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‘Scrumptious’ US chef Grant Gordon heats up Manila

Tantalizing and scrumptious...and that’s not the food but the chef who whipped it up, one of America’s hottest young chefs, Grant Gordon.

Gordon, 27, recently led a two-day cooking demonstration at the Mall of Asia in Pasay City as part of the US Embassy Manila’s “America in 3D” event.

As he was teaching a crowd of about 200 how to make saffron soup, the first question raised to him was: “Are you available?” Like fans of a Hollywood celebrity, the crowd squealed with delight when Gordon said, “Yes.”

Filipino chef Jill Sandique, who assisted Gordon during the cooking demonstration, joked that those interested in dating the good-looking chef must “apply with the US Embassy.”

But to dissuade girls from getting any ideas into their heads, Gordon said, “Unfortunately I’m going back to the US on Monday” and that was a Saturday. Too bad.

Saffron soup

Chefs Grant Gordon and Jill Sandique conduct the cooking demo. Photo by Riz Pulumbarit
At the cooking demo, Gordon made his favorite soup: saffron shellfish veloute with mussel froth.

According to the recipe provided to GMA News Online by Sandique, the soup contains over 20 ingredients including, of course, saffron, the world’s most expensive spice.

Saffron comes from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus flower. Each flower only has three stigmas, explained Sandique, and half a kilo of saffron contains about 250,000 stigmas. “Can you imagine how many flowers are needed for that?” she asked.

Gordon said saffron “gives everything a nice aromatic smell and color.”

The soup also contained mussels, white wine, thyme, fennel, and leeks. Gordon explained that the soup is a personal recipe he developed with the staff of a restaurant he used to work for. “It’s personal but it’s not a secret recipe. Anybody can have it,” he said.

Gordon, a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, made it to Forbes’ list of “30 under 30” achievers for being made the executive chef of the world-famous restaurant Tony’s when he was only 24.

In 2013, he launched Vallone’s, a modern classic restaurant in Houston, Texas. He was also nominated last year for the Rising Star Chef of the Year award by the James Beard Foundation.

Sweating and browning

Grant and Sandique also prepared a seafood and chicken dish—not a common combination for Filipinos, said Sandique.

She noted that this combination was often only seen in paella or Spanish rice dishes with a combination of different meats, seafood, and vegetables.

Among the techniques the chefs taught during their presentation were sweating and browning. Sweating is the process of cooking something in low heat without caramelizing it. “Walang browning, para lang ma-maximize ang flavor,” said Sandique.

Gordon said sweating was important to draw out the flavor in the shallots he was preparing. He also suggested adding salt while sweating the shallots “to bring out the moisture” and to get more flavor.

Unlike the shallots, which Gordon was taking care not to caramelize while making the soup, Gordon said the chicken had to be browned.

“It’s important for the chicken to be very dry to help it get a very brown color and also prevent it from sticking to the pan,” he explained.

At some point, when all the ingredients have been added, Gordon said it was important to wait patiently for the soup liquid to simmer as the “best recipes take time.”

He warned that the liquid of the saffron soup should be simmering, not boiling. “If it boils, it can scorch it and taste bitter,” he said.

Gordon noted that many people make mistakes in adding salt to whatever they’re cooking. “They think they’ll just add salt then that’s it,” he said.

What people should do is to add salt then taste the dish again. Add a little, just conservatively, then taste it again, he advised.

He also gave the same advice in adding lemon to the soup, which he does because he likes a little acidity in his soups, he said, and "just to brighten up the dish." But just the same with salt, add a little, then taste it again, he advised.

The soup was topped with mussel froth before it was served to the audience. Sandique noted that the froth had a mild flavor and was a “nice, sweet addition” to the soup.

Likes lechon

During his time in the country Gordon did not just showcase his own food. He also sampled Filipino dishes, and said that lechon was his favorite.

Asked what restaurant he liked best among all those he visited during his stay in the Philippines, Gordon said he liked chef Claude Tayag’s restaurant.

Gordon made a trip to Angeles, Pampanga to exchange culinary ideas with Tayag, one of the country’s top chefs. The two chefs prepared a full-course dinner for US Ambassador Philip Goldberg and well-known food critics.

Aside from the cooking demo and the visit to Tayag’s restaurant, Gordon also had speaking engagements at the cooking schools of Enderun College, Punlaan Culinary School, and the American Hospitality Academy. — BM, GMA News