Preparation Always Pays Off

The old saying goes, “Luck is the place where preparation meets opportunity.” In my humble opinion, no preparation is ever wasted.

In the culinary world, preparation is the cornerstone of the craft. As in chess, every move you make in the kitchen sets up not only the next move, but any number of moves down the line. Fail to order properly ahead of time and you can lose whole dishes off of your menu. You can’t cook with food you don’t have.

Take too long with your chopping and mixing, you may miss your window for firing, then all of the elements fail to arrive on time, together. You drop one ball and balls start dropping all over the kitchen. It’s a cascading effect from which it’s tough to recover. Prepare and you won’t have to worry about it.

Then there is preparation that goes beyond and precedes the day’s work. That’s the prep that goes into building your repertoire and your character. By that, I mean stockpiling your inventory of skills and knowledge and life experience.

My style of cooking, if I have a style, is characterized by a foundation in a classical European approach with an overlay of the eclectic. I have at least a passing familiarity with the cuisines of many different nations. When I cooked for the Royals, who liked their food very English and relatively quite plain, we had a lot of guests, from pretty much everyplace in the world, and they liked cooking that reminded them of home.

When I left that job, I shipped aboard cruise liners that made ports of call all over the globe and hosted every nationality imaginable. Then I headed food operations in hotels and casinos, which not only means room service, breakfasts and buffets, but the French bistro, the upscale Italian, the big time steak house, the Sichuan palace and the sushi bar, to name just a few.

All of these influences came together on one of the best days I had on Dinner: Impossible, which also happens to be the one day I truly “failed” one of my missions. At the CIA.

The Culinary Institute of America, the home of one of the world’s great cooking schools, has a faculty brimming with master chefs. The challenge that day was to walk into a room, analyze, by taste alone, dishes created by seven renowned chefs in seven different national cuisines, recreate them without recipes, then create seven additional dishes in each of those nationalities assisted only by a team of students. Oh, and you’ve got to make enough of everything to feed the other 80 students who are coming for dinner.

Every chef I polled later on the faculty thought we were nuts. Maybe, maybe if I’d had George and George and David we might have made it. I didn’t think we had much of a chance. Guess what? We didn’t make it. And I had one of the best days ever.

In that hallowed hall of cooking, with those inexperienced but incredibly game teammates, under unbeatable time pressure, we threw everything we had at that challenge.
I know that sauerbraten typically takes three days to make, but I thought that if I could quick-braise the beef, I could make it happen. For the Indian dish, I am a sucker for nothing if not a great lamb curry. We never had close to enough goat for everybody, but had lots of great veal, so I went “Saltimbocca” for the Italian and “Blanquette” for the French. The kids gave it their all, stealing every trick they could muster from their instructors; one showing dogged persistence no matter how many meatballs she was asked to roll, another throwing together enough chocolate cake to feed a small army, a third doing the work of three while softly singing to himself the whole time, “Chef is in the weeds, chef is in the weeds…” just loud enough to be picked up on our microphones.

Did we “fail” the mission? Sure, but that was never really the point. Afterwards I felt a weird sense of elation, not even close to any sense of failure. We got a great show out of it, I was humbled by the graciousness and support of our hosts, took the kids out for refreshments and a chat after and went home feeling deeply satisfied.

Being there felt right, like I had chosen the right profession for myself, that I was on the right path for me and that I was doing okay. Last Christmas, I was invited to return to the site of a great day and a great memory and to speak at the CIA commencement ceremony. On that day I was bestowed the honor of being named an “Ambassador of the CIA.”

Whatever you do on any given day with the right spirit in mind prepares you for these moments.

Whatever you do that develops your way of thinking and kindles the fire inside you, that feeds your curiosity, that sets you in the direction of mastery, is preparation for the as yet unguessed-at events of your life.

You never know what is going to come in handy, what scrap of information, what purloined technique, what chapter of what book you’ve read or TV show you’ve watched or conversation you’ve had, with someone who knows more than you do about a subject and is willing to share with you, will become a valuable part of your development.

No single headache or problem can defeat you. Conversely, triumphs come and go. I think that what will see you through, in the end, is the trust in the voice inside that tells you which is the right way to go. If you follow it, you’ll do just fine.


