Personal Chefs’ Culinary Wars – 5 award winning chefs put our taste buds to test

Chef Lidia – artichoke soup topped with crisp fried lentils

We could list all of Lidia experience and accomplishments before we talk about her food, but really, you should just get on to reading about her food. Once you taste her food, you won’t have any doubts about her talent.

We started with an amuse-bouche of cream of artichoke soup topped with crisp fried lentils and black currants. The soup, which was indeed velvety smooth, was perfectly complimented with bit of earthy sweetness from the currants and a crunch from the lentils. We were upset she only gave us a small glass. No, really. We looked down into our empty cups and wistfully said to each other, “well, it’s gone.”

Our feeble attention spans were relieved, though, as Lidia quickly moved us on to plates of seared scallops with fennel and blood orange. The scallops, cooked beautifully in clarified butter, were tender and rich, but the brightness of the fennel and blood orange cut the heaviness and gave the dish an acidic pop. Like all of Lidia’s dishes that we tasted, this was perfectly composed, but the quality of the scallops she showed up with were amazing. Another testament to great ingredients!

The tasting was far from over, though, as we finished with ricotta gnocchi drizzled with brown butter and garnished with pea shoots, crisp guanciale, and toasted almonds. Believe us when we say this is a BEAST of a dish. The addition of parmigiano reggiano and lemon zest only added to the depth of flavor and texture. Just have Lidia cook it for you.

Chef Ada – Moroccan-style Tagine

The lamb in Ada’s Moroccan-style Tagine was cooked to perfection and served over a bed of a Quinoa, Broccoli Rabe, Olives, and Currants creating a nice contrast between bitter flavors and the warmth and mild sweetness of the Tagine. Also on the plate were bite-size, airy Fried Chickpeas, which, it should be noted, make a great snack in their own right.

That one plate was enough to leave any lunch crowd satisfied, but today came with a surprise dessert course. After our plates were cleaned, Ada added a truly delicious Blood Orange-Olive Oil Cake, served with fresh whipped cream and a blood orange compote. It was a great hit of sweet to compliment the previous savory course. It was a full meal indeed. Thanks Ada!

Chef Francis – Whole Mackerel with Scallions

On Tuesday, we had chef Francis over to our office to make some lunch, and we’re quite glad we did. Francis brought plenty of fresh material from the greenmarket, a couple mackerel, some pork belly and chicken ready for the fryin’.

On the menu:

  • Open-Faced Fried Chicken Sandwich with Poached Egg
  • Whole Mackerel with Scallions, Ramps, Mushrooms
  • Fava Beans with Brussel Sprout Rabe, Ramps, Poached Egg
  • Pork Belly with Spring Peas, Lima Beans, Greens

Each dish showcased Francis’s attention to detail and technical prowess. The chicken was steamed until fully cooked, prior to dredging and frying, allowing Francis to focus on the texture of the fried crust. As you can see above, the result was picture-perfect fried chicken with a unique, light texture.

Francis is really all about ingredients, and his menu told us exactly what part of spring we’re in. Each dish showed a great balance between protein and the freshness of the greenery Francis brought from the market. Any day where lunch means whole fish, fried chicken, ramps (yes, ramps) pork belly and beautiful fresh greens must be a good day in the book.

Chef Jerry – Meatballs Stuffed with Herbed Ricotta

On Friday, we were lucky enough to have a neighbor stop by the office and share a little hospitality with us. Jerry, who lives nearby in Park Slope, braved the unseasonably warm temperatures to come visit and even bake! Needless to say, we weren’t going to let his efforts go to waste.

Jerry’s offerings:

  • Meatballs Stuffed with Herbed Ricotta in Springtime Marinara
  • Double Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Cookies with Smoked Maldon Sea Salt

The meatballs, which were roasted to perfection and the size of small grapefruit, were rich and savory thanks to the addition of the ricotta. The marinara, bright and fresh thanks to San Marzano tomatoes and anchovies, cut the heaviness of the meatballs and made for the perfect accompaniment.

Jerry’s cookies were chewy, delicious, and just the right amount of decadent on such a hot day. They were also featured Jerry’s homemade vanilla extract and buttermilk, a testament to her penchant for making ingredients from scratch whenever she can. The smoked sea salt she bought, but Jerry said she was working on it.

Jerry has worked in the restaurant world, and the corporate food world as well, but admits that she’s most happy and comfortable working with people personally, whether cooking for them or teaching a class. Her warmth, passion, and intelligence emanate from across the room when she talks about her food, and it’s no doubt that she’s going to charm the pants off of everyone she meets.

He didn’t actually say she was working on making her own smoked sea salt, but honestly, we wouldn’t be surprised.

Chef Jan – Linguine with Zucchini and Radicchio

We were lucky that Jan brought the ingredients to make a delicious lunch that was the antidote to the dreary weather outside.

The menu:

Linguine with Zucchini and Radicchio adorned with grape tomatoes, parsley and Parmesan cheese, this was a dish that was both attractive and delicious. The linguine was perfectly al dente and the sautéed vegetables brought a bright, fresh flavor to the plate. While this was an uncomplicated dish, the fresh and high-quality characteristics of the ingredients delivered a rustic elegance that is difficult to replicate otherwise.

Arugula, Mango and Guacamole Salad was a change of pace in cuisine but was equally satisfying. Jan made the guacamole from scratch and the addition of finely minced green chilies added a spicy kick to the guacamole that we were all fond of. The sweetness of the mango was a nice balance to the heat of the guacamole. Needless to say, this salad did not last long in the office.

Jan came to love food while growing up in Rome, Italy. He has a passion for both cooking and eating and currently teaches private cooking classes. His Italian upbringing shone with the linguine dish and the guacamole salad shows that he can tackle multiple cuisines as well (Asian and Mexican food are among his other specialties).


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