Delicious ideas from Los Angeles chefs

One of our favorite items may have been the most economical one – Bucato restaurant’s rosemary focaccia, which was baked with a topping of olive oil, sea salt and rosemary.

Los Angeles chefs serve a variety of crostini. (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Los Angeles chefs serve a variety of crostini.
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Among the specialties presented by the chefs at “Sweet and Savory Spectacular,” a tasting party that took place recently at the International Culinary School in Santa Monica, California, we found several dishes that we plan to prepare at home.
The value of learning from restaurant chefs was emphasized by Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek in their new book, Secret Restaurant Recipes from the World’s Top Kosher Restaurants. “Restaurants give us an opportunity to try dishes we might not have thought to prepare on our own... Probably every time we eat out, we bring their influences back home to our tables.”
At the chefs’ party, a fund-raiser for the Careers through Culinary Arts Program, we loved the tart of goat cheese, caramelized onions and Kalamata olives prepared by the students of Westlake Culinary Institute. They baked the quiche-like batter in buttery puff pastry they had made themselves. For a shortcut when baking it at home, we would use packaged puff pastry.
One of the desserts we liked best was gateau marjolaine, made of baked almond-hazelnut meringue with chocolate, praline (caramelized toasted nut) and vanilla fillings, which chef/owner Cecilia de Castro of the Academy of Culinary Education served with fresh raspberries and raspberry sauce. To make this cake at home, we would prepare one batch of buttercream, divide it in three parts and mix a different flavoring into each one.
We liked Acabar restaurant’s take on cassoulet, a dish usually made of white beans baked with duck, lamb or other meats. Theirs was a fish cassoulet flavored with chermoula, a North African herb-garlic-cumin marinade generally used for fish. I asked chef Kevin Luzande whether he considered the dish French, since cassoulet is a French specialty; or Moroccan, because of the chermoula. He said he regarded his cassoulet as Spanish, because of the piquillo peppers (small sweet red peppers from Spain) he uses to enhance the beans.
In our kitchen, we use fish in cassoulet when we want a lighter, faster-cooking version of the casserole. We cook the beans and the fish separately and then heat them together briefly, instead of baking the dish at length.
When making his tasty salmon nigiri sushi, the chef of Hamasaku restaurant departed somewhat from tradition. Instead of using raw fish, he seared salmon strips and set them atop mounds of sushi rice. Ginger soy vinaigrette came with the sushi instead of the usual pickled ginger, and crunchy fried onions provided the finishing touch.
Fish with such East Asian flavors has become a favorite around the world. At Jerusalem’s Café Rimon, these seasonings accent an entree of salmon and tuna strips with cashews, sesame seeds and teriyaki sauce. Schapira and Dwek find the sauce so tasty that they recommend preparing a double batch to save for future dishes. (See recipe.)
Although the Los Angeles chefs’ celebration included luxurious ingredients like caviar; bottarga (Mediterranean cured fish roe); burrata (a fresh cheese made of mozzarella and cream); and top-quality steak; the dishes prepared by the chefs were an illustration of how to use such foods in a frugal manner. Caviar was served in small spoonfuls on bite-size blinis (buckwheat flour pancakes) with crème fraîche. Bottarga was finely grated into flavorful flakes that acted as a lively seasoning for a salad of burrata with heirloom tomatoes, basil leaves and olive oil. Grilled steak was used to make crostini – the beef was served in thin slices on toasted ciabatta bread with Dijon mustard, roasted red pepper strips and micro greens.
One of our favorite items may have been the most economical one – Bucato restaurant’s rosemary focaccia, which was baked with a topping of olive oil, sea salt and rosemary. The chef’s assistant told us their secret to making it extra tasty: Just before serving the focaccia, they heated it for 45 seconds in a very hot wood-fire oven, then drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil. At home, this technique should work well in a gas or electric oven.
This savory bread is often made with a variety of toppings, including grated cheeses, olives and vegetables. At Ricotta restaurant in Jerusalem, wrote Schapira and Dwek, the focaccia with feta cheese and seasonal vegetables is the choice of most diners to begin their meals. (See recipe.) 
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh From France: Dinner Inspirations and the award-winning Classic Cooking Techniques.
Salmon and tuna with teriyaki sauce
“Really good and intensely flavorful salmon and tuna fingers,” is the way Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek described this dish from Café Rimon in their new book. The authors note that the sauce makes enough for twice, and can be used for any recipe that calls for teriyaki sauce. If you prefer, use either salmon or tuna instead of combining both; in this case, double the amount.
