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Seeing — and Eating — Red


Start your meal at Red with a fresh salad or appetizer.

Start your meal at Red with a fresh salad or appetizer.

It’s only open for lunch on select Thursdays and Fridays. Plus, you should have reservations if you want to be sure you’ll have a seat at one of the tables available.

Splashes of red are seen throughout Red.

Splashes of red are seen throughout Red.

Yet a visit to Red is worth it if you want to taste the future of cooking in San Antonio.

Red is the restaurant of the Art Institute of San Antonio’s culinary school, and all of the work is being handled by the students, the people who hope to be running the restaurants of this city and beyond in the future. Even in the front of the house, the servers who wait on your table are chefs-in-training.

Crab springrolls

Crab springrolls

The interior of the dining room, with its wavy red wall and funky sculptures, has been created by students in the school’s design program and includes a large window into the kitchen as well as video monitors that take you behind the scenes, so you can see some of the food being prepared.

The menu changes each week it’s open (down times are between semesters), but there are a few standards, including a Red Burger with fries, though I’m not sure if the presentation of that patty remains the same; the last time I tasted the burger, it was presented with bacon jam on top and rosemary fries on the side. A vegetarian option, which has been a pad Thai variation on several visits; a chicken dish; and a rich chocolate dessert also seem to be regulars.

Salmon over cabbage.

Salmon over cabbage.

Nothing has been priced at more than $11 a plate, even though one seafood risotto contained a surprising amount of lobster, shrimp, mussels and clams. Braised short ribs, pork belly, salmon, crab, scallops, lamb, crème brûlée and chocolate have all been featured in different ways, with culinary preparations that touch on, but are not limited to, French, Asian, Mediterranean, Latin American, Italian and assorted European styles. Most everything has been excellent, with one notable exception I’ll describe later.

The menu is broken down into three segments of starters and salads, main courses and desserts. Certain chef students are highlighted on the menu when they have created a specific dish, which could be a rustic soup or a special dessert.

It would be useless to write an overlong critique of various dishes, because the kitchen lineup changes with the menus; but I will take one dish to illustrate how the the students are there to learn from your response. I’m sure they love praise, but they’re also open to criticism if something is wrong. On one visit, we had a crème brûlée in which the almond extract was so out of balance that it reminded all three of us of those accounts of arsenic poisoning in Agatha Christie novels. Remember the telltale aroma of bitter almonds that always seemed to hover in the air over the unfortunate corpse, we laughingly asked the waitress.

The interior of Red

The interior of Red

Our server was glad we took it in stride, and she promised to have the matter investigated further before anyone else fell victim to the mishap. Hopefully, you’ll remember your manners and pass along your notes in a way that encourages improvement.

Key lime pie

Key lime pie

Because that is what Red is, ultimately. It’s a lab that is meant for the students’ benefit. Sure, you can get a fine meal at a great price and your tips even go to benefit the school’s scholarship fund, but the real purpose of the restaurant is to give those students a taste of what it’s like to work in the heat of a real kitchen.

The Art Institute’s culinary program, which offers several degree paths, has met with some noteworthy success in its relatively short history, including taking top prize at the Fine Swine Cookoff two years in a row. The proud pig placard they received is proudly displayed in a corner of the dining room.

Red at the Art Institute of San Antonio
10000 I-10 W.
(210) 338-7400
Lunch: Select Thursdays and Fridays. Call for schedule, seating times and reservations.

 

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Fine Swine, Cold Beer and a Prelude of Summer in One Event


Members of the the Art Institute of San Antonio prepare a paella for guests of the second Fine Swine Cook-off.

Members of the the Art Institute of San Antonio prepare a paella for guests of the second Fine Swine Cook-off.

FLORESVILLE — The temperatures hit new heights for the year Sunday and the sun was somewhat unforgiving at the South Texas Heritage Pork farm as three culinary schools prepared pigs for the second annual Fine Swine Cook-Off and Flavor Fest.

Guests line up for lettuce cups filled with pork and rice.

Guests line up for lettuce cups filled with pork and rice.

But withstanding the heat of the kitchen — even an outdoor kitchen — is something all chefs-in-training learn how to handle, so there were few grumbles, though most welcomed the shade of their tents while they cooked away.

The teams from the Art Institute of San Antonio, the Culinary Institute of America and the San Antonio Food Bank were all trying to be the most creative with every last bit of meat found on the pig. So, the ear might be fried and used as a garnish on a salad. Or the heart could be turned into jerky (see recipe below). One group even bottled its own … mmm … Bacon Soda.

These dishes were all for the judges. Meanwhile, the rest of the guests treated themselves to an assortment of treats available in another competition. A group of chefs from Corpus Christi offered a seafood sampling that included an oyster on the half shell with a lemon grass and horseradish gelée, shrimp headcheese, shrimp shell stock with lemon foam and shrimp sausage. Where Y’at’s Pieter Sypesteyn served crispy pork boudin balls and steaming hot bowls of goat and hominy gumbo, while Brandon McKelvey of Say.She.Ate fried chicken in duck fat. James Canter, who won last week’s Paella Challenge, showcased quail in an oyster kimchee sauce with watermelon radish.