Entrée: Beef

Sauerbraten with Julienne Vegetables

Copyright 2008, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved

Yield: 6 servings

4 pounds beef bottom round roast
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup red wine vinegar
1½ quarts water
2 onions sliced
8 whole black peppercorns
10 juniper berries
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
⅓ cup vegetable oil
⅔ cup diced carrots (approximately 2 or 3 carrots)
⅔ cup diced onions (approximately 1 large onion)
⅔ cup diced celery (approximately 2 stalks)
½ cup tomato paste
1 cup flour
1 quart (approximately) vegetable or chicken stock to have on hand to adjust sauce
¾ cup sour cream
6 carrots, peeled, cut julienne and steamed – for garnish
3 stalks celery, cut in half lengthwise and julienned, and steamed – for garnish
Cooked egg noodles as an accompaniment
2 tablespoons fresh minced flat-leaf parsley leaves

Trim the beef of excess fat, salt it and set it aside briefly. Make a marinade for the beef by combining the red wine, vinegar, water, onions, peppercorns, juniper berries, bay leaves and cloves in a large pot and bringing the mixture to a boil over high heat. Let this marinade cool to room temperature, about 15 to 20 minutes. Place the beef in the cooled marinade, cover, and refrigerate overnight if possible, but for at least 2 hours.

Remove the beef from the marinade and place it on a utility platter. Strain the marinade into a pot and bring the marinade to a boil over medium high heat . Skim any impurities from the surface of the marinade, then reduce the heat to medium low and allow it to cook for 10 minutes at a simmer.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. When it begins to shimmer, add the beef and sear it on all sides, then remove the meat to a utility platter. Combine the carrots, onion, and celery in the same pan to make a mirépoix. Sauté them for 2 to 3 minutes, then deglaze the pan with about ¼ cup of the warmed marinade. Stir in the tomato paste and continue cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add a bit more of the warmed marinade to the sauté pan to de-glaze again, and reduce heat to medium. Sift the flour gradually into the tomato pate mixture, stirring constantly until a paste is formed. Then, slowly add the rest of the warmed marinade to the mixture, as though you are making a roux. If the sauce is too thick, which can sometimes happen due to density of flour, gradually add chicken or vegetable stock stirring constantly until you reach the consistency where it just coats the back of a spoon. Return the meat to the pan, reduce the heat to low, cover it and simmer until fork-tender, about 1½ to 2 hours.

Remove the meat to a cutting board and let it rest 5 to 10 minutes before slicing the beef.

Strain the sauce and place slices of the meat in the center of the plate. Place some cooked egg noodles onto each serving plate, leaving space in the center for the meat. Spoon sauce over the meat and noodles and garnish with steamed vegetables and dollops of sour cream and fresh parsley.

Entrée: Lamb


Copyright 2008, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved

Yield: 6 servings

1 cup grapeseed oil
3 medium onions, diced small
4 teaspoons turmeric
6 teaspoons masala powder
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 chiles, diced small (your choice)
5 pounds lean lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups all purpose flour
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1½ quarts vegetable stock
3 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced small
2 cups rice
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Note: You can replace the turmeric and masala powder with curry powder

In a large cooking pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the chopped onions. Fry until golden brown, stirring frequently. Add the turmeric and masala powder (or curry powder), garlic and chiles, mix well and cook for a couple of minutes to integrate flavors, stirring frequently. Add the lamb, increase the heat to medium high, and sear on all sides. Sift the flour over the meat and spoon in tomato paste. Then, stirring constantly, gradually add the stock. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until meat is tender, about another hour. Check the pot often and stir the mixture so the curry doesn’t burn. If the sauce is thickening too fast during this cooking time, add water to retain the consistency and to prevent burning. (If you prefer, once you have added the stock and the sauce is a good smooth consistency, you may transfer to a covered roasting pan and finish in the oven at 350 degrees until the meat is tender.) In the last 30 minutes of cooking time, stir in the potatoes.

While the lamb curry is in its last ½ hour, bring 5 cups of water to a boil over high heat, add the rice and salt, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until tender, about 20 minutes undisturbed. Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes with the lid on the pot.

Spoon ½ cup rice onto each serving plate, top with lamb curry and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Excellence Takes Hard Work

A big part of being a chef is the constant search for excellence, in matters both great and small. There is a thrill of satisfaction in looking out over a grand ballroom and seeing people enjoying hundreds and hundreds of dishes you’ve created only minutes before. There is an equal measure of satisfaction when you perfectly sear one side of a fillet of sea bass or when you look down at the tourné cuts you’ve just done and note that they are all exactly the same size. It’s axiomatic in our profession that you are only as good as your last plate.

