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Chris Cook to Be Executive Chef at O’liva Cafe


The upcoming O’liva Café, 115 Plaza de Armas, has announced that Chris Cook has been named the farm-to-table restaurant’s executive chef.

Chris Cook

Chris Cook

Owner and general manager Chuck Hernandez met Cook through San Antonio’s Chef Cooperative and soon thereafter contracted Cook to do some consulting work for O’liva, which led to the job.

Cook has 23 years of experience working in the culinary industry and brings his knowledge and creativity to O’liva. “Cook has a lot of experience working in the downtown market, and we also share a similar mission to bring an elevated styling to an ancient product. He’s able to take my ideas and modernize them. This is a powerful alliance that I believe will ensure the success of O’liva,” Hernandez says.

Cook, who’s already in the midst of planning for the restaurant, says, “I believe in this project, Café O’liva, and what it stands for, because it will be great for the community of San Antonio. Even beyond the restaurant, we’ll be providing a consistent selection of goodies through the market and CSA, as well as a wide array of boxed to-go lunches for the professional crowd.”

He also points out that another of O’liva’s primary goals is to educate people, not only about olive oil and local wine and beer, but about healthy eating and lifestyles. Cook, along with the O’liva team, will be designing wellness programs and personal training opportunities.

Cook, who is the co-founder of the Chef Cooperative, is excited about the upcoming pop-up feast, Offishal, set for June 13 at the Spanish Governor’s Palace, which is a collaboration between the Cooperative and O’liva Café. Tickets are still available for this event and can be found at chefcooperatives.com.

For more information on O’liva, visit olivasa.com.

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Head to Turkey for Dinner by Way of Sandy Oaks


turkey sandy oaksELMENDORF — Turkey once ruled a large part of the world as the Ottoman Empire encompassed many of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The country’s flavorful cuisine influenced much of the conquered world and so what was once unique to Turkey has become the cuisine we now associate with the countries Turkey once occupied.

You can sample the exciting dishes of this Middle Eastern country on Friday, Aug. 8, as Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, 25195 Mathis Road, Elmendorf, continues its Passport dinner series with a culinary trip to Turkey.

Turkish olive oil is celebrated for its wonderful flavor. Historically, Turkey produced delicious wines, but in recent times, winemaking has been limited to only a small region of the country. Though small in production, Turkish wines are as flavorful as the food.

Chef Chris Cook has prepared a menu that combines the ingredients typical of Turkey with his own creative take on the food of the region. He has paired several Turkish wines with the fare.

The evening begins at 7 p.m. with traditional cheeses, olives, olive oil and accompaniments, followed by Grilled Swordfish with Lemon Olive Hummus and Texas Peaches paired with Likya Chardonnay 2012. The Tempura Zucchini Blossom with Spiced Shrimp will be paired with Cacik Likya Sauvignon Blanc 2012 while Lahmacun “Pizza” with Veal, Caramelized Onion, Garden Tomato, Quail Egg is served with Likya Malbec 2011. Manti with Lamb, Olive, Parsley, Truffle “Ravioli” and Almond Broth will be served alongside Likya Malbec 2011. The meal closes with Sutlac, Rice Pudding with Allspice and Preserved Lemon and the Likya Rose 2012.

The price for the meal is $65 a person, tax and tip not included. To make reservations, call (210) 621-0044.

Also new to Sandy Oaks is Sunday brunch complete with live jazz music and an all-you-can-eat buffet and complimentary mimosas. It is available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The price is $25 for adults and $10 for children under 12.

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Wine and Dine at the Alamo on Friday


How many chances do you get to eat dinner and drink wine in the Alamo?

alamoOne chance is coming your way this Friday with at dinner hosted by the neighboring Oro restaurant at the Emily Morgan Hotel, Michael David Winery and Allies of the Alamo. The event begins at 6 p.m.

Four food stations will be set up with Oro chef Chris Cook leading a team that includes chefs Stephen Paprocki and Jeff Wayne White.

The first will feature ceviche made with gulf shrimp, redfish, octopus and lemongrass; it will be paired with the MDW Sauvignon Blanc and Incognito wines. The 6th Sense Syrah and Inkblast Cabernet Franc will be poured at the second station along with Hill Country quail and local rabbit. Pork belly and foie gras will be served with Lust and 7 Deadly Zins at the third station. Finally, Smoked Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding alongside Sea Salt and Cajeta Churros will be served wtih Freakshow Cabernet and Petite Petit.

