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Luca Della Casa’s Star Is Shining


Think TV doesn’t change a person? Ask Luca Della Casa, who recently spent a season on the cooking show, “Food Network Star.” He emerged from the show in second place, as the runner-up to cowboy chef Lenny McNabb, and he says the experience has helped him become “a better version of myself.”

It’s not just talk. Those who knew Della Casa before the show can sense a difference in the way he carries himself. There’s a greater poise in his manner as he sits down for a chat or greets his customers. His face is more open and welcoming, as he flashes his now-famous, dimpled smile. There’s more of a connection when he carries on a conversation. And, yes, it’s all because of being on TV week in and week out for an entire season.

Luca Della Casa sits down for a talk at Nosh.

Luca Della Casa sits down for a talk at Nosh.

It wasn’t easy work. Della Casa wasn’t used to being “judged so directly,” as he calls it. When a Bobby Flay or an Alton Brown takes you to task with a camera rolling, it’s tough. So, the Italian chef who runs the kitchens at Silo Alamo Heights and Nosh on Austin Highway had to learn not to take everything on an emotional level. “I learned to accept criticism in a more constructive way,” he says.

He also had to learn how to keep his energy levels up because there might be a long lull between shots. He drank a lot of coffee, which wasn’t always the best answer because “I would get nervous waiting,” he says. That came out when he had to pour a sauce over a dish he had to prepare for the judges, and his hand started to shake so badly that Brown reached out to steady it. “I wanted to stop it, but there was no way,” he says.

Then there is the stress, part of which comes from the whole setup. “TV is unreal,” Della Casa says, adding that during the filming of “Food Network Star” “there were hundreds of people around us at every turn. It was worse at the very beginning because there were so many of us.”

Still, “Food Network Star” fans could see Della Casa’s progress happen slowly but deliberately. It began after he got kicked off early in the process because he had failed to connect with the camera while cooking. His food, as local fans will attest, won raves, but he just didn’t raise his head as he prepared his food. So, he went to the online redemption show, “Star Salvation.” After several weeks of winning those judges over with his panini, his culinary skills and his engaging personality, he earned his way back onto the main show.

More changes began occurring. His first episode back was in Las Vegas, and he found himself surrounded by gorgeous women who had really taken to his charm, his good looks and his accent. It was something that had not escaped the attention of the show’s third host, Giada de Laurentiis. A sex symbol was being born. He looks back on that episode with a sheepish grin. “I’m flattered,” he says of all the attention. “But I didn’t earn it. It wasn’t anything I did.” He credits his parents’ gene pools with the way he turned out and leaves it at that.

Luca Della Casa thanks San Antonio for the support he's received while he was on "Food Network Star."

Luca Della Casa thanks San Antonio for the support he’s received while he was on “Food Network Star.”

Della Casa gives plenty of credit to his wife, Marcella Algarra Della Casa, for the rest of his success on the show. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” he says. Marcella is an attorney who spends her some of her time addressing justices and juries, so she knows something about speaking in public. She drew on her background and Toastmasters to help him before more confident. “She told me, ‘You’ve got to get better at speaking in front of people,’” he says, adding that it helped him find himself in a way that made him become relaxed at ease in front of other celebrity chefs, his fellow contestants and the camera.

It helped that Della Casa is “a quick learner,” as he describes himself. His efforts, combined with his culinary skills, propelled him on to the finals, against McNabb and Nicole Gaffney. The outcome was voted on by viewers of the show, not the judges, and no one knew who would be the winner. “I thought Nicole was my first competition, which shows you what I know,” he says with a laugh. “I’m really happy for Lenny.”

This has been the latest chapter in Della Casa’s culinary journey from his hometown in Torino, Italy to the Canary Islands and then to Texas. “I didn’t go to culinary school,” he says. “I use the memory of certain flavors and I learned from other chefs,” as well as the grandmother he referred to often on “Food Network Star.”

“My food is the sum of all of these,” he says.