Makes 4 servings
Teriyaki sauce:
❖ 1 cup sugar
❖ 2 carrots, finely diced
❖ 1 onion, diced
❖ 1 celery rib, diced
❖ 55 grams (2 ounces) fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced
❖ 4 garlic cloves, minced
❖ ½ cup white wine
❖ 2 cups low-sodium soy sauce
❖ 3 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 5 Tbsp. water
Fish and mushroom topping:
❖ 3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
❖ 2 red onions, thinly sliced
❖ 450 gr. (1 pound) mushrooms, quartered
❖ 450 gr. (1 pound) salmon fillet, skin removed, cut into 2.5-cm. (1-inch) wide strips
❖ 450 gr. (1 pound) tuna, cut into 2.5-cm. (1-inch) wide strips
❖ Coarse salt to taste (optional)
❖ Pinch of coarse black pepper
❖ Lettuce (for serving)
❖ 2 green onions, green parts only, cut in rings
❖ ½ cup cashews, for sprinkling
❖ About 2 or 3 Tbsp. sesame seeds, for sprinkling
To prepare the sauce, begin by caramelizing sugar: Add the sugar to a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.
When sugar at the edges of the pan begins to melt, gently stir. Continue to stir gently until sugar is liquefied and golden. (If your sugar turns into rocks, it’s too cold. Raise heat and let it warm up, then gently stir.)
Add carrots, onion, celery, ginger and garlic and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.
Some of the sugar may harden; that’s okay. Add white wine and cook an additional 5 minutes.
Add soy sauce and bring to a simmer. Lower heat; simmer for 1 hour.
Strain out vegetables and return sauce to pan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in cornstarch mixture. Cook until sauce reaches desired consistency and remove from heat. Set aside.
Prepare the fish: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until completely soft and tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
In the same pan, heat remaining olive oil; once hot, add fish. Sear on all sides until medium-rare. (The tuna will cook much faster than the salmon; remove while you still see pink inside.) Remove from pan and set aside.
Return mushroom mixture to pan. Stir in ¾ cup teriyaki sauce and cook for 1 minute. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. (Extra salt may not be necessary, depending on the type of soy sauce used.)
Spread lettuce onto 4 plates. Arrange salmon and tuna in a row on top. Top with mushroom/teriyaki mixture and sprinkle with green onions, cashews and sesame seeds. Drizzle 1 to 2 additional tablespoons teriyaki sauce on top.
Vegetable and feta cheese focaccia
At Ricotta restaurant, wrote Schapira and Dwek, the vegetables in the topping vary with the seasons. The chef also recommends adding black or green olives. To make rosemary focaccia, see the Variation following the recipe.
Makes 6 focaccias
Focaccia Dough:
❖ 2 cups lukewarm water
❖ 2 Tbsp. instant yeast
❖ ¼ cup sugar
❖ 6 to 7 cups flour
❖ ¼ cup olive oil
❖ 1 Tbsp. coarse salt
❖ 2 Tbsp. oil
❖ 1 onion, cut in wedges
❖ 1 sweet red pepper, cut in thin slices
❖ 275 gr. (10 ounces) cherry tomatoes
❖ ½ tsp. coarse salt
❖ Pinch of coarse black pepper
❖ Olive oil, for drizzling
❖ Coarse salt, for sprinkling
❖ Fresh or dried rosemary, for sprinkling
❖ 110 gr. (4 ounces) Bulgarian or feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
To make the dough: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine water, yeast, sugar and a pinch of flour. Add oil, remaining flour (beginning with 6 cups and adding up to 1 more cup if necessary) and salt. Knead in mixer until smooth. Cover with a towel and let rise for 1½ hours.
Flour a surface to roll out the dough; it will be sticky. Divide dough into 6 pieces and roll into circles or ovals.
Place on parchment paper. Cover and let rise an additional 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 245ºC (475ºF). Meanwhile, prepare the topping: Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion, red pepper, tomatoes, salt and pepper; cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
Drizzle rolled-out dough with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt, pepper and rosemary. Prick with a fork.
Top with sautéed vegetables and feta cheese. Bake for 12 minutes.
Variation – Rosemary Focaccia: Instead of baking the focaccia with sautéed vegetables, bake it with just olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary for 9 to 11 minutes. Serve freshly grilled vegetables or salad on top or alongside.