Winery owners Michael and Kristy Phillips will be on hand as well as historic figures from the past.  A silent auction will also be held to raise more money for the Alamo.

Tickets are $65 per person and include complimentary valet parking at the Emily Morgan Hotel. Call (210) 225-1391, ext. 10.

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Oro to Showcase Michael David Winery on April 25


wine pourMichael David Winery is a California favorite named for the brothers Michael and David Phillips. Their family has been farming in the Lodi area since the 1850s, and the brothers are now passing off the running of the winery to a new generation, the sixth generation of grape growers.

This celebrated winery will be the focus of a dinner set fro 6:30 p.m. April 25 at the Emily Morgan Hotel and Oro Restaurant, 705 E. Houston St.

Chef Chris Cook has created a multi-course menu that begins with Smoked Gulf Shrimp and 6th Sense Syrah 2010, followed by  Texas Peach and Chevre Risotto with a Popcorn Crumble and 7th Heavenly Chardonnay 2011.  Cocoa Strip Loin with Pickled Berry and Nutmeg Froth will be paired with the Petite/Petit 2010 before  Young Chicken Coq au Vin with a Black Currant Bacon Reduction and Incblot Cabernet Franc 2010.

Dessert is Dark Chocolate Raspberry Mousse with Drunken Espresso Raisin and Black Cherry Candy alongside the Earthquake Zinfandel 2011.

The price of the dinner is $79.95 plus tax and tip. Complimentary valet parking and reduced room rates are available. For reservations, call (210) 244-0146.

 

 

 

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Oro’s Chris Cook Gets His Moment in Spotlight


Chris Cook

Chris Cook

San Antonio fans of Food Network’s “Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell” might recognize a familiar face or two — besides the shock-haired host, that is — this Thursday night when a new episode airs.

Chris Cook from Oro in the Emily Morgan Hotel, 705 E. Houston St., will be seen competing against three other chefs on the cooking challenge show. The theme for the episode is “Texas Sized Operation” and was filmed last October at Austin’s Abel’s on the Lake.

This is the first national TV exposure for the chef, who has otherwise only demonstrated his culinary skills on a few local shows.

It wasn’t his first choice of shows. “I tried out for ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ ” he says, referring to Gordon Ramsey’s show. But he didn’t make the cut.

So, when he saw a random advertisement on craigslist.org for chefs to appear on an unnamed TV show, he decided to give it a try. But he did have one prerequisite before he would agree to appear: “I wanted a real-deal challenge. I didn’t want anything staged — and I made sure of that from the very beginning.”

The show turned out to be “Chef Wanted,” and it fit the bill. Except for a few promo shots at the beginning, the filming was entirely part of the competition, Cook says.

That doesn’t mean it was easy work. “It’s not too fun having a camera constantly in your face,” he says, explaining that if the cameramen missed a shot, they would need to get something they could use, all while the clock is ticking and Burrell is waiting.

The need for footage is paramount. It is television, after all. “You have to make the time to get it done,” he says.

That meant three long days of filming, but the self-effacing chef didn’t seem to mind: “I’m not a stranger to hard work.”

Cook hasn’t seen the episode yet, but he says he felt comfortable in front of the camera. “I didn’t hold anything back,” he says. “What you see is who I actually am.”

He can’t mention any of the details of the show, even to disclose what the competition consists of, “unless you have $100,000 to give me,” he says, referring to the confidentiality agreement he signed as part of his appearance.

But a listing on Food Network’s website offers this description: “Chef Anne Burrell brings in four candidates for the executive chef job at Abel’s on the Lake, a 10,000 square foot restaurant in Austin, Texas. The chefs are tested of their use of local ingredients, as well as their ability to handle quantity and consistency. The final two chefs will not only handle dinner service, but also a special party in the restaurant’s event space: One chef must re-work an entire dish at the last minute, while the other must overcome poor communication with the staff.”

Cook also didn’t identify the other chefs competing against him, though he did say that one of the three was also from San Antonio, while the other two were from Austin and Los Angeles.

What does the chef hope to gain from appearing on the show?

