Celebrity chefs are known for wowing fans with meals cooked in their famed restaurants and recipes shared during their many television appearances. But when a chef like Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern or Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in the U.S. to earn three Michelin stars, head out for a meal with friends, what do they order for dinner?
At Cayman Cookout, an annual epicurean festival at The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, celebrity chefs rub elbows with ticket holders curious to learn more about their favorite culinary personalities. The intimacy of four days of beachside cooking demonstrations, barefoot barbecues and dancing in the lobby bar breaks down barriers and opens up candid conversations.
While attending Cayman Cookout, I chatted with celebrity chefs like Top Chef icon Tom Colicchio and restauranteur Daniel Boulud, to ask what dish they'd never order at a restaurant because they're so partial to the way they make it at home. Their simple answers show anyone can cook a delicious meal in their own kitchen, without fancy ingredients or labor-intensive recipes. And, to make cooking celebrity chef-loved foods at home even more simple, the masters themselves were willing to spill about how they've perfected dishes like the perfect fried egg or mouth-watering paella over the years.
Though Antonio Bachour is a famed pastry chef, his answer isn't a sweet item. The Puerto Rican chef shares that he never orders eggs out.
"I love to make eggs," says Bachour, whose favorite is a "very simple" scramble with clarified butter, ham, tomato and onion, served with a piece of toast. Bachour says the trick is to beat the eggs in a separate dish and, unlike many hacks suggest, not to add water or cream to make them fluffy.
"The problem with scrambled eggs is they often burn," he explains, "when I order them out, they're not yellow, they're brown." Bachour says this is typically because restaurants reuse pans and the eggs take on on the blackened color from a previously burnt batch of eggs.
"You want them fresh so they're soft, not overcooked, because you'll lose the flavor," he says.
"Caesar salad is one of those combinations that's just insanely good," Andrew Zimmern says. "But, I'd like to tell a lot of young chefs that you can open a restaurant without a Caesar salad on the menu."
The chef, restaurateur and television personality says it all comes down to freshness, starting with the dressing, which he stresses, "should be made to order."
"It should not be made in a five-gallon batch twice a week with an immersion wand with commercial oil," he says, adding that at home, he uses a big wooden salad bowl he doesn't wash — only treats — and has had forever. He adds the egg yolks directly to the bowl, mashes in some anchovies with a fork, adds lemon juice then olive oil. "You don't emulsify those things together because the olive oil will turn bitter," he says.
Next, he adds lettuce (he strays from the classic romaine, opting for baby heads of gem lettuce due to its better flavor and texture) tosses the salad and adds cheese on top. Zimmern clarifies he's not against romaine and advises if you're going to use it, opt for hearts of romaine and use the bigger crunchier ribs of it.
"My mother roasted chicken with roasted apple so it's something I'm always wary of when I go to a restaurant," says Dominique Crenn, the chef behind three Michelin-starred restaurant Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, Calif. Crenn says roasted chicken takes time, despite what some recipes might suggest.
"I don't just put a chicken in my roaster pan and leave to walk the dog," she says. "It's a process — you have to watch it, you have to love it and it's all about the timing of the flavor."
Cofounder and former executive chef of New York's Gramercy Tavern, Tom Colicchio also chooses a dish based on nostalgia. "Sunday gravy is something I'd never order out," he says of the traditional Italian-American recipe of meatballs in a hearty tomato sauce with a pasta. "When I was growing up it was meatballs and macaroni ... every Sunday that's what we had for dinner."
Colicchio says there's nothing that makes his Sunday gravy truly special, it's just a simple dish his mother made and "something he only associates with eating at home."
Even a chef as multi-faceted as José Andrés brings it back to the basics sometimes. "Nobody knows how to make fried eggs," he says.
The founder of World Central Kitchen teases that the secret to a successful fried egg is "me making them," but gives a few tangible tips. "Talk to the oil," he says, meaning listen to it and make sure it's warmed before adding the egg. Then, "add salt around the edge of the egg white that's in contact with the egg yolk. It's where the coagulation happens with more difficulty and the salt allows the coagulation to happen quickly."
"A house salad usually has the least amount of love than anything else on the menu," says Adrienne Cheatham, Top Chef runner-up and author of Sunday Best: Cooking Up the Weekend Spirit Every Day. That's why she'll only make a basic salad at home. To start, Cheatham suggests roughly chopping the lettuce then giving it a toss with seasoning.
"Most people don't season their salads, but every salad needs a pinch of salt before you add the dressing," she emphasizes. Be sure to add the dressing right before serving, and use vegetables that are either partially cooked or delicious raw. "Radishes raw [are a] yes," she explains, "but don't give me thick, raw carrots, that just messes up the eating experience."
French chef and host of Cayman Cookout, Eric Ripert points to paella as a dish he enjoys making at home. "At home in the summer," he adds, because the typical Valencian recipe of rice, saffron, chicken and mixed seafood cooked and served in a shallow pan is, "something that looks simple, but that needs a lot of attention."
Ripert also notes you don't make paella for just one ... or even two people. "It's really a dish that brings people together," he says. "It's very interactive and it has something festive about it." The Le Bernadin chef advises that beyond ambiance, paella requires high-quality ingredients from the most basic, like the olive oil, to the rice, protein and vegetables. He notes the quality of the pan and fire is "essential," too.
"Soup," says French chef Daniel Boulud. "I love to make soup."
The restaurateur says the best soups have a combination of vegetables and texture. He says one of his favorite things to do is grab a pot and walk around the kitchen adding "all types of things" to it. Boulud mentions spinach, fresh herbs, grains, meat or seafood, crab, shrimp or lobster, as examples of ingredients he'll add. "I have no recipe, no idea where I'm going," he says.
Boulud also shares his love for moqueca soup. The Brazilian fish stew — made with coconut milk, peppers, fish or shrimp and served over rice — combines all the ingredients he enjoys in a soup. He advises that, "you have to add the dendê oil (a bright red-orange oil made from the fruit of the dendezeiro tree) ... to give that certain je ne sais quoi to the soup."
"I make it for my friend who's Brazilian," Boulud adds, "and he says it's better than what his wife makes."
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