Guest Chef Arthur Gonzalez By Dennis LindenThis month's guest chef...
Chef Arthur Gonzalez, of McKenna’s on the Bay in Long Beach, California, kicks off the summer season with an elegant Grilled Summer Salad that, once you taste it, will become your own house salad every time the BBQ is fired up this season. In fact, it may be the one course of the summer that follows you indoors in the fall, easily making the transition from patio table to a formal dining setting.
The chef takes advantage of the savory grilled flavors of two summer squash varieties, sweet peppers, onions and fresh corn on the cob that are supported perfectly by the peppery taste of watercress. The peppers, onions and squash are first marinated in a simple and distinctive blend of sherry vinegar and olive oil that gives the grilled vegetables a common flavor underpinning without muting their individual characteristics.
Using Melissa’s brand of readymade polenta, this inventive chef takes this convenient product up a notch by simply adding in some of the same grilled corn kernels that are also in the salad, a little trick that redefines what a crouton can be. The process does require breaking down the polenta in order to add the corn and then several hours of chilling in the refrigerator before frying, but the time spent on this detail is paid back tenfold in flavor and crunch appeal! The plate is garnished with a streak of tamarillo jam that adds a tart sweetness to everything it touches; a bit of crumbled goat cheese tops off the presentation, which accents every bite with a pleasingly creamy, sharp aftertaste.
This versatile salad embodies the very spirit of the summer grilling season and matches well with almost any entrée. In fact, Chef Arthur suggested either a spicy marinated steak or a lightly seasoned white fish like Barramundi or Bay Scallops [U.S. farmed only], which demonstrates the gamut of main dish pairings that this wonderful grilled salad can support.
Arthur grew up in a mixed cuisine household, so to speak; his parents immigrated to this country from opposite sides of the globe, Germany and Mexico. Adding to this international culinary exposure, the Southern California neighborhood where he grew up was predominantly Asian. This background no doubt contributes to the international style of his menu at McKenna’s today.
It is fair to say that cooking found Chef Arthur rather than the other way around. While food preparation had always come easy to him, Arthur took a circuitous route to becoming a chef. In his early twenties Arthur became a fireman, a childhood dream and where he first discovered that he enjoyed cooking for a large group in the station’s kitchen. Then, at twenty-six an on- the-job injury forced a career change, so Arthur took this as a cue to go for what he had always enjoyed, cooking. He started at the bottom, washing dishes at Spaghettini, which is, coincidently, another great eatery and long time Melissa’s customer. His big break came when he landed a position in New Mexico under the master tutelage of James Beard Award winning chef, Eric DiStefano, at his famed Geronimo restaurant in Santa Fe. Arthur credits the time spent working with Chef DiStefano as a career defining experience, which he eventually parlayed into his current position as Executive Chef of McKenna’s on the Bay.
Chef Arthur is passionate about food and issues that surround food. In fact, for our Southern California readership, there is still time to sign up for his cooking class sponsored by Cooking for a Cause, which benefits local nonprofit charitable organizations by raising funds through cooking classes. Next month, on July 22, Chef Arthur will be teaching a class that is fittingly entitled, Fresh & International. The event will be held at the Orange County Wine & Food Center in Costa Mesa, California.
Another passion for this socially conscious chef has been his belief in marine stewardship through the support of sustainable seafood resources around the globe. For his own kitchen, the chef relies on certified members of The CleanFish Alliance, a coalition of artisan producers who demonstrate environmental stewardship in supplying McKenna’s with superior quality seafood that has been caught or farmed using practices that are always in balance with a healthier planet. In an effort to educate the public, Arthur has recently formed a working partnership with Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific to develop a chef-driven sustainable seafood buying guide that will be promoted by the aquarium. This program has been a pet project that Chef Arthur has been working on as diligently as his kitchen duties for many months.
One of the perks of writing this monthly feature about the Melissa’s family of hard working culinary artists is being inspired by the talent, drive and commitment of individuals like Chef Arthur Gonzalez. Here’s a chef who believes in using his kitchen to not only serve the diners on the other side of his swinging doors, but also to help others in his own community and to promote a sense of individual responsibility for the stewardship of the planet when it comes to each of us setting our own tables.
Grilled Summer Salad with Sweet Corn Croutons
Serves 4-6Salad Ingredients
2 ea. organic zucchini
, sliced in half lengthwise
2 ea. organic Mini Sweet Peppers
, sliced in half lengthwise
1 ea. sweet onion
, sliced into ¼” rounds
3 ea. organic summer squash, sliced in halves
3 ea. white corn (on the cob)
2 ea. large Heirloom Tomatoes
, cut into wedges
2 bunches watercress
1 bunch fresh cilantro
, stems removed
2 medium shallots
, finely chopped
8 oz. crumbled goat cheese
2/3 cup Spanish sherry vinegar
1 cup high quality olive oil
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper to tasteSalad Preparation
Marinade zucchini, sweet peppers, onion and summer squash for two hours in sherry vinegar and olive oil, then grill and set aside (reserve marinade). Grill the corn and set aside.
Cut corn off the cob and set aside a cup of corn for the crouton recipe. Cut the zucchini and summer squash into ½” half moon slices. Julienne sweet peppers
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, toss with reserved marinade, salt and pepper to taste.
Sweet Corn PolentaCrouton Ingredients
1 chub Melissa’s Original Flavor Organic Polenta
4 oz water
1 cup grilled corn [from Salad recipe]
Rice flour as neededCrouton Preparation
Combine polenta and water in small saucepan over low flame and heat until polenta breaks down to a thick mush consistency. This can also be done in microwave. Blend in grilled corn to mixture. Spoon mixture into a square baking dish coated with butter. Using a spatula coated with butter, spread into an even layer. Chill until completely firm, and then refrigerate overnight. Cut into ½” perfect squares, toss in rice flour and fry in oil at 350 degrees.Red Tamarillo Jam
4 pounds medium-ripe red tamarillos
4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon whole cloves
½ tablespoon broken stick cinnamon
2 cups red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon whole allspice
1 New Mexico red chile podJam Preparation
Score bottom of the tamarillos, plunge into boiling water for about 2 minutes, then shock in ice water in order to peel skin. Combine peeled tamarillos with the rest of the ingredients in a large pot, simmer on very low heat until mixture thickens, which should take about two hours. Strain mixture to remove bits of cloves, cinnamon and chile. Season with salt to taste.Assembly
Place salad greens on the plate slightly off center, garnish with a streak of tamarillo jam next to the greens, sprinkle croutons over greens and around plate, top greens with crumbled goat cheese.