“I want to put my hotel back on the map,” he says. He has worked for the last two years, trying to rebuild Oro’s kitchen, its staff and its reputation. A renovation and a recent rebranding of the Emily Morgan as a Doubletree Hotel will also help.

“I wear a lot of hats,” he says of his job as executive chef. Marketing, hiring, firing and working on issues from cleanliness to consistency have all been a part of the picture.

He’s started to see his numbers grow, as word has begun to spread about everything from his roast chicken to his tea program. If history is any indication, they should only continue to climb thanks to his appearance on “Chef Wanted.”  Other local restaurants featured on Food Network or cooking shows, from “Top Chef” to “Man vs. Food,” can testify how even the shortest feature can increase business.

Cook will likely take off work a little early Thursday so he can go home to watch the episode with his wife, Christabel, and their 3-year-old daughter, Copper.

Cooper might not quite understand what appearing on national TV means for her father, but she does know that “I cook for a living,” he says.

“Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell: Texas Sized Operation” will premiere Thursday at 9 p.m. CT on Food Network. It will repeat at midnight. A third airing is set for 10 p.m. March 3. Click here for more information. 

 

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Special Dinners Celebrate Whiskey, Chocolate and Wine


Three special dinners in the area are putting the spotlight on whiskey, chocolate and wine, respectively.

Myron’s is hosting a whiskey dinner.

Myron’s Prime Steakhouse,  10003 N.W. Military Hwy., is hosting a whiskey tasting dinner at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 with  Adam Harris, distillery specialist for Beam Global Spirits as the guest speaker.

The Whiskeys of the World Dinner menu begins with  Canadian Club Manhattan, followed by Maple Glazed Cedar Planked Salmon over Butternut Squash Puree with Haricot Verts and a Blood Orange Reduction served with Kentucky’s Maker’s Mark 46. Irish Lamb Stew with Potatoes, Carrots, Onions and Cabbage over traditional soda bread is presented with Kilbeggan of Westmeath, Ireland. Jerked Pork Chops over Coconut and Mango Rice with Sautéed Brussels Sprout Leaves is partnered with Knob Creek Rye of Kentucky. Finally, Cold Smoked Beef Tenderloin with Blue Cheese Butter over Parmesan Crusted Potatoes and White Asparagus is served with Laphroaig from the Isle of Islay, Scotland.

The cost of dinner is $74.95 plus tax and tip. For reservations, call (210) 493-3031.

Little Gretel is going chocolate crazy.

Little Gretel, 518 River Road, Boerne, is having a chocolate dinner as part of the second annual Dine & Wine BoerneFest. It begins at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 19.

The menu, presented with the Chocolate & Wine Festival of Texas, includes Coquilles St. Jacques with a Chocolate and Cranberry Sauce, Chocolate Soup a la Goethe’s Mum, Arugula-Strawberry Salad with Chocolate-Balsamic Vinaigrette, Pepper-crusted Beef Tenderloin or Chicken Breast with Chocolate-Port Sauce and Black Forest Kirsch Cake.

The price is $69 a person plus tax and tip. Call (830) 331-1368 for reservations.

Oro is pairing wine with a special dinner.

Oro at the Emily Morgan Hotel, 705 E. Houston St., is hosting a Halloween party and Deutsch Family Estate portfolio wine dinner with guest speaker Brian Windham. It begins at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 19.

Diners are encouraged to dress in costume for the dinner with the winner of the best costume winning a complimentary dinner and a room for a night.

Chef Chris Cook’s menu begins with Ghostly Smoked Chicken Wonton with Girard Chardonnay 2000. Beaten and Blackened Hawaiian Opah with Sweet Potato and Pear Hash will be paired with The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc 2011, followed by Horrific Canadian Lobster Mac and Cheese with Swiss Chard and Cranberries paired with Baron Fini Pinot Grigio 2011. Spooky Citrus Pan Seared Pork Tenderloin and Ramon Bilbao Albariño Rias Biaxes 2010 preceded To Die For Anise Scented Braised Short Rib with Girard Petite Sirah 2009. Dessert will be the chef’s devilish choice.

The price is $69.95 a person plus tax and tip. Call (210) 225-5100 for reservations.