Ten years ago, he arrived in San Antonio to work for Massimo Pallottelli at Sage in the Fairmount Hotel. From there, he went to work for Andrew Weissman at Le Rêve and Il Sogno, and then Fralo’s before going to work at Silo and Nosh.

One night while visiting Copa Wine Bar on Stone Oak Parkway for a wine tasting, he noticed a woman who had come in to buy a bottle of wine. That turned out to be Marcella, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Luca Della Casa hopes his appearance on "Food Network Star" brings attention to San Antonio's culinary scene.

Luca Della Casa hopes his appearance on “Food Network Star” brings attention to San Antonio’s culinary scene.

When the opportunity to appear on “Food Network Star” arose, Della Casa pursued it vigorously; but he didn’t tell his boss, owner Patrick Richardson, until he had been accepted on the show. The chef was a bit nervous about that, but Richardson was excited for him and offered his support.

Della Casa is repaying that trust by pouring his energies into his work now that he’s back in town. “My first thoughts are about coming back to the restaurant,” he says. Fall menus are being planned and they could include some of the dishes he prepared on the show, dishes that made an appearance at a special meal Silo offered while the chef was still competing. There might even be a collaborative dinner with one of the other contestants from the show.

As if that’s not enough, Della Casa’s also helping local restaurateur and bar owner Chris Erck of Swig Martini Bar and Viva TacoLand, among other ventures, launch Panzanella Pizzeria, which will feature salads and pizza by the slice. The new eatery will open this fall with two locations, including one next to Erck’s Stay Golden Social Club on Pearl Parkway.

Della Casa is grateful for the encouragement he’s received from San Antonio throughout the “Food Network Season” and after it. “I couldn’t believe the kind of support I’ve received from everyone here and on social networks,” he says. “I feel blessed.”

Is there any more TV in Luca Della Casa’s future? “I’m confident that something good is going to come of it,” he says. “Where I am now is just the beginning.”

 

 

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Chipotle Honey-Glazed Chicken Wings


By Phillip Kent

I adapted some of the ingredients and directions from this recipe from “Bobby Flay’s Grill It!” (Clarkson/Potter Publishers NY, $35).  First of all, you can use any type of canned chile in adobo, chile powder or paprika. The ingredients he calls for give more of a smoky flavors than they do heat.

When I made the wings, I didn’t divide the glaze. I coated the wings with canola oil, salt, pepper, the spice mixture and about 1/4 of the glaze. Then, I put them into a bag to marinate for the time it takes to get the grill going. Then, I apply liberally the rest of the glaze as the wings are cooking. I discard the extra glaze and serve the wings with Central Market’s house blue cheese dressing, which is the best I’ve had.

Photograph by Phillip Kent

Chipotle Honey-Glazed Chicken Wings with Toasted Sesame Seeds and Green Onions

SAMSUNG CSC1 cup honey

2-3 tablespoons puréed canned chipotle chiles in adobo

2 tablespoon Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons ancho chile powder

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons canola oil

2 teaspoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons Spanish paprika

3 pounds chicken wings

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

3 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

Heat your grill to medium high.

Whisk together the honey, chipotle purée, 1 tablespoon of the mustard, 1 tablespoon of the ancho powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a small bowl. Divide the glaze evenly between 2 bowls, one small the other large.

Stir together the remaining 3 tablespoons of ancho powder with the coriander, cumin and paprika in small bowl.

Rinse the chicken wings under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the tips off the wings and discard (or frees and use for making chicken stock). But each wing into 2 pieces through the joint.

Place the chicken wings in a large bowl, add the spice rub and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and place the wings on the grill in an even layer. Grill until golden brown and slightly charred, 4-5 minutes. Reduce the heat of the grill to medium, turn the wings over and close the lid of the grill. Continue grilling until just cooked through, 15-20 minutes longer, brushing with the small bowl of glaze every few minutes and turning once during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Transfer wings to the large bowl, brush with the reserved glaze and toss to coat. Transfer to a platter and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and green onions.

From “Bobby Flay’s Grill It!”

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Ask a Foodie: Where Would You Go for Tex-Mex?


The chips and salsa at Rosario's.

Q. We have family visiting this weekend. They want to eat Tex-Mex. Can you recommend one such restaurant downtown and one out in the I-10 or 1604 area?

— Rick

A. In a city known for its Mexican and Tex-Mex, you have plenty of options. Here are a few of our favorites, both downtown and on the north side.

Rosario’s, 910 S. Alamo, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, which is a milestone for any restaurant. But there’s a reason the place is still going strong: Owner Lisa Wong makes sure that the food coming out of her kitchen is as good as it gets. Bonnie Walker and I stopped in on a recent Saturday afternoon for lunch, and by the time we left, there was a line of people waiting for tables.

The salsa is still that smoky, spiky treat with plenty of jalapeño and tomato flavor. A bowl of fideo, filled with beans and noodles, was pure comfort on a cloudy afternoon, while shrimp nachos were loaded with richness from both the cheese and the seafood. The carnitas were perfect as always, with sizzling bites of pork complemented by a cup of beans in a porky broth.

And, of course, Rosario’s is known for its tangy array of margaritas as well as its tequila selection. The salsa music on weekends adds to the lively vibe that flows through the place.

Wong’s other place downtown, Ácenar, 146 E. Houston St., is great if you want to dine on the River Walk. The food is slightly different, with a few more upscale items, including buttermilk fried oysters and duck chalupas, well worth investigating. You can also arrange a barge dinner, if there’s enough time, and enjoy the likes of pasilla-rubbed roasted chicken or grilled adobo pork loin while gliding down the river.

Aldaco's tres leches cake is a treat for anyone with a sweet tooth.

In the I-10 or Loop 1604 area, Aldaco’s at Stone Oak, 20079 Stone Oak Parkway, is always great for a party that never stops. The margaritas flow freely, including a unique one made with avocado, and sipping one on the patio while the sun sets is a great San Antonio pleasure. Plus, Blanca Aldaco makes sure you get food you enjoy, even if you are a gluten-free diet. The weekend brunch, with a great breakfast relleno, is also a good bet.

La Hacienda de los Barrios, 18747 Redland Road, is another place to remember, especially if you have a large party. This is a wonderful place to introduce people to the local favorite, the puffy taco, which Diana Barrios Treviño makes better than most. (She even topped Bobby Flay when he appeared at the restaurant for one of his throwdowns.

Another place not to miss is El Mirasol Alta Cocina, 13489 Blanco Road. Owner Jesse Calvillo and his staff treat you right, whether you’re just dropping by for a margarita and a plate of queso flameado or you want enchiladas with a choice of sauces.

Readers, what other places would you recommend for guests visiting from out of town who had a hankering for San Antonio’s authentic brand of Tex-Mex?  Post your suggestions below.

If you have a food question, email walker@savorsa.com or griffin@savorsa.com.

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From the Casserole Queens: World’s Greatest Chicken Pot Pie


How did two Austin women, Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock, become the Casserole Queens?

Here’s their story:

“It’s called a defining moment. For Madonna, it was ‘Everybody.’ For Brad Pitt, it was ‘Thelma and Louise.’ For us, well, it was our chicken pot pie that started it all. Now, we aren’t saying that we’re the next Madonna or Brad Pitt. But, in all honesty, you wouldn’t be reading this book if it weren’t for this recipe. As seen on Food Network’s ‘Throwdown with Bobby Flay,’ this signature dish is our claim to fame. It’s not just any old pot pie — oh, no. We took great care to bring this everyday comfort food to new gourmet heights. White wine, tarragon, and shallots are just some of the surprise ingredients tucked under a perfectly golden brown puff pastry. It’s the dish that made people sit up and take notice of us, and now it’s your turn to take the spotlight.”

The cookbook in question is “The Casserole Queens Cookbook” (Clarkson Potter, $17.99), and it features casseroles as divergent as Frenchy Toast Casserole for breakfast to Keep Austin Weird Spam Casserole for, well, any Austin friends who go to the annual Spamarama Festival.

For more on the Casserole Queens, click here.

World’s Greatest Chicken Pot Pie

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (3-pound) roasted chicken, boned and shredded
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups fresh peas, blanched
1 1/2 cups carrots, diced and blanched
2 russet potatoes, diced and blanched
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
Egg wash (lightly whisk together 1 whole egg and 1 teaspoon water)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the chicken, bell pepper, and shallots, and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, salt, tarragon and black pepper. Add the milk and cream, and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick and bubbly about 10 minutes. Add the wine, peas, carrots and potatoes, and stir until heated thoroughly, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the hot chicken mixture to a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Place the puff pastry over the top of the casserole dish. Brush the edges of the puff pastry with the egg wash and press against the side of the casserole dish, then cut slits in the pastry to allow steam to escape. Brush the top of the puff pastry with egg wash — this will help the puff pastry brown evenly. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve immediately.

If you are short on time, take advantage of frozen vegetables. Replace the hand-cut and blanched veggies with a bag of frozen peas and carrots and 1/2 bag of frozen diced potatoes. By not blanching your vegetables, you’ll miss some of the salt flavor. Taste the filling before you put it in the casserole dish and season with salt, if you like.

Variations: Here are two great ways to make this chicken pot pie:

  • Make individual pot pies. Portion out the filling into 6-ounce ramekins. Top each ramekin with some puff pastry and freeze. Cook at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until puff pastry is golden brown.
  • Use store bought pie dough and make empanadas. Using a 3-inch circle pastry cutter, cut 12 circles out of the dough. Place a large spoonful of filling on one half of each circle. Brush the edge of the pastry with egg wash, then fold in half to make a half-moon shape. Press the edges together firmly and crimp with a fork. Put the empanadas on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

From “The Casserole Queens Cookbook” by Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock

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Restaurant Notes and Quotes


It's back to being Boehler's.

New Boehler’s at old Liberty Bar location
We haven’t yet explored the new restaurant at 328 E. Josephine St., inside the building that still leans but no longer houses the Liberty Bar. The business might be new, but the Boehler’s name is straight out of the building’s history, predating even the Liberty Bar. We checked out the menu and noticed the likes of Green Chile Meatloaf, Grilled Chicken Paillard and Pecan-crusted Pork. Sounds promising. The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner.

Remodeling work continues at Rosario's.

Rosario’s new look
The remodeling is still in the works at Rosario’s Café y Cantina on Alamo Street. The new look includes latticed dividers to add a sense of privacy here and there and to (we can hope) help baffle some of the noise. At left is a quick look at what’s happening so far.

Not just another Brazilian steakhouse
Texas de Brazil plans to open on Dec. 28 in the Kress Building at 313 E. Houston St., according to the restaurant’s website.

The restaurant is a churrascaria, the Brazilian-style steakhouse, which is proving to be popular in these carnivorous climes. The difference here is that San Antonio will be home to the state’s first aerial wine artists. If you want to get a sneak peek of an aerialist at work, click here. We predict this will sell plenty of wine to go with all that meat.

Also, check out their Grand Opening special: $74 per couple includes two regular dinners, two desserts, non-alcoholic beverages (ice tea, soda or coffee) and either a bottle of champagne or wine. Tax and gratuity additional. This special is valid from the opening date through  Jan. 31.  Just mention this special offer when making reservation. Not valid with any other offers.

Thanksgiving Eve Dinner and Weekend Brunches at Insignia
If you’re saving your cooking energy for Thursday and want a night out tonight (Thanksgiving Eve), Restaurant Insignia, 410 S. Alamo St. at the Fairmount Hotel is offering a prix fixe dinner for $35 per person. Appetizer is Seasonal Squash Bisque or a Mixed Field Greens “Greek Salad”; the entrée course choices are Pan-roasted Chicken Breast with Barley “Risotto”, Melted Onions, Lardons, and Chicken Sage Jus, Wood Oven Roasted Salmon or Cast Iron Beef Tenderloin, and Root Vegetables two ways. Desserts: Nutella Cake, Banana Brulée, Banana Cream, Peanut Butter Pumpkin Crumb Cake, Candied Walnut Nougat, Salted Caramel “Mousse” or Key Lime Pie Parfait. 210-223-0401. Insignia is also offering brunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

‘Throwdown!’ on the page
Several years ago (though it seems like yesterday), Bobby Flay returned to San Antonio where he challenged Diana Barrios Treviño to see who could make the best puffy tacos.

