Monday, April 8, 2013

Chef Chat: Interview with Andrea Griffith

Photo courtesy of Pursell Farms

My latest culinary road trip took Brad and me to Pursell Farms, where I recently had the opportunity to sit down with award-winning Chef Andrea Griffith during our Easter weekend visit (read about our fun weekend HERE!).

With over 13 years of experience, Chef Griffith is no novice and is using her passion for farm-to-table southern cuisine to create exciting new menus and culinary experiences at Pursell.  She was gracious enough to sit down with me after a long day to answer a few questions, which I think you'll really enjoy.  Read on as she talks about trying to duplicate an elusive Canneles de Bordeaux, her advice for home cooks, and making authentic Polish Pierogies with her grandparents:

Let's start with what everyone wants to know about an award-winning chef:  What are 5 items that you always have stocked in your kitchen?
1.  Sriracha
2.  Sweet chili sauce
3.  Grits
4.  Greens (collards, turnips, etc)
5.  Bologna (for my kids!)

I love that you're passionate about farm-to-table Southern cuisine.  What are some key points about this philosophy that you think readers should know?
My biggest thing is the importance of what you put in your mouth.  Nowadays, everyone is so conscious of health, and they're so conscious of any kind of pesticides, bacteria or any sort of crazy growth products, hormones, or chemicals given to the animals and things that are sprayed on foods.  There's nothing better than for a chef to be able to say I know exactly where your food came from, exactly how it was treated, how it was sprayed, if anything was put on it, how it was picked and cared for, how it was cleaned, washed and prepared.   

From the beginning stages, I'd be able to tell even more about the soil because Pursell Farms has been doing soil tests for so long.  So, information about what's in it, where it's from, what minerals are in it, and what nutrients are in it is available.  It's not just so much the fact that I can go in my yard and grow something.  Everyone can do that.  But, they can't do it on such a big scale.  We are doing it in a huge way at Pursell.  We're even trying to grow enough so that we can eventually go to the market and sell it. 

An outstanding meal can be life-changing.  Tell me about your most unforgettable meal. 
I would have to say it was when I staged at The Inn at Little Washington.  Since I worked in the kitchen, they wanted me to try everything, so it was a 9 course meal with pairings.  My husband drove up to meet me, and I didn't know he was coming, which made it a big surprise.  They have these huge Dalmatian dogs as mascots in the restaurant with you.  It was just a very unique experience.  Of course, my husband surprising me made it even cooler.  There's nothing in particular that made it the best thing in the entire universe, but it was the experience - the feeling, how everyone was so interactive, and the great service. 

I remember the dessert best, because I am a chocoholic.  I love mint chocolate chip ice cream, and it was the one thing I didn't see when I was working there.  I was trying to decide what to have for dessert, and they told me they'd bring me their famous ice cream, and said "I hope you like mint!"  They brought it out in a bowl.  The bottom of the bowl was smeared flat with green ice cream and covered with chocolate ribbons piled up on top.  The server picked the spoon up and started cracking the chocolate ribbons, and mixing it in, turning it into mint chocolate chip ice cream.  My husband got a brandy snifter, and it had rum raisin ice cream in the bottom and a disc of white chocolate on top.  They poured this hot rum sauce over the white chocolate, so that it melted and dripped into the bottom, becoming like a hot toddy.

The one thing that I had there that I still to this day try to duplicate are the Canneles de Bourdeaux.  You have to have a certain brass mold to cook them in, which I haven't been able to find.  They almost look like a Charlotte mold.  They are golden brown on the outside, and when you bite into them, they are crunchy, buttery, yummy, and almost like creme brulee on the inside.  I have no idea how they did it.  You have to get these certain molds, pour beeswax into them, and then pour it out.  They sell different molds now, but you have to have this certain type in order to make it happen.  No one I've ever met has made them like that.

The Inn at Little Washington does a lot of really cool things.  They're in a historical little hotel, and their whole thing is focused around culinary, so it reminds me of what we're doing here at Pursell Farms.  They do cool, little intricate things. 