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Oro to Showcase California Wines


Oro at the Emily Morgan Hotel, 705 E. Houston St., is hosting a wine dinner featuring special selections from Raymond, Buena Vista and Deloach. It is set for 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Chris Cook’s menu, with some fall seasonal accents, begins with Lightly Grilled Jumbo Gulf Shrimp with Tarragon Cream Cheese and Guava Mango BBQ paired with Raymond Sauvignon Blanc 2011. Pulled Vanilla Scented Duck Confit with Butter Lettuce and Grilled Pear is served with Raymond Chardonnay 2010.

Green Peppercorn-studded Grilled Petite Filet with Cinnamon Cauliflower is presented with Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2009, while Slow Roasted Young Pheasant with Smoked Mushroom and Long Bean Blackberry Jus is paired with Buena Vista The Count 2009. Dessert is Rhubarb Gelatto Coca-Cola Float and Anise Biscotti Crumble with Deloach Russian River Pinot Noir 2010.

The price is $65.95 plus tax and tip. Valet parking is complimentary and reduced room rates are available.

For reservations, call (210) 225-5100.

 

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Wente Wine Dinner Planned for Oro at the Emily Morgan


Chris Cook and the team at Oro in the Emily Morgan Hotel, 705 E. Houston St., will showcase the wines of Wente Vineyards on Friday, Aug. 24.

The Califnoria winery is known for its Chardonnay clone as well as its lush reds. Winery spokesman Tom Campese will be on hand to discuss the wines.

The menu begins with pear, mango, pineapple and pico de gallo with a crisp tortilla and the 2000 Morning Fog Chardonnay, followed by Anise-scented Grilled Prime Filet with pickled beet and roasted corn plus the 2010 Livermore Valley The Spur.

A Pan-seared Diver Scallop with South Texas Kimchee and the 2011 Livermore Valley The Whip will be served before Coffee- and Clove-scented Australian Lamb Loin and the 2009 Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon. Dinner closes with Tahitian Vanilla Bean Streusel Apple and 2010 Riva Ranch Chardonnay.

The dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. with a reception and the meal at 7 p.m. The price is $69.95 a person plus tax and tip. Complimentary valet parking and discounted room rates available. Call (210) 225-5100 for reservations.

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A Hankering for Roast Chicken That Gets Under the Skin


Give me some skin!

You can separate some people by their politics, their sports team allegiances, their taste in music or even their drink of choice.

I’m a chicken person. I ask people what their favorite type of chicken is.

Fried chicken? If you’ve had the best, such as a crackling bird from Tommy Moore’s or Mr. and Mrs. G’s, that’s practically greaseless yet loaded with flavor from first bite, then I know I can respect your opinion when it comes to most food. I’ll also start to drift off on memories of some crunchy thigh or drumstick that had just the right blend of salt and pepper in the flour mix and seasoned each mouthful. If fast food is all you have time for, and Popeye’s is near the top of the list, I’ll nod in agreement.

Although I grew up in Kentucky, I hate to admit it, but I can’t find much to agree with when people start singing the praises of KFC. Soggy, supermarket fried chicken is even more of a let-down, even when served cold, picnic style.

Things get a little rockier when rotissere chicken comes up. Are these people talking about those all-too-often mealy creatures you grab  at the supermarket when you just don’t have time to cook that night? Those are more an act of desperation than a real delicacy, and my opinion has slid just a touch.

If someone mentions boneless, skinless chicken breast by itself, I generally stop listening. It’s like listening to someone praise store-bought white bread, although I think the bread often has more flavor. Chicken breast is what I gladly give to others or what I save for chicken salad, when mayonnaise, sour cream and a few more seasonings are there to add flavor.

Herb-Roasted Chicken

Mention roast chicken, however, and I definitely see friend material. It means you know the joys of tearing off a piece of glistening skin and having it crackle in your mouth. Suddenly, your senses take over as you take in the texture and the sound as well as the aroma and the flavor. There is a reason this succulent taste of heaven is an international classic.

But getting that perfect bird isn’t always easy. I’ve tried numerous recipes in the past. I even bought a wonderful cookbook called “Roast Chicken and Other Stories,” though I have to admit that the chicken recipe may be my least favorite of all that I’ve tried. I even bought a special chicken roaster. And I’ve loved experimenting with the various cooking  techniques people swear by, from cooking the bird at a low temperature for a long time or starting the temperature really hot to get the skin crispy and then lowering it while the rest of the bird cooks.

