Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Zy Restaurant Chef Shares Cooking Secrets

Chef Matthew Lake of Zy Food Wine & Cheese.

I recently had a great opportunity to gain some culinary wisdom from chef Matthew Lake, owner of Zy Food Wine & Cheese. The restaurant is celebrating its first year in business, and Lake presented a cooking class sharing the secrets behind two of his signature dishes. 
For those unfamiliar with this gem of a restaurant, it's located at 268 South Main. The curious name comes, not from some mystical language, but because Lake was trying to come up with a name that nobody else already had. He told me that his wife, Catherine, is an attorney specializing in intellectual property rights (such as trademarks and copyrights), and she voted down some of his other name ideas because they had already been taken. He said he worked his way through the alphabet, and finally came to the last letters, "Z" and "Y" He turned the letters around, and came up with "Zy."  Although he originally pronounced it as "zee," many customers pronounced it to rhyme with "sky," so he went with it. 
Scallops with Almond, Curry & Red Wine Reduction.

Lake, who was named one of Food & Wine magazine's Best Young Chefs in 1996, spent seven years commuting from Salt Lake City to run four New York City restaurants. (His wife is from Utah.)
When he first opened Zy, people often asked what his "signature dishes" were.
"But I don't pick the signature dishes, the clientele does," he said.
A year later, he knows that the two most popular dishes are Scallops with Almond, Curry & Red Wine Reduction, and 
his Tender Pecan Pork, served with wild mushrooms and sautéed greens.  I'm concentrating on the scallop dish today and will share the recipe for the Tender Pecan Pork in another post.
Some of his cooking wisdom:
- Keep it simple. "People tend to make mistakes at home by getting too complicated," he said. "It's really easy to add more, hard to take away."
- To get that crusty, caramelized sear on a scallop as shown in the photo, buy "dry" scallops, which are also sweeter and richer-tasting. Often, grocery-store scallops come in a milky liquid, which means they have been treated with a chemical preservative that causes them to absorb moisture. Why? "Because they will weigh more and they're sold by the pound, and so that they can stay on the boat longer," said Lake.
These "wet" scallops that squirt out moisture are very difficult to sear properly. He said Harmons and Whole Foods carry dry scallops, and the Aquarius fish market would be another place to ask for them.
- He likes searing scallops in either grapeseed or canola oil, in a cast-iron skillet.
- When searing scallops, he gets them golden brown on each side, and just warmed throughout. They should still be a little translucent. If they are cooked too long, they tend to get tough and stringy.
"Cast iron works beautifully for that, it helps retain the heat so well," he said, adding that he inherited a favorite cast iron pan from his grandmother.

- "It pains me to see people sauté in extra-virgin olive oil," he said. "As soon as you heat extra-virgin olive oil, it breaks down very quickly," losing flavor and nutrients that make it more expensive.
He prefers to use it in dishes that don't need cooking, or  to "finish" an already-cooked dish.  (Rachael Ray, consider yourself warned about your EVOO!)
- He is a fan of kosher salt because it dissolves quickly into the food you're cooking. Sea salt doesn't dissolve as well, regular table salt contains iodine, which gives off a "weird" flavor.
- Use fresh lemon juice instead of bottled, because the flavor is much better.
 - To go with the scallops, Lake made a Romesco sauce from blanched slivered almonds and parsley.  Don't roast the almonds. "I am looking for the brighter flavor, not the dark roasted flavor."
- Lake's red wine reduction sauce used 3 cups of red wine with 1/4 cup of raw sugar, cooked until the mixture "reduces" to a light syrup consistency.  (For those who are concerned about alcohol in their food, the longer wine or spirits are cooked, the more alcohol is evaporated.)- - 

- He believes in supporting local products as much as possible. "But the quality has to enter into the equation."
- Recipes should be considered as guidelines. "You should taste often as you go, and trust your palate," he said. "A mistake is to follow the recipe to the letter and then tasting at the end and thinking it needs something."

- Here are a couple of the recipes Lake showed us:

12 U12 dry sea scallops
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper 

 Almond Romesco
Lake serves his seared scallops on a bed of this sauce.
2 cups blanched almonds
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
 Juice of one lemon
 3/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove peeled garlic
About 1 cup bread crumbs
In a food processor, combine the nuts, garlic and parsley. Blend until coarsely ground. Add the lemon juice. Slowly add in the olive oil and puree to a loose pesto consistency. Remove the mixture from the bowl and place in a clean mixing bowl. Slowly stir in the bread crumbs to lightly bind the mixture. Season with salt and set aside. Sauce may be made up to two days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Red Wine Reduction
3 cups red wine of medium body
1/4 cup raw sugar (such as turbinado)
Place the red wine and sugar in a small saucepan. Rerduce until light syrup consistency.
Curry Oil
1 tablespoon yellow curry powder
2 cups grapeseed oil
Combine the curry powder and the oil in a small saucepan. Heat on low heat until aroma from curry develops.
To assemble, sear the scallops in a hot pan with a little oil until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. Flip and repeat. When scallops are just warmed through, remove from heat. Place the Almond Romesco in the middle of the plate, top with the scallops. Drizzle a little of the Curry Oil and Red Wine Reduction around the scallops. Serve. 
— Matthew Lake
Zy Food Wine & Cheese

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