Some folks know me in my capacity as a mortgage banker. Some know me as a comedian, or actor, or director, or “that big bald dude I always see around.” But did you know in a perfect world, I would have been a chef? Of course that utopia is a place where I actually have the skills to be in the kitchen, and despite what Belinda Carlisle says, heaven isn’t always a place on earth.
One of the biggest reasons I put up with the potholes and corruption that will someday sink Rhode Island to the bottom of the ocean is that we are truly a culinary mecca. The chefs here are world class James Beard level badasses who love cooking as much as I love eating. Could any one of them go orange crocs on us and start selling $40 plastic spatulas at Home Goods? Yes, and most of them have the looks to pull it off. But they don’t, and there is something about that that makes me like them and their food even more, the way we are nostalgic for musicians who never sold out.
When Motif asked me to do a piece on grilling, I thought, “Hell, yeah! High heat propane flame and more red meat than in an Argentinian gaucho’s colon.” But I stopped and thought, “What would Matt Jennings do? Or Jake Rojas, or Derek Wagner or Beau Vestal, or Champe Speidel? They would think outside the smoker and elevate the ingredients and the medium. I am sure my dishes won’t compare, but I didn’t want this article to be yet another boring boy meets grill story. I wanted to stretch the limits of what someone short on skills but long on desire could bring to my own backyard hunger games. I decided to get creative.
I reached out to David Dadekian for some inspiration. David is resident and primary writer/editor of Eat Drink RI; Outreach chairperson and member of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council; cooking instructor and private chef; photographer of people, places and things; PR Director for Blackbird Farm; husband and father of two girls; and a walking encyclopedia about almost everything I enjoy. He gave me some direction on what to put on the heat besides the usual meat.
This is not for a backyard BBQ. This is when you are making dinner for just a few folks or trying to impress a date. There is prep work, and you may want to do it ahead of time to make the actual time in front of the grill look effortless. I am not going to do step-by-step, but these things are easy and you can Google almost anything, right? The meal I served was three courses.
Course one is a grilled oyster with Champagne mignonette. The mignonette is super simple and you’ll get a lot of credit just for knowing the word. It’s basically champagne vinegar (I’ve used a rice vinegar and Prosecco concoction in a pinch), chopped shallot, pepper, parsley and honey. Combine and set aside. You can even make this the night before. Find the freshest oysters you can and once the grill is warmed to 350 – 400 degrees Fahrenheit, simply place them on the grates, flat side up. When they pop open they are done. Simple.
For the second course I sliced and grilled some polenta, asparagus and squid. This was also much easier than I expected. I put some olive oil, and salt and pepper on the asparagus and placed that on first, then the polenta. Then I prepped the dressing for the squid. In a bowl, I tossed lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, minced garlic and oregano. I threw the squid on the grill in a grill pan on high heat and cooked it for a few minutes on each side. Serve it sliced and covered in the dressing with the polenta and asparagus.
For desert I sliced some peaches and apples the night before and coated the peaches with honey and cayenne pepper and the apples with honey and brown sugar. I put them on the grill after cleaning it from the second course. Then, in a bowl I whisked together an egg and almond milk with some brown sugar. I dipped slices of bread in the mixture and put it on the heat. Yes, I made French toast on the grill AND IT WAS GLORIOUS!! Place the French toast and fruit in a bowl and cover it with mascarpone cheese or vanilla ice cream and serve. It’s so good that your guests will totally forget if you messed anything else up.
I hope you have a chance to spend some time outside this summer. Rhode Island is beautiful and our beaches are fun, but if you are like me, it’s not summer until you tame fire and share a meal with the people you love while the sun goes down. Cheers.