But how to consistently achieve excellence? One of the best strategies you can use is to work as hard as you can at the little things. That means developing your craft, demanding improvement from yourself every day, expecting a lot from others and more from yourself- which takes hard work.

The kitchen can be fun place, but it is not a playground. I came up through the ranks, literally, in the military and that initial experience informs a lot of the ideas I carry into my work. I’ve tried to stay fit since those years, mainly to be as prepared as possible for whatever may come my way professionally. I learned early on what motivated me to be better and in turn what worked to motivate others, especially when I was expected to command watches of men much older and more experienced at cooking than I was, starting in my teens. “Sink or swim” really means something in the Royal Navy.

I recall an episode of Dinner: Impossible at the Governor’s Mansion in Pennsylvania for the inauguration of Governor Ed Rendell. It was one of the toughest 24 hour periods I’ve spent in my working life. The challenge was to create as many hors d’oeuvres as possible for the Governor’s reception of 100 people or so, and further, for 4,000 of his closest friends to be served at the big party afterwards.

To accomplish the task, I really had to pull out all the stops. I arrived with “Little George,” on whom I can rely implicitly because he knows me so well. Chef Barry was there as well as some young culinarians from a local cooking school. I also put out an emergency call to a battery of chefs who worked with me at Resorts in Atlantic City. Then we were off to the races.

Bear in mind, this was the governor’s house, so we barely had time to shop before we had to drop off our groceries the night before the ceremony and clear out of his kitchen so he could go to bed undisturbed. Working through the night was never an option. And you could sleep in half of the ovens, which put on even more pressure.

I had to use every trick in my motivational catalog that day to make sure our team was at their best. I rallied the troops, got us all organized, barked orders, demonstrated techniques, made jokes, yelled a bit, made everybody check and recheck their work, delegated some duties, took over others myself. In a tight situation with a lot at stake, decisions have to be made every few minutes that can make or break the entire effort.

We shopped in the rain like madmen, prepped night and day at the mansion, then had to move all of the food miles away to a second facility. I remember as if it were yesterday that my target time for getting out of the mansion was 3:15 PM. We left at 3:30 (mainly because we wanted to leave the kitchen clean, not looking like a disaster area). By then we’d lost any margin for error. At the second location, we had to finish in rented ovens that were too small and barely worked. In a sadistic twist of fate, once we finally had the food for the governor in hot boxes (that weighed a ton!), we were denied the use of elevators and had to carry them by hand in platoons up four flights of stairs. And that was only phase one. We then had to feed the multitude of 4,000 late into the evening.

Suffice to say that it was not a picnic atmosphere. By the time it was over, we’d made nearly 18,000 individual pieces of more than a dozen different kinds of hors d’oeuvres in less than 12 working hours with no advance warning or preparation. We all managed to look cool, calm and collected at the reception, Governor Rendell loved the food and he’s even been kind enough to invite me back since then. I’m happy to report that his kitchen has been beautifully refurbished.

One last important point: no matter how hard you press, always remember that it takes a team effort to get the job done and always be sure to say “thanks” to everyone who’s worked so hard to make it to the finish line.

When you’re suddenly faced with climbing a mountain, it helps if you’ve practiced on some smaller hills a time or two before. When you push hard, you often find yourself giving people the chance to show you the best they‘ve got. That’s my idea of having fun.

Following you will find 6 recipes from the Governor’s Inauguration event:


Hors d’oeuvre:

Copyright 2008, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved

Yield: 8 servings of 2 mini-burgers each

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup apples, diced small (about 2 apples)
1 cup chopped white mushrooms (about 3 ounces of mushrooms)
½ pound ground venison
½ pound ground pork
Salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces blue cheese (or your choice of cheese)
16 mini-potato rolls (the dinner-roll size)

In a medium skillet, heat the grapeseed oil over medium heat until it shimmers, and melt the butter in it. Add the apples and cook until they just begin to soften, about 3 minutes, then add mushrooms and gently sauté until they give up their juices, about 7 more minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Heat the grill or the grill pan over medium high heat. Mix the venison and pork and season with salt and pepper. Mix in the cooled mushroom and apple mixture and form into 16 small patties. Grill to medium doneness and crumble blue cheese on top. Serve on potato rolls.

Entrée: Venison

Copyright 2008, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved

Yield: 8 servings of 2 pieces venison each

4 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1/2 fresh lemon
½ pound jumbo lump crab meat
16 asparagus spears, tips only
⅛ cup olive oil
2 pounds sliced farm-raised venison top round, cut into 2 ounce portions and pounded thin with a meat mallet
Salt and pepper to taste

Add the mayonnaise, egg yolks, and Old Bay seasoning to a blender. Cover and turn on the blender and through the feed tube of the running blender, squeeze in the juice from the lemon, keeping the sliced side against you palm to contain the seeds. Transfer the mayonnaise mixture to a bowl and fold in the lump crabmeat, being careful to avoid breaking up lumps. Refrigerate until needed.

Have a bowl of ice water handy. Blanch or steam asparagus tips until tender and shock to cool in ice water.

Place an oven rack at the topmost level and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the venison with salt and pepper and sear both sides lightly, arranging the seared venison on a baking sheet.

Spoon 1 rounded teaspoon crab mixture onto each venison cutlet and place 2 asparagus tips crisscrossed on top. Bake in the venison Oscar in the oven until the crab is toasted light golden brown.

Hors d’oeuvre:

Copyright 2008, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved

Yield: 8 servings of 2 to 3 mussels each

16 to 24 large fresh mussels in shell, de-bearded and well-scrubbed
½ English cucumber, peeled, de-seeded and diced small
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, seeds removed and diced small
1 red onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed with the side of a knife blade and minced
2 teaspoons fresh cilantro leaves, minced
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 dashes Tabasco
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup sour cream, as garnish
2 dozen small sprigs parsley

Fill a saucepot with 1 inch of water. Place the mussels in pot, cover tightly, and steam until the mussels open, about 5 to 7 minutes, discarding any that do not open. Remove the mussels from pan, let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes and then chill for 2 hours.

When the mussels are thoroughly chilled, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, onion, garlic, tomato paste, Tabasco, cilantro and lime juice in a bowl and mix well. Split the mussel shells, leaving the mussel meat on the half-shell and discarding the other half. Spoon 1 teaspoon of the tomato mixture on top of each mussel. Garnish with sour cream and garnish with a spring of parsley, and serve on small plates.

Hors d’oeuvre: Seafood

Copyright, 2008, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved

Yield: 8 servings of 2 shrimp each

½ pound ground venison
½ pound ground pork
2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 cloves shallots, finely chopped
2 eggs
Salt and Pepper to taste
16 pieces jumbo shrimp (size: 10-15 count per pound), peeled and de-veined
8 slices bacon, cut in half (16 halves)


Place an oven rack at the topmost setting, and pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Combine the venison, pork, basil, parsley, garlic, shallots, eggs, and salt and pepper and mix well. Make an incision along back of each shrimp and stuff with pork mixture. Secure by wrapping a half slice of bacon around each shrimp. Place on a baking sheet and broil until the meat stuffing is cooked and the bacon is browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover the baking sheet with foil to let carryover cook for about 5 minutes. If the shrimp is not opaque and pink after this period of time, reduce the oven heat to 200 degrees F and place the covered baking sheet back into the oven for about 5 more minutes.

Hors d’oeuvre

Copyright 2008, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved

Yield : 8 servings of 2 pieces each

5 or 6 sheets phyllo dough (based on 18 X 14 inch sheets which are often sold in packs of 18-20 for thickness #4)
1 cup melted butter
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1 small wheel brie cheese (8 ounces), cut into 16 mini-wedges
16 asparagus spears, tough ends snapped off, and blanched for 4 minutes

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Make sure the phyllo is completely defrosted before attempting to use it or it will crack. Once it is removed from package, you will need to cover the phyllo with wax paper and a damp towel to prevent it from drying out. Lay out a sheet of dough, and lightly butter it using a pastry brush. Fold the sheet in half and brush with butter again. Fold the sheets of phyllo in half and re-butter each time until you have a rectangle with dimensions close to 4 X 4 inches (this will most likely be 3 folds total). Cut each 4 inch square section into 3 sections. (A pizza cutter is handy for this.) Sprinkle parmesan cheese on each piece of dough. Place a wedge of brie on each. Lay an asparagus tip on the top of each brie wedge and roll the phyllo dough around the asparagus. The tip of the asparagus should show out of the end. Repeat to make 16 pieces. Lay all the pieces out on a cookie sheet. Brush each piece with butter and bake in oven until golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Hors d’oeuvre:

Copyright 2008, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved

Yield: 36 appetizers

2 tablespoons salad oil
4 duck breasts, skinless
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled cored, and diced small
2 tablespoons raisins
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic (1 garlic clove)
1 teaspoon chopped red onion
2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and Pepper to taste
36 three-inch square wonton skins
½ cup duck sauce, soy sauce, Chinese hot sauce, or your other favorite dipping sauce
3 to 4 liters canola oil, if deep frying the wontons


Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large sauté pan. Sear the duck breasts until medium rare, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove the duck breasts to a utility platter to let carryover cook and to let cool to room temperature. In the same pan, add the apples, raisins, five-spice powder, garlic and onion, and sauté until tender, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the cilantro, and season with salt and pepper. When cool enough to handle, dice the duck into small pieces, add to the apple mixture and mix well. Lay out the wonton skins on a clean work surface. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the duck mixture onto each skin, fold over and seal by moistening seams with a little water, making sure that no mixture oozes out. The wontons can be deep-fried or steamed in a steamer basket. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

Ultimate Benefits of Air Fryer in Cooking

Are you looking for an economic and effective appliance for your kitchen? Wow, the air fryer is actually an ideal option. It is definitely considered as a good way to cook evenly food by circulating hot air. Because it uses little oils in cooking, the air fryer could keep food healthy and nutritious. According to airfryer reviews by Trina Hahnemann, there is a plenty of delicious recipes that you can successfully cook from an air fryer. Explore all gorgeous features that you can get benefit from this advanced tool.

1. Low Fat

If you are afraid of fat and want to keep shape, the air fryer is completely for you. Using an air fryer means you don’t have to add oil to cook your food. It works based on the movements of hot air to bake meat at all angles. There is a cooking basket to keep the excess fat from food. Besides, thanks to this feature, you could enjoy a great number of delicious dishes such as fried chicken, roast meat, pork chops and more.

2. Ease to use

Another advantage of the air fryer is its great ease of use. The model is designed to be suitable for customers at different ages. Therefore, even your grandparents could feel simple to operate the air fryer in a surprisingly quick way. There are two most popular air fryer types on today’s marketplace. The first option is bowl and stirring paddle. The second choice is cooking basket associated with a drip tray. When using bowl and stirring paddle, all you need is putting food into the bowl and ignore it. The air fryer will cook food for you. Similarly, the second method requires you to shake food into small pieces for automatic cooking process. There is no need of standing in front of the air fryer as same as traditional appliances such as stove or hob. Your hands are free and you could do other to do list jobs. Here is a big plus of an air fryer.

3. Silence

Most of modern air fryers come with preset programs for improving its simplicity. Set up the cooking time and temperature and press icon buttons. There is no fuss and the cooking process is completely silent.

4. Convenience

The air fryer is not only compact, but also simple to use without any requirement of preheating. It allows you to immediately cook frozen food from freezer. Watch attractive TV programs while preparing for the frying process. Wow, how convenient the machine is! Furthermore, enjoy your favorite dishes after 10 to 20 minutes and reheat your left-over food just only in 10 minutes.

Ease of cleaning is an impressive benefit of the air fryer. Because there is no mess or oil in the heating process; customers will actually find it simple to clean the machine. All parts of the air fryer are removable for better convenience. Use a soft sponge to clean outside and inside of the device.

5. Safety

When using an air fryer, you have peace in mind knowing that this unit equips a great number of safety features. They could be listed here, including auto shut down function, non-slip feet and closed cooking system. These factors combine well with each other in boosting the machine performance and ensuring the safety to users. Remember to select the model which is recognized by ETL certification for reaching safety standards.

6. Multi-function

With an effective air fryer, users could create their lovely meals by different methods, such as baking, frying, grilling and roasting. The machine serves you well thanks to various options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It positively changes the mind of someone who is not interested in cooking.

7. Oil savings

Air fryer is a right investment for long-term goals due to the ability of saving oils. For each time of frying, you need only a tablespoon of oil to complete the whole cooking process.