Local beers from Ranger Creek, Alamo, Guadalupe and Saint Arnold were on tap, while Pedernales Cellars wines were available.

Cutting up every bit of pork flavor.

Cutting up every bit of pork flavor.

In the end, the judges’ panel gave top pork prize to the Art Institute while their favorite of the open contest from the rest of the chefs on hand went to the team from the Corpus Christi area, which included Paul Morales, Audie Morris and David Graham. (This was a second win for Morales, who was part of the award-winning pork team from last year, also the Art Institute.) The people’s choice award went to the team from the Texas Cooks Co-op. (The judges’ panel included celebrity chef John Besh as well as local chefs Steven McHugh, Michael Sohocki, David Gilbert and John Russ among others.)

But the real winners were those who got to sample these local foods, whether it was the pork at center stage, the goat, the chicken or the quail. All of it came from Texas, if not specifically from the region south of San Antonio where South Texas Heritage is located. It had to be prepared on site, but it also had to be humanely raised, which also means healthier for those eating the food.

Pig Heart Jerky

Brian West of the CIA bastes a fresh ham.

Brian West of the CIA bastes a fresh ham.

1 pig heart
3 1/2 ounces soy sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red chile flakes6 ounces crushed black peppercorns or red chile flakes (optional)

Pat dry the heart and remove all fat and veins from the heart. Cut into thin slices, approximately 1/4 inch thick. Mix soy sauce, liquid smoke, granulated garlic, Worcestershire sauce, granulated onion, 1 teaspoon black pepper and 1 teaspoon red chile flakes together in a zip-lock bag. Add the heart slices and marinate for 24 hours. Flip the bag over every 5 hours or so to get even distribution of the marinade.

Remove the heart slices from the marinade and pat extremely dry. If you want a more peppered jerky, roll the slices in crush black peppercorns or red chile pepper flakes.

Lay out the pieces in an even layer on a food dehydrator. The slices are done when they shrunken 30 percent to 40 percent and are dry but pliable.

From the Art Institute of San Antonio

 

A member of the Art Institute's team prepares to serve the judges.

A member of the Art Institute’s team prepares to serve the judges.

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Savor Some Chef Inspirations on Sunday


Have you ever wondered what inspired some folks to want to become chefs? You’ll get the chance to taste some of those inspirations when the Texas Cooks’ Co-Op has its next dinner at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Art Institute of San Antonio, 10000 I-10 W.

The theme of Chef Inspirations will include multiple course for $65.

There are only a few seats left for the dinner, and reservations can be made by emailing txcooksco.op@me.com. Check out the Co-Op‘s Facebook page for more details.

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Fine Swine and Artisanal Food Fest Sunday


If pork is what you're hankering for, find it at the Fine Swine and Artisanal Food Fest Sunday.

This coming Sunday, from 2-8 p.m., students from the Culinary Institute America- San Antonio and the Art Institute of San Antonio, will be exhibiting their skills in a heritage hog cook-off.

It’s happening at the South Texas Heritage Pork Farm, and there will be live music and a raffle with the top prize of a whole heritage roaster hog. Plus, take part in (or just watch) a pie-eating contest, tastings from local food trucks and vendors (additional items can be purchased from the vendors), cooking demos, and the showing of a food documentary, “Farmageddon.”  Sample tastings from the culinary students and watch the final judging.

Beer and wine will be available for purchase.

Tickets are $35 for general admission and $75 for VIP tickets. The address is 4268 County Road 404, in Floresville.

VIP tickets include all general admission amenities plus additional food and drink pairings, a VIP parking pass and VIP seating in the judging area located on the farms expansive patio. VIP seating while be located in the heart of all the culinary cook-off action. VIP seating is pre-sale only, limited seating available.

Tickets available on line here.

Visit South Texas Heritage Pork at www.southtexasheritagepork.com

 

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Seasoned Cuisine: Aliza Green’s World of Exotic, Unusual Herbs and Spices


Need to kick-start a stale cooking routine? Award-winning  journalist, author and chef Aliza Green could help with that.

Green, who lives in Philadelphia, recently guided a large class of food enthusiasts on an aromatic as well as informative tour of lesser-known spices of the world. The class was sponsored by San Antonio’s Les Dames d’Escoffier.

A preparation of white beans and green lentils, with unusual spices, showed the great culinary possibilities of these humble foods.

As we gathered in a kitchen/classroom at the Art Institute of San Antonio, the scents of spice — rich and flowery, peppery and hot, smoky, toasty, musky and mysterious, and some almost off-putting  — filled our senses, evoking thoughts of far-flung countries and cultures.

Tiny packets of spice awaited each student at her seat, filled with such things as ajwain and Yemenite hawaij, wild fennel pollen, grains of paradise, the pungent and sticky Turkish urfa pepper, smelly asafetida, ground sumac, Australian wattleseed and nigella seeds.

Right away she told us things that most cooks know, but that really can’t be repeated too often.

First, spices that are ground lose their potency fast. Spices exposed to light and/or heat do as well.

“Sometimes, I just tell everyone to throw away all of their spices,” said Green. Spices that are pre-ground and have sat on the shelf for months (or years) lose their potency. “All of the delicate elements of the spice go away and what we have left are harsh elements,” Green said. Those just don’t taste good and cooking with them won’t help.

Second, it’s a great idea to grind your own spices. You can do it in a coffee grinder. Then, her tip was to run pieces of bread through the grinder and wipe it down to clear out one spice taste before you grind another.

Green was a four-star chef at the age of 27. She has been an avid traveler all of her life, beginning in her youth, when she lived in Holland, Israel and Mexico. Much of what we discussed in the class is described in her 2006 publication, “Field Guide to Herbs & Spices” (Quirk, $15.95).  She won a James Beard Award as co-author of “Ceviche,” and two new books are being readied for publishing.

As we sniffed and tasted our way through class, Green offered us the notion of “roots” cooking. Herbs and spices, generally, “go with” foods that are collected or grown in the same areas, and suit the tastes of the people who first gathered and used them.

The pungent (and to some, not in a good way) asafetida, is extracted from the root of a plant that grows in the wild in the eastern Mediterranean area to central Asia. It is widely used now in Indian and Iranian cooking. Because it is so powerful, tiny amounts should be used, and it is sometimes an ingredient in a spice mixture.

Art Institute chef and instructor Justin Sparkman prepares desserts to serve at Aliza Green's class.

Unusual flavors can take some getting used to. Green mentioned the fact that not all that long ago, cilantro was a similar exotic herb. “So many people didn’t like the flavor, actually hated it,” said Green. Prevalent in Mexican cooking, however, the herb is now nearly a household name and in most areas of the United States its dark, parsley-like flavor has become more accepted.

Grains of paradise, tiny, reddish-brown seeds from a plant that comes from Ghana. They have a bit of spicy heat, and are chewed by people in that country to help them warm up on cold days. The seeds, which also have spicy-nutty flavors also have a numbing quality, like camphor.

Ground sumac is one that is probably more familiar to Americans. Its dark reddish brown powder is tangy, almost to the point of tasting salty, with woody, citrus flavors.  One might see it sprinkled over hummus or on top of a salad in a Middle Eastern restaurant. Some restaurants in town, such as Pasha Mediterranean Grill, even put it out on the table in shakers, like salt.

Nigella seeds are very small and hard. They are cultivated from Egypt throughout India. According to Green, it is thought that the black cumin mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible is the nigella seed. It has an acrid, smoky flavor and a scent reminiscent of oregano. Indian naan bread is sometimes sprinkled with the seeds and lightly toasted nigella seed is often used to enhance Lebanese and Turkish cookery.

In Green’s “Field Guide” she includes places to find these spices, though some are often more difficult than others. Try international markets, or markets specific to one or a handful of cultures, such a Middle Eastern store that carries Turkish, Indian, Arabic, Moroccan and similar products.

Aliza Green teaching a class in exotic spices and herbs at the Art Institute of San Antonio

Culinary students at the institute, led by chef Justin Sparkman, prepared the foods for tasting. These included a Moroccan White Bean Salad with Nigella Seeds and an Ethiopian Lentil Stew with Berberé spices. Berberé is a blend that can include cumin, fenugreek seed, ajwain seed, black peppercorns, allspice berries, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bird’s eye chiles.

The beans and lentils tasted great, and were paired nicely with wines from Becker Vineyards.

Green also mentioned the difference between true cinnamon (what we here in South Texas know as canella, or Mexican cinnamon) and the hard stick cinnamon that is what we usually buy, in a stick or ground. The latter is actually a spice called cassia and comes from a different, but similar tree. Much of the cinnamon we use here in the U.S. is actually Indonesian cassia, she says.

Another spice that is unusual in most cook’s kitchens but that we are seeing on more and more chefs’ menus is wild fennel pollen. This is expensive, usually purchased from specialty producers in Italy. It is potent and sprinkled on anything, from salads and vegetables to beans, fish and seafood, just before serving.

Some of the other herbs she discussed included black Thai cardamom, Cubeb pepper and long pepper, Chinese Tung Hing Cassia, Australian Wattleseed, and Australian lemon myrtle, featured in a yogurt mousse for dessert.

Green, an enthusiastic cook and a walking compendium of spice information, offers much more in her “Field Guide.” It’s just the thing to  revive a cook’s spirit and his or her cooking.

Recipes:

Ethiopian French Lentil Stew with Berbere Spice Blend

Moroccan Spiced Preserved Lemons

White Bean Salad with Nigella Seeds

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