarter-ounce of hand-picked cinnamon, half a quarter-ounce each of grains and cloves, and a quarter-ounce of rock sugar, and grind to powder.

Note: According to a jar from Silver Cloud Estates, “Grains of Paradise (Aframomum melagueta), also known as Guinea Pepper, is an aromatic seed primarily used in the cooking styles of West and North Africa. It has a flavor similar to black pepper and was once used as a substitute for pepper in Europe.” It has a fruity taste with a light touch of heat and can be ordered online.

Adapted from



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