When it comes to developing new recipes, what inspires you the most?
The product.  There's nothing better than the simplest little things, like an egg.  Everyone thinks that it's just an egg, but, an entire dish can be built around that egg.  There's nothing better than when a farmer from two doors down comes and brings you eggs that are still warm.  When you crack them, they are neon yellow.  You just can't get that kind of color, richness and flavor from a grocery store.  Then you start building from that point.  The sky's the limit.  As soon as you see something, that's what drives me.  I see a product and ask myself  "How can I cook this, and what can I do to make it different from anything else I've ever done?"  I try to be more creative.  Before, it used to be all about manipulating a product to the point where it's overly touched, and the integrity of what you've taken out of the ground has now been beaten to heck and put back together.  I just don't think that's the right way to be.  I've dabbled in molecular gastronomy and have done some sous-viding, but the product itself needs to speak in the dish.  You need to be able to taste every single flavor and every single bit of dirt and earth that's on it.  So, I think about how you're going to taste something the best and what's going to bring those natural flavors out the best.

Is there a particular culinary trend for 2013 that you're most excited about?
I'm excited for the molecular gastronomy to go away (laughs).  The big trend now is farm-to-table.  It's what everyone wants.  It's a matter of being able to be in the right place to do so.  I believe that with where I'm at, I've found that place.  I look forward to continuing to develop my farm-to-table, and the farm's concept for it.  I don't think I'm going to change anything I do because of what other people are doing.  It just makes sense here.

If you could eat dinner tonight anywhere in the world, where would it be and what would you order?
There's so many answers.  I'd have to say I'm a total daddy's girl.  I would definitely want to go to a place called Tony Luke's.  That's my dad's and mine's favorite place in the entire world to go to eat together in Philadelphia, which is where I was born and raised.  My father and I haven't both been back in Philadelphia at the same time in probably 3-4 years.  So, I'd love to go there with my dad.

At Tony Luke's, I would order either a Pork Sandwich or Fried Hots.  To make Fried Hots, you take hot peppers, roast them in the oven, peel off the skin, let them sit in a little olive oil with crushed garlic and then put them in a pan and fry them in that same oil/garlic.  Then, stick them right on top of your steak.  It's amazing!  Also, you can't get a roll like you can get at Tony Luke's.  They call them Amorosa rolls.  People who go to Philadelphia get these rolls and individually wrap them to take home!

Then again, I could probably also eat at Joel Robuchon's, or Gordon Ramsay's The London, Thomas Keller's French Laundry, or Alinea.  I also would have loved to have gone to dinner at Charlie Trotter's closing.

What would people be surprised to find in your kitchen?
It would probably be Country Crock spread.  People would think that was weird, especially for a chef.  My husband is a total Country Crock-a-holic, and if I buy normal butter, he won't eat it.  And a chef would totally be like, "Why do you have plastic?!?"  Because it's plastic...that's basically what's in it.  It's gross.

What advice would you give a serious home cook?
Follow your palate and follow your heart.  Look at something, taste it and experiment!

What are your favorite foods from childhood?
My mom's version of spaghetti when we were kids was elbow macaroni with ketchup and butter.  So, I ate that for probably 12 years of my life.  As a chef, I make all this wonderful stuff like my own spaghetti with bolognese sauce, but if I'm having a really weird day I'll still make it and eat it.  It's gross, but I like it.

I also have really fond memories of my grandparents, who were always cooks.  Before my grandmother passed away, we'd always make fresh homemade Pierogies because she was Polish.  They sell Mrs. T's Pierogies at grocery stores, but it's nothing like a fresh Polish Pierogie.  It doesn't taste anything like that.  We'd make the dough and all the fillings.  If you go to the old Polish markets in Philadelphia, you can find them still like that today.  A Pierogie is made out of a real fine sour cream kind of dough and is rolled out.  Classically in Poland, they'd make a filling out of cabbage that was cooked in rendered down bacon fat and butter.  The cabbage would be cooked really slow for almost 4 hours, until it almost broke down completely.  Then they'd add a pinch of salt, so that it had almost a caramelly, buttery smokiness.  Then they'd let it cool, and then fill the pierogies with it, crimp the dough, boil them and then pan fry them with caramelized onions and a little sour cream.  They're amazing.  I have some of my grandmother's recipes, so every now and then I'll make them.

If you were deserted on an island and could only have one ingredient and one tool, what would they be and why?
I would bring jerky and a knife.  The jerky will preserve itself forever, so I'd have a protein.  A knife would help me cut fruit, climb trees and hunt!


Thanks again to Chef Griffith for taking the time to chat with me!  

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