For this month’s meeting of our Bay Area Chapter of US Personal Chefs Association, we went on a foodie tour, exploring food places of West Marin County. As often happens in our business, many of the chefs got busy at the last minute, and only five of us made it to the meeting, turning it into small, casual family gathering.
We started with an oyster farm tour at Hog Island Oyster Company. The farm manager showed us how they grow their oysters in submerged wire basket, told us about oyster’s life cycle, science and technology that go into farming oysters, and seafood safety. We were amazed to learn that even a simple Pacifica oyster takes two years to reach market size. For the tiny delicate Kumamoto oyster it’s three years. I will never complain again about the price of fresh oysters.
Then we sat at a rustic picnic table by the water, and were served fresh sweet water Pacificas, Kumamotos, BBQ oysters with the farm’s signature chipotle-bourbon-garlic butter, Cowgirl Creamery soft-ripened cheese rolled in fresh herbs and edible flowers, and Carneros Brut Rose sparkling wine.
Our next stop was Point Reyes Winery. We tasted their well-aged, medium-bodied wines made of grapes grown in cool coastal areas. One of my favorites was 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, and then I was tale that the winery gets it’s Cabernet grapes from a friend, who grows them in a small vineyard in Terra Linda, just blocks from where I live!
After unsuccessful attempt to engage the cows at the nearby dairy farm in a photo session, we proceeded to downtown Point Reyes Station to do our grocery shopping at the delightful Palace Market, and then to chef Garbo’s charming Inverness country house, to cook our dinner.
The menu was:
Chef Garbo’s Side Car cocktails
Crostini with fig jam and Brie by chef Dawn
Shrimp skewers appetizer by chef Kara
Wine-marinated cedar plank grilled salmon by chef Greg
Chef Greg’s green beans
Grilled butterflied leg of lamb with chimichurri by chef Polina
Chef Dawn’s sweet potato and wild mushroom gratin
We had to abandon all our dessert ideas, since no one had room for the dessert anyway.
We enjoyed cooking together, talked business and food, exchanged tips and tricks about grilling, knife sharpening, using kitchen gadgets, admired chef Garbo’s food styling studio and a beautiful collection of vintage styling props, and generally had a great time.
The next morning my boyfriend and I traditionally missed the chefs breakfast chez Garbo, and instead had coffee and last nights leftovers for breakfast on the beach in front of our hotel room. Then we went for a hike in the hills overlooking Point Reyes seashore, where we saw large herds of elk, a few deer, a coyote, and where I almost stepped on a snake.
On the way back I stopped at a butcher shop on Marin Sun Farms to get grass fed steaks for the grill.
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I get to go to all the parties, and I get paid for this!
The regular personal chef service, cooking weekly family meals, is a lonely job. After interviewing the client about their dietary needs and preferences, I sometimes work for them for months without meeting them. The main reason why they need a personal chef is that they are busy people, right? So when I come with my culinary mission, they are rarely home, and when they are, they are busy in the home office or taking care of the kids, and don’t have time to stop in the kitchen and chat with the chef. It’s fine with me: I love my independence, peace and quiet, and being in full control of the kitchen.
But we all need some social moments, and for me cooking for home dinner parties and conducting interactive dinners and private cooking classes means exactly that. Meeting fellow humans, in their best, relaxed and happy form.
Most modern houses and apartments, fortunately, have open kitchens, so I get to enjoy the party and interact with the guests, share recipes and cooking tips and do a little tasting, while I prepare a special dinner for them.
Also, dinner parties give me an opportunity to practice nice food presentation, while in the regular meal service the presentation options are limited by storage requirements. A meal vacuum-packaged in a rectangular Pyrex dish for storage in the freezer can look beautiful, but I challenge you to make it look striking.
Pictured here is daikon and zucchini salad with lemon dressing that I made for a dinner party for a small San Francisco social media start-up today. This salad is very light and refreshing. It’s also low on calories, vegan, raw, and gluten-free, so everyone, no matter what their diet is, can enjoy it. The choice of a sharper or a fruitier olive oil for the dressing can take it in different directions.
Daikon and Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Lemon Dressing
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 shallot, minced
1 cup olive oil
1 large daikon (Japanese radish), peeled
3 very fresh and tender zucchini
6 large basil leaves
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Make the dressing: cover minced shallot with lemon juice, let sit for a few minutes. Add olive oil and whisk together.
Using vegetable peeler, shave daikon and zucchinis into paper-thin ribbons. Arrange on six salad plates. Rub basil leaves gently with olive oil to prevent darkening from contact with air. Roll the leaves together, and slice them very thin. Unroll the basil – you’ll have very thin basil ribbons. Scatter grated lemon zest and basil ribbons on top of the salad. Pour dressing over salad. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Another raw treat for the same party – raw berry crisp, slightly modified from the recipe on Whole Foods website.
Cherries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries; blue agave and maple syrup, date-pecan-almond topping.
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Cooking and eating are the activities that naturally connect us with the seasons. Living in coastal California, I sometimes cannot tell what time of the year it is by just walking outside. It can be hot and sunny in the middle of January, and our summer fog and wind will easily trick you into reaching for your ski outfit.
But fruits and vegetables don’t grow and ripen in one day, their life cycles depend on the average temperatures, the length of the day, and rainfall, so they can tell you the time of the year for sure.
As a personal chef, I am not bound by a printed menu, so I can select whatever is the best on the market every day. And the best is usually what’s in season right now. I don’t have to buy cardboard winter tomatoes, ever. And if I happen to find a beautiful basket of figs, a handful of young fava beans, a rare boletus mushroom, or tender cute minu-squashes, anything with short season that’s good right now, I’d get it right away, and my clients would appreciate it.
Winter: the start of the year is the time of root vegetables, sturdy greens, cabbages, citrus fruits, pomegranates, and delicious wild mushrooms. It calls for slow cooked comfort foods. It’s also the sardines and Dungeness crab season.
Favorite vegetable: Brussels sprouts
Favorite meat: braised lamb shanks
Favorite seafood: broiled sardines
Favorite fruit: blood orange
Spring is probably the most exciting time at the market. The endless root vegetables of the winter give way to crisp young greens and fresh asparagus, artichokes, spring onions, young garlic, green peas and fava beans.
Favorite vegetable: fava beans
Favorite meat: rabbit mixed grill
Favorite seafood: smoked halibut
Favorite fruit: strawberries
I don’t have to advertise the summer. We all look forward to the grilling season, the heirloom tomatoes, bell peppers, summer squashes of all colors and shapes, tender corn, and or course beautiful summer fruits.
Favorite vegetable: Cherokee purple tomato
Favorite meat: grilled tri-tip steak with chmichurri sauce
Favorite seafood: grilled California spot prawns
Favorite fruit: fig
I love California fall! The weather is usually the best of the year, most of the summer produce continues till the winter storms, so you still get your heirloom tomatoes and peppers, but the fall adds to them the wealth of grapes and fruits, winter squashes, new wine releases, and the beginning of the oyster season.
Favorite vegetable: kabocha squash
Favorite meat: duck leg confit
Favorite seafood: oysters with mignonette sauce
Favorite fruit: Fuyu persimmons
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Caliblini Personal Chef Service is #3 top-rated San Francisco area personal chef at Thumbtack.com!
The #1 is Chef Lisa, a San Rafael chef too – I’m proud that Marin County is such a foodie place.
Chefs, San Francisco
Chefs – San Francisco