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Smoking: More than barbecue

Grilling is always a popular summertime activity, as is barbecue — which Southern cooking aficionados define as cooking with smoke — but smoke is weaving its way into a growing array of items these days.

Florian Wehrli, executive sous chef of Crystal Springs in Hamburg, N.J., attributes that in part to improved technologies, such as the “smoking gun,” which can be used to inject smoke into sauce and other unexpected places.

But old-school smoking methods are in play, too. Wehrli also covers seared meat with herbs and garlic and wraps it in hay, which he soaks in white wine and then lets smolder in the oven, imparting a sweet, smoky flavor.

E. Michael Reidt at Area 31 in Miami, is smoking grains, cheeses, salt and grapes, giving them a flavor many guests associate with bacon, without having to add any meat.



Mike VanBuskirk, executive chef of Cobalt Restaurant in Vero Beach, Fla., smokes items to add to his eggplant purée, tomato jam and other ingredients, and Danny Trace, the chef of Brennan’s of Houston, is smoking soft-shell crab for the season.

Mark Bibby, vice president of culinary at Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill, based in Orlando, Fla., anticipated the growing popularity of smoke late last year, when he installed smokers in each of the chain’s 66 locations and introduced a smoked prime rib whose success exceeded management’s expectations.

By adding bold flavor and highlighting chefs’ creativity, unconventional uses of smoke speak to many trends and will likely be particularly widespread this summer.
 
Local: Version 3.0

In independent restaurants it’s now assumed that local, seasonal items will be used when they’re available — some chains have worked on introducing such items for years. So to distinguish themselves, chefs are beginning to add something special to their local stories.

For example, Brian McPherson, chef of Jackson 20 in Alexandria, Va., uses kaffir lime leaves from a special tree in the restaurant’s garden that he got from a monk at a Lao Buddhist temple in Virginia. He uses those leaves to infuse olive oil that he drizzles on his big eye tuna carpaccio with pickled radishes and herbs that, naturally, are picked from his garden.

Don’t have any Lao Buddhist monks with gardens in your neighborhood? Don’t worry; there are other approaches, such as what executive chef James Rigato does at The Root Restaurant & Bar in White Lake, Mich. He completes his local story in a more holistic manner by, for example, pairing a beer from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with whitefish caught in Lake Superior.

You can expect to see more of that kind of multifaceted local sourcing this summer.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary