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Celebrity Chef Series Brings Gourmet to Campus East Coast Grill Founder Kicks off Festivities

This time of year finds HBS students longing for life after dinners at Spangler. Despite a few New Yorkers-to-be, most are looking forward to a kitchen that’s finally as big as their One Western Ave. bathroom. But before they leave, graduating ECs and summering RCs can add one more ingredient to their dining fantasy: some good gourmet cooking skills.

I am among the neediest chefs of all with a staggering cooking repertoire of quesadillas, crackers, and basically…little else. So, last Tuesday night, accompanied by my more skilled girlfriend, I enlisted the help of Chris Schlesinger, founding chef of East Coast Grill in Cambridge.

Schlesinger is launching a charity event called Celebrity Chef Series at Nuestra Culinary Ventures, a non-profit “kitchen incubator” for small food businesses in Jamaica Plain. The Celebrity Chef Series brings a star chef to campus every week throughout May and the beginning of June to share their cooking secrets. Highlights will include appearances by Andy Husbands, chef of trendy Tremont 647 in the South End; Joanne Chang, one of Boston’s most renowned pastry chefs; and Paul O’Connell, chef of the funky French/Cuban Chez Henri. But last Tuesday’s focus was clear. Schlesinger wasn’t kidding when he titled the event, “Kicking off the Grilling Season.” He grilled everything, from pears to avocados to scallops to pork to eggplant to pita.

First, we arrived to offers of wine and Samuel Adams Beer from the Boston Beer Company, which co-sponsored the event.

Then the cooking began with Grilled Coriander Crusted Scallops with Pineapple Chile Salsa and Fried Plantains. Schlesinger gave us his three rules of grilling seafood: “Start with a clean grill on high heat; make sure your seafood is lightly oiled; and don’t flip too fast-wait for a sear to develop before you flip.”

The Pineapple Chile Salsa was even more complex. The crowd scribbled furious notes as Schlesinger combined diced pineapple, pineapple juice, red wine vinegar, chopped cilantro, diced green pepper, diced red pepper, diced red onions, curry powder, salt and pepper.

Once the ripe plantains had popped out of the frying pans, we broke for a sampling. The sears and crunchy coriander gave the scallops a perfect grilled consistency, but somehow the pieces still melted in our mouths like they might at a fine Italian restaurant. And the salsa offered the perfect sour complement to the savory scallops.

“Grilling is about strong flavors and contrasts,” said Schlesinger. “That’s the way they do it in hot places like the Caribbean. I tell my chefs, ‘try to over-spice it, and you’ll see how much tolerance food has for spices.'”

Schlesinger backed up his big talk about spices by coating a huge pork loin in a mix of salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne, paprika and coriander. “This is a great rub,” he said contentedly, almost to himself as he shifted back into chef-speak.

To hear Chris Schlesinger muse out loud about food is to hear Manny Ramirez reveal his homerun swing to you. Schlesinger is one of THE hot chefs that every Boston foodie loves to name drop. And here he was, opening his brain to twenty-five guests for two hours.

The word about the chef series is already spreading among business school students. “My fianc‚ wanted to give me a fun, interactive present and she knows how much I love to grill,” said an MIT Sloan student named Joe. HBS student Martina Widmann (OF), also in attendance, said, after a bite of Schlesinger’s grand finale Grilled Pear with Balsamic Glaze and Blue Cheese, “I can’t wait to try this myself for some friends.”

As we left, Cary Wheaton, Director of Nuestra Culinary Ventures (NCV), said, “We’re so excited about this series, and the idea is to have some of the culinary entrepreneurs based here give their own chef series next year.” Forty small caterers and specialty food makers obtain shared kitchen space, training, and technical assistance at NCV’s kitchen.

A few of the coming dishes to be presented as part of the Series include Summer Lamb Tajine with Sesame Garnish, Mussells and Lobster with Coconut Milk and Lime, Ginger Lemon Baklava with Pistachios, and the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie.

More information on NCV and the Celebrity Chef Series can be found by visiting www.nuestracdc.org and clicking on Nuestra Culinary Ventures or by calling 617-522-7900×10.

April 25, 2005
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