The scene was La Hacienda de los Barrios, 18747 Redland Road. Barrios Treviño had shown Flay how to make the local favorite the first time he came to town, so it was a classic case of master v. student. The winner? Barrios Treviño, of course.

Flay pays tribute to Barrios Treviño, her mother, the late Viola Barrios, and to the puffy taco in his latest cookbook, “Bobby Flay’s Throwdown!” (Clarkson Potter, $27.50).

Barrios Treviño returns the favor. “What can we say!” the local chef says. “We’re still enjoying the fun that this show brought and also so grateful for the opportunity! We are selling the book at both Los Barrios and La Hacienda. Bobby did a great job talking about our ‘Throwdown!’ and also about his experience with my mom. We could not be happier!”

The new look at the Cove.

Elbow room at The Cove
We enjoyed a lunch of fish and shrimp tacos, salad and a beanburger at The Cove, 606 W. Cypress. Also our first look at the newly remodeled and enlarged space in the ordering area. Now, nobody really wants the Cove to be too spiffed up, as it would stray from it purely funky roots. But more moving-around space has really helped the stand-up-and-order situation. Not that we’re complaining about that — nor did we have any complaints at all about the tasty SOL food (sustainable, organic, local) — the beef in the burgers and the good array of flavors in the tacos and salad dressings remind us why we need to dock more often at the Cove, not just spin around that curve on our way to someplace else.

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Griffin to Go: A Southern Approach to Using Leftover Turkey


In “A Christmas Story,” the narrator gleefully describes all of the leftover turkey dishes that won’t be served in his household that winter after the neighbors’ dogs have made away with their dinner: “No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey Hash! Turkey a la King! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, all gone!”

HotBrown2

Hot Brown

Not on his list of leftover ideas is one that I grew up with in Louisville, Ky. It’s known as the Hot Brown, and it originated at one of the city’s finer hotels, the Brown.

According to the dish’s history on the hotel’s website, chef Fred Schmidt created the Hot Brown in the 1920s after patrons of the nightly dinner dance grew tired of the same ham and eggs to sober them up before leaving. He combined a Mornay sauce and bacon with turkey breast meat and broiled the dish until it was bubbly. A culinary tradition was born.

The state also had something of a signature dish with the Hot Brown, which I remember in my younger days being served at political functions, at fancy dress dinners, at derby parties, in people’s homes. It was, and is, a staple.

As with any good dish, variations have cropped up over the years. If one is to believe the recipe offered by the Brown, Texas toast is used as the base. I have had it served more often on homemade biscuits. Food Network star Bobby Flay’s gussied up variation uses an egg-batter bread.

Some swear the original did not come with slices of tomato. I like the addition because the freshness and brightness of the tomato’s acid cuts through the rich sauce.

The Brown’s recipe is also served with parsley on top. I don’t recall ever seeing that on a Hot Brown in the past, even when I’ve had it at the Brown Hotel. Nothing about this dish calls for a touch of green. And why would you want to hide the bacon?

I even devised a low-fat version one year using fat-free half-and-half, reduced-fat cheese and turkey bacon. It wasn’t bad, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as more than an experiment.

I visited my folks at the beginning of the month, and we shared a Thanksgiving feast a little early. The next day, Mom whipped up some Hot Browns for us, and she offered a new version: To cut the carbs somewhat (though not completely when you count the flour in the sauce), she left the bread out completely. No biscuits, no Texas toast, nothing. She also served the leftover cran-raspberry relish on the side, which added to its luster. A glass of white Burgundy and you’re all set for some good eats.

So, don’t feel tied to tradition when making your own version. The beauty of this dish is that it will make you forget you’re using leftover turkey.

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