Fried food becomes a favorite dish for many people with the support of air fryer. Nowadays, you could enjoy healthy meals right at home in a surprisingly simple and quick way.

Think About Bobby

I’m going to ask you all to do me a favor and when you hear what it is, I don’t think you’ll mind. I have made a friend down in Tampa and he’s a young man named Bobby Rosas.

We first met when I appeared at a benefit for the Children’s Cancer Research Group in Florida, run by a brilliant man, Dr. Cameron Tebbi (, at St. Joseph’s Hospital. They do amazing work there and are battling cancer as it affects children every day.

Bobby has been fighting cancer for a while now. He’s had some difficult times, but he’s tough and fearless and I know he is going to win through.

Bobby Fear Factor

(Here’s a picture of Bobby and his dad, Robert, and Bobby appearing on Fear Factor, end of the line on the right, looking pumped up and ready for action!)

He’s just had a relapse and has to go through some more surgery and chemotherapy and, with his family’s permission, I’d like to ask you all to keep him in your thoughts and prayers as you go about your business in the next few days and weeks. I believe it can really make a difference. Guys like Bobby, his family and Dr. Tebbi are my heroes.


The Indispensable Blade

Paul Bunyan had his axe, Errol Flynn had his sword and Louis Armstrong had his horn. Every tradesman has his tool and for a chef, the indispensable item is a good, clean, razor-sharp knife. In virtually all of my televised adventures, you’ve seen me wielding a blade very much like this one, a titanium-coated Kasumi blade with an incredibly slim cutting profile.

I searched long and wide, and when I found it, it felt like it fit me to a tee. It is light, allows for great speed, accuracy and delicacy; it combines flexibility and super-strength, like a surgeon’s steel. A chef can spend his whole career in the pursuit of the perfect blade.

You touch thousands and thousands of knives as a chef and you literally do millions and millions of cuts, and no matter how proficient you become, you are always learning. These knives have a lot of the qualities I’m looking for. My chef and friend, George Galati (Big George), doesn’t like them at all. He’s a big guy. He likes a heavy knife with a lot of heft and feels like he’s less in control with one of my titanium knives. A knife is a very personal thing. There’s no right or wrong, it just has to feel good, especially over time.

Knife skills are at the very core of a good cook’s life, whether you’re butchering, julienning, frenching a rack of lamb or peeling a fresh mango. This is a great knife, plus it looks cool with its slick cobalt blue coating, so it builds confidence.

I routinely travel with over a dozen versions of this knife, in different sizes and gauges. We are working on a new line of knives right now with a great designer and hope that ultimately, we can refine them to an even higher degree. These will be made of stainless steel and will cut like a light saber (I hope!). I expect that they will debut shortly.

titanium knifeRobert Irvine.

Praising Braising

Praising Braising

Chicken Fricassee with Morels

Not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, I was afforded the opportunity to travel back in time in a very real sense, to an earlier age in this country’s history, where the methods of cooking were quite markedly different. I was faced with the challenge of cooking over fireplaces with no electricity at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. And the result, successful or tragic, was to be broadcast on national TV. .

I was lucky enough to face this challenge armed with secret weapons, my great friends, George and George, two of the best sous chefs in the business (now both Executive Chefs in their own rights). The television experience was pretty new to us then, so we went with what we knew: how to work together as a team, to look at a pantry full of strange ingredients and figure how to best cook them.

Once we saw the rabbit, the fresh chicken, beef roasts, primeval cuts of steak and, of all things, mutton, hog’s ears and trotters, with no stovetops or ovens in sight, one word sprang to mind and we hardly had to say it to each other out loud: braising.

At the time, we were collectively running the food operations at a huge hotel casino, so braising had largely fallen out of our vocabularies. But braising is a method that strikes close to the heart of anybody, in a home or professional kitchen, who loves to cook and eat. Because every minute you braise infuses the meal you are preparing with intense flavor and tenderness and passion and… “mmmm… so good.” And the longer and slower you let it cook, the better it gets. Look at the bliss in Emeril’s eyes when he talks about, “the food of love.”

