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Newly Discovered Joy of Cooking with Chef Jack Witherspoon
Chef Jack Witherspoon
Diane Scalia
Diane Scalia
November 5, 2011

When asked by Michael Franks of Chez Melange, back in December, if I'd like to be part of an “Undiscovered Chefs” event at Palos Verdes' spectacular Terranea Resort in March 2012, I said yes.

Did I know, at that hour, that the entire week before and after the event actually took place, my schedule would be crammed nonstop? I did not. As usual, I asked The Universe to show me the gold in this one. I wasn’t seein’ it.

All I could see were back-to-back engagements, then schedule changes, now requiring me to be somewhere all day Sunday, other than in my typical  at-home zombie-like setting. Monday and the following week were scheduled to hit the ground running. I was very concerned that my state of being underslept wasn’t going to be - or equally important, look - pretty.

My co-star, young up-and-coming Chef Jack Witherspoon, was now scheduled to cook with me in the afternoon. It also turned out that (in advance) I would personally be in charge of our recipe for presentation, and for planning how all of that would be executed.

Again, did I think I had time for this?

Just then, this very appropriate message came across on my e-wire from my favorite Notes from the Universe:

"Diana, sometimes, in hindsight, it may seem that your prior kindnesses were for naught, and that in the end, they were too high a price to pay for the pains you've endured. That is, of course, until you get a little further into the future, when the pendulum has been allowed its full swing, and all the seeds you've sown have begun blooming in more gardens than you ever knew existed."

On the wing and the prayer that maybe there are such gardens out there, I carried on.

I decided that beautiful young Jack ~ a 3-time cancer survivor, cookbook author, and even Chef to Hollywood on occasion ~ would be my muse, for inspiring a recipe that uniquely honors who he is.

His courage and sense of adventure came into play, and it turns out we both love avocados, cheese, and fruit. His signature is comfort foods and “twisting things up”. I thought it would be fun to introduce him to some authentic Spanish foods, make an atypical guacamole that Barcelona might love, then “hit it up” (a favorite expression of my other idol, Chez’s Chef Jimi Tate) with some unusual dipping pieces.

Simple recipe divined, check. Quick ideas of how we would prepare it onstage together, check. Ship recipe off to Terranea for “the little book”, check. Back to work ~ Melting Pot Food Tours and BarComida at Chez Melange, check, check ...

Sunday at Terranea, my first (morning) act was with LaEspanola to make paella which I served to our 25 guests. After a last-minute back-and-forth schedule change, Chef Jack and his mom arrived not all that long before our set. To his lovely mom’s panic I’m sure, I promised her darling angel would be just fine. My young co-chef was excited to do this; somehow he trusted that I’d have his back.

I wish I could describe how much tremendous fun we had and gratefully, how well that translated to our audience. While I cleverly managed our recipe co-prep, I “interviewed” Jack so that everyone could learn his inspirational story, hear about his Hollywood adventures, and feel with his passion for food and cooking. Our "act" went off as if we’d rehearsed it 1000 times when in fact, we met for the first time only minutes before we performed together. Before everyone knew it, we presented our Tapas Platter that was said to be too gorgeous to eat.

Michael Franks thought it was “magical”.

Perhaps I'll go shopping for gardening tools after all ...

I hope you will enjoy our memorable recipe at Spring parties this season ... on behalf of my new favorite Chef (learn more about him here), thank you!

Tapas Trio with Barcelona Avocado Dip, for Chef Jack

Barcelona Avocado Dip:

  • 3 large, ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, cut in cubes
  • 2 fresh oranges, to be used accordingly:
  • Zest of one fresh orange
  • Juice of one fresh orange
  • Segments of one fresh orange
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano leaves, finely minced
  • Pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup roasted, unsalted almonds, chopped finely, for finishing
  • Smoked sea salt, for finishing

Mash avocado with orange zest, juice, and segments; add oregano and a little salt and pepper; combine well. Spoon into serving bowl, and top with crushed almonds. Top with sea salt to serve. Offer small spoons for serving dip. Yields about 3 cups. Sevilla "Tortas" Flatbread ~ available for purchase at LaEspanola Meats. Break flatbread into large pieces, serve with Dip.

Stuffed Endive Leaves:

  • 1 lb. hot Italian or other spicy sausage (bulk or pulled from link casings); you may also use raw, diced ahi or canned tuna
  • 18 fresh endive leaves

Cook sausage until crumbly and browned. Drain off any excess fat. Spoon crumbled sausage into endive leaves for serving. Vegetable and fruit pieces, with Spanish cheese cubes, may also be served on platter

Prepare Platter:

Place serving bowl of Dip in center of platter with small spoon(s). Surround Dip with accompaniments: Sevilla flatbread, stuffed endive leaves, vegetables, fruit, cheese (if desired). Platter yields about 6 appetizer servings.

Until next time, I remain ~

Your Chef and Tour Maestra,

Diane Scalia

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