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February, 2009

Chef Wes Kendrick

By Dennis Linden

February’s Guest Chef Wes Kendrick, of Table 34 Restaurant in Las Vegas, submits a great twist on a recipe that can be traced to a small tribe of American Indians who occupied the rich shoreline and coastal islands of what is now the eastern tip of Rhode Island
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Chef Wes Kendrick
Succotash was the tribe’s word for “boiled corn kernels”. The dish was assimilated by early American culinary culture and has evolved into a basic mix of lima beans, carrots, a few simple seasonings and sometimes a bit of cured meat or fish. An infinite amount of versions of this dish have sprouted from this classic formula. This method of preparing vegetables became very popular during the Great Depression of the 1930s and a symbol of hard times. While Chef Wes remains true to the corn and bean tradition that is succotash, his version replaces the lima beans with the more distinctive tasting shelled Edamame. He also adds just a few other equally basic fresh ingredients of the day, which are quickly sautéed using his favorite Cajun spice blend and elevates this simple dish to white tablecloth level. By the way, Chef Wes makes no apologies for using Paul Prudhomme’s Seasoning Blend. “You can mix your own separate ingredients, but it will cost you twice as much and the results will never quite match Prudhomme’s quality or flavor,” advises Wes. If John Dory is not available, Chef Wes suggests any relatively neutral tasting white fish. Tilapia (farmed) and White Sea Bass both work well in this recipe and are listed as “Best Choices” environmentally in Seafood Watch. Do not overlook the detail of grilling the Belgian endive with the fish in the same pan; the endive picks up a bit of the fish essence, which plays nicely off of the chicory’s soft bitterness. Dare we say it; there is no “sufferin’ succotash” at Table 34!

The restaurant is unique for its seemingly glitzy zip code of Las Vegas. “Actually, since we are tucked away in an office building complex far from the bright lights of The Strip, our clientele are 85% locals,” explained Laurie Kendrick, Chef Wes’s sister. “Many celebrities come here for the anonymity that the location provides them. We’re a quiet neighborhood restaurant that offers privacy and fine dining in a comfortable setting.” Laurie oversees all things beyond the kitchen and has worked with her brother for several years. Both relocated from separate culinary careers in the Los Angeles area to combine their talents in Las Vegas.

Chef Wes is passionate about making everything fresh in his kitchen. The salad dressings, for instance, are mixed each day; if the menu offers smoked salmon, then one can assume that it was smoked right on the premises. All pastry, pies and foccacia on Table 34’s menu are a part of Chef Wes’s daily baking routine. The chef was a few minutes late for our interview for this feature because of his last minute dash to a local restaurant supply warehouse to get some pancetta for that night’s service. Not a very romantic part of a chef’s life – driving across town to pick out just the right roll of Italian meat – yet it is this kind of attention to detail that is key to maintaining the level of excellence in this chef’s very successful kitchen.

Because the clientele are mostly local, the dynamics and focus of Table 34 are much different than the average hotel eatery that may serve 600 plates at a sitting to less discerning palates, so to speak. “People, who discover our restaurant, local or visitor, come back regularly. It’s a place that our regular patrons trust to celebrate holidays and special occasions, so our food needs to be equally as special,” said Chef Wes. The atmosphere inside the restaurant exudes an intimately romantic elegance despite the restaurant’s commercial surroundings.

“Being in the desert, everything we use must be delivered to us. There is no Saturday Farmers Market to procure local produce, so my connection to the fresh ingredients that I depend upon is more important and appreciated than, say, a chef operating in Los Angeles or San Francisco. I know you didn’t ask, but the folks I work with at Melissa’s are spot on when it comes to supporting my standards of freshness and originality.”

In February, we celebrate special relationships. For those contemplating a romantic Vegas Valentine getaway this month, we definitely recommend that Table 34 be a part of your visit. The restaurant offers a rare balance of culinary excellence presented in a comfortable setting that relies on subtle understatement in a town known for its overstatement. However, it is no exaggeration to admit that the close working relationship between Melissa’s and the Kendricks does cloud our judgment; it’s a prejudice that we expect to build on for many, many menus to come!

SAUTEED JOHN DORY WITH EDAMAME SUCCATASH
SAUTEED JOHN DORY WITH EDAMAME SUCCATASH
(Serves 4)

Ingredients
5 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. Organic garlic, peeled and chopped
¼ cup Organic red onion, diced small
¼ cup Organic green onion, sliced small
¼ cup Organic red bell pepper, diced small
2 Tbsp. basil, chiffonade
3/4 cup Organic Roma tomato, diced small
2 ears Corn, blanch and remove from cob. (Option = fresh frozen)
1 cup shelled edamame
1½ tsp. Cajun spice [Paul Prudhomme brand]
2 Tbsp. butter, unsalted, softened
4 filets John Dory (option, any neutral tasting white fish)
1 cup flour
1 cup corn meal
1 belgian endive
2 Meyer lemons
Micro greens for garnish
Salt & pepper to taste

Succotash preparation:
Heat sauté pan. Add 2 Tbsp. of olive oil, garlic, onion, and red pepper. Sauté over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add basil, tomato, corn, and edamame. Season with Cajun spice and salt and pepper to taste. Cook succotash for at least 5 minutes and fold in the butter to finish. John Dory preparation: Season fish filets with salt and pepper then dredge them in corn meal and flour mixture. Cut endive into quarters lengthwise. The core should hold the leaves together. Brush endive with olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste. Heat sauté pan to medium hot. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil to hot pan, then place fish filet and endive in pan. Do not overcrowd the pan. Sauté both sides of fish to golden brown and turn endive gently. If filets are thick you may need to finish cooking process in the oven.

To plate:
Place a portion of succotash in the center of each plate. Place fish filet on top of succotash. Dress micro greens in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Place sautéed endive on side of plate. Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over the fish and enjoy!