Entrée: Chicken
Copyright, 2008, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved

6 ounces (about 2 cups) sliced fresh button mushrooms
2 ounces dried morels
6 chicken breasts with wing, skin on
2 cups all-purpose flour, approximately, as needed for dredging
¼ cup clarified butter
1 cup Madeira wine
1 cup beef stock
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Soak the dried morels in 3 cups very hot water for 30 minutes to re-hydrate. Lift them carefully from the hot water in order to leave any grit behind in the liquid , place them in a strainer and lightly rinse them. Strain the mushroom soaking liquid through a paper towel into a small bowl and reserve.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and dredge them in flour, allowing any excess flour to fall away. Heat half the clarified butter (⅛ cup) in a large sauté pan, and cook the chicken skin side down first over medium heat about 8 to 10 minutes, leaving the chickens undisturbed for the first two minutes or so to allow the seasonings and flour to integrate into the surface of the chicken and to prevent “crusting off.” Brown the chicken on both sides. Remove to an ovenproof casserole. Add the rest of the clarified butter (the other ⅛ cup) to the same sauté pan along with the button mushrooms and sauté over medium heat until they give up their juices, about 8 minutes. Add the strained mushroom soaking liquid and the morels, and cook gently over low heat for 2 minutes. Then add the Madeira and reduce the liquid by half. When the liquid is reduced, add the beef stock and heavy cream and bring to a gentle boil. Let the mushroom sauce cook until mixture starts to thicken, about 5 to 10 minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken and bake covered in the oven until done, about 25-35 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice and serve.

Braised Rump Steaks with Porter Sauce

Technically, it is the perfected way to cook tougher cuts of meat. Think short ribs, not filet mignon. You start by searing a tough piece of meat, to caramelize the sugars on its surface and create the first level of flavor. Then you partially submerge it, covered, in a flavorful liquid, in stock or beer or wine over low heat. It is one of the few instances in life where patience is always rewarded. You use your creative imagination and the ingredients at hand to crank up the flavor of the liquid itself as high as you can take it. In Williamsburg, we used fresh berries, peppercorns, root vegetables, raisins, fresh herbs, mushrooms, citrus and vinegars, whatever we could lay our hands on from their period gardens, larders, and pantries. We put down hot embers on the flagstones and cooked away. As it all simmered long and slow, the connective tissues, the collagens, broke down and gave themselves to the liquids to enrich every dish with amazing, irresistible broths, some of which we finished with freshly churned butter or creamed into sauces. In the end, a good braise simply becomes a matter of judging how far you want the proteins to surrender, to slide off of their bones in total capitulation.

It was an incredible day. We achieved some of the best flavors we ever accomplished on the show. It was one of the most educational days I’ve ever had as a professional cook and I think it’s something everyone in the profession should try at least once. Trust me, there’s something about cooking in the presence of open flames that resonates deep in a chef’s soul.

Entrée: Beef
Copyright, 2008, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved

Yield: 6 servings

6 eight-ounce rump steaks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup flour
¼ cup grapeseed oil
2 large onions, sliced
3 cups mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (your choice of type of mushrooms)
1 quart chicken broth or beef broth
8 ounces porter (dark beer)
2 teaspoons dark molasses
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
3 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
2 bay leaves
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, cut into cubes
5 ounces crème fraiche or sour cream
¼ cup chopped fresh chives

Season the steaks on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat ⅛ cup of the canola oil in a large sauté pan. Dredge the steaks in flour, and allow the excess to fall away. Sear the steaks on both sides over medium high heat, leaving each side undisturbed for 2 minutes, to allowing the seasonings to integrate into the surface of the mat. Remove the steaks from the pan, and set aside on a utility platter. Reduce the heat under the same pan to medium and add the other ⅛ cup of canola oil, Sauté the onions and mushrooms until the onions become translucent and the mushrooms give up their juices, about 8 minutes. Add the chicken or beef broth, porter beer, molasses, thyme, Tabasco sauce and bay leaves to the onion/mushroom mixture. Reduce heat to low and return the steaks to the pan. Simmer covered for at least 2 hours. Rump steaks are a tough meat and will require slow cooking (braising). You may wish to transfer the ingredients to a crock-pot for this process. When the steaks are fork tender, remove them to a platter in a warm place. The liquid in the pan should have evaporated to a large degree, intensifying the flavor. If necessary, increase the heat to reduce and thicken into a sauce. Whisk in the butter and crème fraiche or sour cream to finish the sauce, and spoon sauce over the steaks. Garnish with the fresh chopped chives.

Robert Irvine.