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Eric Nelson Plants a Garden of Flavor at Work


Eric Nelson's herb garden at Zachry.

Eric Nelson knows that the freshest herbs you can cook with are the ones you grow yourself.

Eric Nelson

So, the corporate executive chef for Zachry did what he needed to do to make his job easier: He put in a herb garden in an upraised bed just outside the home office on Logwood.

About two dozen herbs in all were planted, including five types of mint, four types of basil, three oreganos, Provençal lavender, onion chives, two varieties of thyme, two parsleys, two sages, lemon grass, a bay leaf tree, aloe vera and mint marigold.

Now, the herbs are a regular feature at the Crossing Cafe at Zachry, where six food stations offer gourmet treats to employees as well as guests.

The herbs are used as “décor on all catering tables, for buffets, in most all dishes served in the café and catering,” says Nelson. “We have a very wide variety that we can use in any shape or form.”

Nelson's Original Baja Fish Taco

Nelson puts his oregano to good use in his Original Baja Fish Tacos, which he demonstrated recently at the Pearl Farmers Market. The dish originated in California, where the chef grew up before heading to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., where he met his wife, Laura.

He found work in restaurants in La Jolla, Calif., Irving, Texas, and Beaver Creek, Colo., before the couple decided to come to Laura’s hometown of San Antonio in 1996. He became the executive sous chef at La Mansión del Rio under Scott Cohen before beginning to work at Zachry.

At the construction firm, Nelson overseas all of the company’s catering needs, whether in-house or at the company’s two off-premise ranches.

Eric and Laura Nelson serve fish tacos at the Pearl Farmers Market.

Nelson offers some advice for home gardeners who want to put in their own herb beds: “Make sure you have the right soil and proper drainage (rock and sand layers). Make sure it is the size you need, a little herbs go a long way.”

His garden at Zachry is “completely organic,” he says. To help keep the plants healthy, “we use mint marigolds to fend off the bugs (bugs do not like their smell) and nematodes, if you get grub worms.”

Planting an herb garden is not new at restaurants. Nelson had one when he worked at La Mansión. But the chef says he had an inspiration that dates back further: “I remember Bruce (Auden) from the old Biga had herbs growing all around the old house that he used in the restaurant. Sometimes when you drove by in the morning, he would be out there drinking his morning coffee, watering all his herbs.”

Now, most mornings you’re likely to find Nelson doing the same as he tends his own garden before the day’s work in the kitchen begins.

(Photographs provided by Eric Nelson.)

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Griffin to Go: A Journey from Duck Fat to Pork Belly


Saturday’s joyous weather called for a food trek through San Antonio, and the result was a trip of savory indulgences.

Scott Cohen demonstrates how to cook foie gras.

It started at Gaucho Gourmet, the exceptional food warehouse the Ciorciari family operates at 935 Isom Road. The space is only open to the public on Saturdays, and word has certainly gotten out about the place as several dozen people showed up to browse through rows of truffles, fine salami, rare cheeses and a few Asian items that have been added to the mix of European and Argentine favorites.

But the real draw this Saturday was a foie gras cooking demonstration given by Scott Cohen, who used to work with Gaucho Gourmet’s Luciano Ciorciari at Pesca on the River Walk, now Ostra, and the late Brasserie Pavil.

Foie gras

That winning combination was made even more winning when seared samples of the fatty duck liver were served up at the end of session.

Cohen, who is now an instructor at Le Cordon Bleu culinary academy in Austin, brought along his son, Daniel, who is now attending the school as well as two local chefs, Isaac Cantu of the Westin La Cantera and Stephen Paprocki of Eurest Compass Group. Both had worked with Cohen at Las Canarias.

When getting ready to prepare foie gras, make sure it is firm, Cohen said. If you press a finger into it, it should keep the indentation, not spread out.

Heat your skillet, but don’t let it get too hot. That could cause the expensive treat to burn. Instead, it should have a pleasant sizzle when you set the slices into the heat. Cohen used a touch of grapeseed oil in the pan beforehand, which has a high smoking point and doesn’t impart a flavor to mask the delicate nature of the foie gras.

Steve White enjoys a sample of foie gras.

The meat is ready when the exterior is seared but the center is warm and will practically melt on the tongue, Cohen said.

To finish of the treat, you could use a sauce made from flavors you enjoy. It could be a balsamic reduction straight from a can, a sauce of brandy-soaked cherries or a more complex creation with a demi-glace base, perhaps with a touch of Saba, a quince glaze.

Gaucho Gourmet sells Hudson Valley Foie Gras in packages of various sizes. It isn’t cheap, but for a special occasion — such as a Saturday morning, Cohen said with a laugh — it’s worth it.

Bonnie and I left Gaucho Gourmet with plans to meet up with several friends at YaYa’s Thai at 8085 Callaghan Road at I-10 for lunch. It was a chance to sample more duck, since the crispy version with red curry was the special. And it was a winner, with a crunchy exterior and moist bits of meat at the center.

YaYa's Fish Cakes

Neither Bonnie nor I wanted much sugar with our food, but we weren’t so lucky with our orders. A shrimp and avocado salad sounded more than good, but the sticky sweet dressing on top did the fresh ingredients in the salad no favors. A beef salad was not quite as bad, but the sugar was there. An order of fish cakes was best with tender egg and fish working together beautifully.

From there, it was on to Rainbow Gardens at 8516 Bandera Road. I had started the day in the garden clearing a spot for cucumbers, but I wanted to plant more. For her garden, Bonnie was looking for a heirloom tomatoes, a couple of okra plants, herbs, African daisies and so forth. Plenty of other gardeners in town had the same ideas, apparently, for the place was bustling.

The herb area at Rainbow Gardens.

Soon our cart was so filled with the likes of purslane, Greek oregano,and Cuban oregano in addition to soil and fertilizer that we had to get a second cart. That prompted even more buying, with zucchini plants, plumbago and more added to the mix. After stopping to pet the nursery’s silky black cat, we headed out and stuffed the trunk and back seat of a small Mazda 3 with purchases.

For me, a trip to that area of Bandera Road is not complete with a stop at Tim’s Oriental & Seafood Market, 7015 Bandera Road. Though most every sweet and starchy snack in the store seemed to call our names, from pastel-colored Piroline-style cookies that would be perfect for Easter to garlicky crackers, we managed to be good and avoid the call of the carbohydrates.

That pork hanging next to the ducks -- that's mine!

But Bonnie saw a thing of beauty at the butcher counter that was beyond resisting. It was roasted pork, actually pork belly, for $6.95 a pound. Hanging next to the marinated roast ducks, which are also a happy bet but perhaps a little too much after all the duck we had had, it sent out Circe’s seductive call. I couldn’t resist. I bought the entire piece, which was chopped up and boxed to go.

The car didn’t make it out of the parking lot before the first pieces of that fat find made it out of the box. The crackling on the outside could not have had more crunch, while the meat and fat, boasting a heady mix of garlic and salt, was practically intoxicating. It was the perfect bookend to the foie gras, and a great way to end the trip before resuming the gardening.

(Photos by Bonnie Walker and John Griffin)

 

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Scott Cohen and Foie Gras – It Happens Saturday


Chef Scott Cohen

Silky, seductive foie gras is a foodie favorite, to be sure. But how do you cook it?

Find out at 11 a.m. this Saturday when former San Antonio chef Scott Cohen returns to give a demonstration. He’ll be at Gaucho Gourmet, a food warehouse at 935 Isom Road.

Gaucho Gourmet sells Hudson Valley Foie Gras in 2-ounce portions. It also has an array of Italian, Spanish and Argentine foods as well as a few items from the rest of Europe not available elsewhere.

While he is at Gaucho Gourmet, Cohen will also be signing copies of his “Texas Hill Country Cookbook,” which features recipes he served when he was executive chef of Las Canarias at the Omni-La Mansión del Rio. He is currently teaching at Le Cordon Bleu culinary academy in Austin.

Gaucho Gourmet is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. For more information on it, click here.

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Chili Is a State of Mind


Chili con carne, a bowl of red, Texas style.

What is chili? It all depends on whom you ask. And where.

Most would agree it’s a stew seasoned with chili powder, but the common ground stops there.

Geography plays a key factor in the answer you’ll get. In Texas it’s a meat stew with chili powder. In the Mid-West and elsewhere, beans are added while the heat has been turned down. In Cincinnati, except a milder blend with cinnamon and chocolate added to the pot.

Vegetarians often use beans and tomatoes to fill the stew, while some opt for a blend of chicken, white beans, onion and garlic with green chiles.

“Whatever one’s orientation or preference as it relates to chili, this special dish, in its many forms and in so many ways, has become part and parcel of the culture of North America, some would even say the world,” writes W.C. Jameson in “The Ultimate Chili Cookbook. ” (I would disagree, at least as far as Germany is concerned. Chili remains a mystery there. I once shared a bowl there with numerous friends and family who had never tasted it before. To me, there was no discernible heat in the bowl, yet all of the others who tasted it complained it was too hot.)

The spelling of the dish sometimes gets a little messier than a chili stain on a white linen napkin. But Jameson clarifies the matter: “Chile, with an ‘e’ at the end instead of an ‘i,’ refers to peppers from the capsaicin family. ‘Chile’ is synonymous with chile pepper, whether red or green. Chile peppers, of course, are a principle ingredient in chili.”

Serve your Cincinnati chili however you want it.

So, let’s get cooking.

We present three variations on chili. One from culinarians Ron Bechtol and Cynthia Guido Williams is an old-fashioned favorite that tastes like the bowls of red one used to find from the Chili Queens in San Antonio’s marketplaces.(Click here.)

A second recipe comes from chef Scott Cohen, who’s chili take is from the heart. The award-winning recipe played a savory role in the early days of his romance with his wife, Jamie. (Click here.)

Last is Cincinnati-style chili, which is made and seasoned very differently from any other chili you may have tried. This unorthodox is made with boiled beef and is seasoned with cinnamon. But once you acquire the last for it, you’ll include it in your rotation for the rest of your life. (Click here.)

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Scott Cohen Puts a Lot of Love in His Chili


Chili powder offers heat for your bowl of red.

Scott Cohen of the Cordon Bleu in Austin has a fond place in his heart for his chili.

“This dish is a tribute to my wife, Jamie, whom I met while I was working at the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas,” he writes in “The Texas Hill County Cookbook” (ThreeForks. $24.95). “On our first date, we had a chili contest in her apartment complex. I offered to make it with fresh pasta, which I did for the restaurant, but Jamie, a native Texan, thought that was sacrilegious. She never saw kidney beans in chili, either, but I won her over, and it became the thing that we do together whenever we can because it reminds us of our first date.”

The story doesn’t end there. “This dish also won first place in a James Beard chili cook-off,” say Cohen, formerly of San Antonio’s Brasserie Pavil, Watermark Grill and La Mansión del Rio. “Make this chili ahead of time, and use a big pot. Serve it with some fresh crunhy bread and a dark beer, such as Shiner Bock.”

Jamie’s Chili

16 ounces dried kidney beans
6 cups water
3 ½ teaspoons chili powder
4 ancho chiles, soaked, seeded, and finely diced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and finely diced
2 jalapeños, seeded and finely diced
½ tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
Salt, to taste
4 pounds ground beef
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ pounds canned stewed tomatoes, finely diced
5 ounces tomato paste
2 smoked ham hocks

Wash beans in cold water, drain. Cover in mixing bowl with cold water, about 2 inches over beans and soak 8 hours or overnight. Drain beans and add 6 cups water, chili powder, ancho chiles and bring to boil in sauce pot; simmer 2 hours. Add poblano pepper, jalapeños, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, cracked black pepper and salt to taste (about 3 teaspoons to start). Cover and simmer 3 hours. Let mixture chill about 6-8 hours or overnight.

In large sauce pot, sauté ground beef until golden brown; add onions and garlic and cook until onions are soft. Remove from stove and drain excess grease. Add beef-onion-garlic mixture to bean mixture in large sauce pot. Add stewed tomatoes, tomato paste and soaked ham hocks. Bring to boil and simmer 2 hours. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and spices and water, if chili is too thick or not spicy enough.

Come and get it!

From “The Texas Hill Country Cookbook” by Scott Cohen and Marian Betancourt

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Brasserie Pavil Hires a New Executive Chef


Rene Bajeux

Brasserie Pavil, 1818 W. Loop 1604 N., has hired a new executive chef, Rene Bajeux, who is coming to San Antonio from St. Martin in the French West Indies. He succeeds Scott Cohen, who is now teaching at le Cordon Bleu in Austin and remains an adviser to the French restaurant.

Bajeux began his culinary training in his native France. He also worked in Luxembourg and Canada before moving to the United States in 1979.

During his career, he worked at restaurants in Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Hawaii. His work has been singled out by Esquire magazine for being part of one of the best new restaurants, while the American Tasting Institute named him Chef of the Year. He is also one of the 50 French Master Chefs in the U.S., as designated by the Maître Cuisinier de France.

His last job was at La Samanna Resort on St Martin.

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Used Cookbook Swap on Saturday


“101 Ways to Make Kimchi.” “Low-Fat Mexican.” “Great Chefs of San Francisco.” When you look over your cookbook collection, do you see titles that you just don’t use? Well, don’t let those recipe collections continue to gather dust.

You can take them to a used cookbook swap set up for Saturday morning by the Twig Bookstore in conjunction with the Pearl Farmers Market and Melissa Guerra’s Tienda de Cocina.

The rules are simple, manager Claudia Sharp says. “If you bring one cookbook, you can take one cookbook; if you bring five, you can take five,” she says.

The swap will be in the studio space near the bookstore, located in the Full Goods Building at the Pearl Brewery, 200 E. Grayson St.. It will take place from 10 a.m. to noon.

At the same time, there will be a gathering of cookbook authors to sign new copies of their books, which will be for sale.

The lineup includes Michael Flores with “My Family, My Friends, My Food: Recipes Celebrating People and Food”; Susan Dunbar Snyder with the “New Braunfels Smokehouse Cookbook”; Pat Mozersky with “Cooking with Les Dames d’Escoffier”; Scott Cohen with “Texas Hill Country Cookbook”; and Guerra with “Tienda de Cocina Cookbook.” Cooking demonstrations using foods from the farmers market, which runs 9 a.m.-1 p.m., will also be offered.

Also at the Twig, at 10:30 a.m. that morning, dance lovers will be served with a sampling of “Coppelia,” the latest dance to be presented by the San Antonio Ballet Company. A storybook reading of the tale behind the dance will be presented for children and a pair of dancers will perform an excerpt.

For more information, call the Twig at (210) 826-6411.

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Lunch Special, Menu Changes at Pavil, Watermark


Get lunch and get back to work with Pavil’s new 40-Minute Express Lunch. Also, check out a brand new menu at Watermark Grill. Many of the Watermark items have been changed, says chef Scott Cohen – and seasonal fish is always the name of the game.

The 40-Minute Express Lunch offers any entrée, entrée salad or sandwich from the menu to which you can add a choice of soup of the day or the Signature Pavil Salad, for an extra $2.95. Just let the waiter know you want the “express.”

At Watermark, says Cohen, the fish offerings on the menu reflect what is currently in season. This is in following with Watermark’s concept of keeping the fish and shellfish offerings as fresh as possible. Look for an array of new items. The 40-Minute Express Lunch also is available at Watermark Grill. Order from a printed, two-course menu.

Pavil is at 1818 N. Loop 1604. Watermark Grill is at 18740 Stone Oak Parkway.

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New Watermark Grill Offers Prime Seafood, Beef


WatermarkGrill1The new Watermark Grill, in what was formerly the Reggiano’s location on Stone Oak Parkway just north of Loop 1604, is now open, says owner of the Watermark Hotel Company, Pat Kennedy.

WatermarkGrill2At a recent preview, guests had a first taste of garlic shrimp, crab legs, coconut shrimp, grilled quail and more. Seafood is the focus of the new restaurant, says executive chef Scott Cohen. The emphasis is on items caught fresh daily and brought in from around the world, a raw bar, spit-roasted items from the large, open kitchen as well as prime USDA steaks.

An award-winning chef, Cohen’s claim to fame in San Antonio follows his successful career in New York, in Dallas at The Mansion on Turtle Creek and many other venues. Here, he was executive chef at two two of the city’s top River Walk restaurants, Las Canarias at La Mansion del Rio and Pesca on the River at the Watermark Hotel & Spa.

Cohen was among the first chefs in the city dedicated to seeking out the best in food and produce from sources close to San Antonio, including the Texas Hill Country. “I’m excited that I’ve been able to continue my goal to utilize the best of what this area has to offer and provide truly great culinary experiences right here in San Antonio,” says Cohen.

The Watermark Hotel Company also owns Brasserie Pavil, at Loop 1604 and Huebner Road, which opened in December 2008.

For more information about the new restaurant, go to www.watermarkgrill.net.

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Real Ale, Real Fine Food Pairings


BeerDinner6

Brasserie Pavil, 1818 N. Loop 1604 W., is showing diners that beer is a natural with food, and the rewards can be just as exciting as matching wine with food.

BeerDinner2The restaurant is now offering its first beer tasting menu, with Blanco’s finest, Real Ale Brewing Company, filling the starring role.

A plate with house-made smoked salmon and beef carpaccio are paired with the Fireman’s No. 4 Blonde Ale, followed by the Rio Blanco Pale Ale, a brew with a marked citrus flavor, which gives it enough zing to cut through the richness of chef Scot Cohen’s decadent macaroni and cheese with duck confit and dried cranberries.

It’s followed by littleneck clams steamed in white wine and the spicy, hoppy Full Moon Rye Pale Ale. Braised lamb in a fiery harissa sauce with white beans and roasted pumpkin is just right for fall weather and the dark, roasted flavors of the Brewhouse Brown Ale.

The meal closes out with banana crepes and the matching toffee notes of the Sisyphus Barleywine Ale, an 11-percent alcohol beer with plenty of hops to balance the sweetness.

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Brad Farbstein of Real Ale

The restaurant launched the meal deal recently with a dinner that featured brewery president Brad Farbstein.

Except more beer menus in Brasserie Pavil’s future. “Brasserie,” after all, is French for “brewery,” so the two are a natural.

For more on Real Ale, click here. For more on Brasserie Pavil, click here.

The cost of the dinner is $45 a person and is available nightly through the end of the month. Call (210) 479-5000.

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