What is driving me is a taste memory of the best roast chicken I’ve ever had, which was about 13 years ago at the Old Chatham Shepherding Farm in upstate New York. Chef Melissa Kelly stuffed slivers of truffle under the skin and used just enough butter to get practically lacquer the skin. The meat underneath was moist, as if the butter basted the meat while the truffle perfumed it. Never again, however. I haven’t seen the likes of it on her menu at her subsequent restaurant, Primo in upstate Maine.

My desire to find the best roast chicken recipe led me to two area chefs, Chris Cook from Oro in the Emily Morgan Hotel and Zach Lutton from Zedric’s Healthy Gourmet to Go. Both started from the same point: Use a really good chicken, preferably one raised responsibly in the area from a ranch such as Peeler Farms or Vital Farms. Then they went off in opposite directions, yet both produced the crispy skin  and juicy meat I crave. (If you’re wondering about my obsession with the skin, then you don’t get roast chicken at all. Let me just say that I’ll roast an entire chicken for dinner. Then I’ll sit down and eat the skin. If I’m still hungry after that, I’ll have a thigh.)

Young Chicken Confit

Cook prepares his confit style in duck fat the day before serving. Then he roasts it the last step of the way in an oven that allows the skin to reach that perfect crackling stage. The end result is dizzying with the achiote carrots and the rest of the vegetables you can serve with it. It does take a good deal of preparation, so you might want to leave the cooking up to Cook and enjoy this dish at Oro in the Emily Morgan, 705 E. Houston St., where locals can enjoy 20 percent off their meal.

Lutton’s recipe starts out on a high temperature and stays there, which made me slightly nervous. He uses olive oil under the skin instead of butter, though a combination of the two might also work. My fears were groundless. The skin came out a rich brown that bypassed the usual golden color and yet carried a load of flavor. It was also so easy that I’ve made it twice, just to be sure — and to get a little more of that skin.

I realize my roast chicken fixation is arbitrary, but I can’t help. I can only feed the addiction. Now, it’s your turn. What’s your favorite way to prepare chicken? Or what’s the best chicken you’ve ever had?

In the meantime, try Cook’s and Lutton’s recipes. Both are excellent methods of preparing this classic dish.

 

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Young Chicken Confit from Chris Cook of Oro


Young Chicken Confit

Chris Cook, executive chef at Oro in the Emily Morgan, gets crackling good skin on his chicken by cooking it the day before in duck fat and then crisping it up just before serving. The end result is ideal if you want to do a dinner for two ahead of time.

The chicken is on the menu at Oro, which offers San Antonio residents a 20-percent discount off their meals. So, if you don’t have the duck fat on hand to make this succulent treat, you can at least taste it at the downtown restaurant, 705 E. Houston St.

The trappings can change with the season, so you can adapt this recipe to suit what is in season, whether it’s butternut squash, oven-roasted beets or English peas. The recipe that follows is Cook’s summer presentation.

Young Chicken Confit

Dinner:
1 (3-pound) chicken confit
6 ounces achiote carrot purée
2 tomatillos, cut in half and grilled until soft
4 ounces green beans, blanched, sautéed, and seasoned with salt and white pepper
2 ounces pomegranate syrup, drizzled around chicken for presentation

Chicken Confit:
1 (3-pound) chicken, cut in half
1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup chili powder
½ cup bay leaves
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped
8 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup garlic powder
1/2 cup  onion powder
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons coarse ground black peppercorns
2.5 quarts duck fat or a 90/10 vegetable oil/olive oil blend

Achiote Carrot Purée:
5 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 ounces achiote paste, chopped fine
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon honey
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground white pepper, to taste

For the chicken: Generously season chicken with salt, chili powder, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, garlic cloves, garlic powder and onion powder inside cavity and out. Cover and cure for one full day.  Once cured, place half chickens in heavy gauge pot and cover with duck fat. Cook over low, low, low heat for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.  Remove and store in fat in refrigerator until time to serve. When ready to serve, remove chicken from fat and place in 425 degree oven until nice and golden brown and warmed through.

For the carrot purée: Blanch carrots in boiling salted water until really soft and almost falling apart. In food processor, add achiote paste, cream, butter and honey, and purée until very smooth.  Season with salt and white pepper. Consistency should be that of potato purée.

Makes 2 servings.

From Chris Cook, Oro Restaurant at the Emily Morgan

 

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