Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
After a long, stressful day, weeknight dinners can make even the most-accomplished home cooks dream of hiring a live-in chef. We’ve done the next-best thing and asked the pros for new ideas — and some of their tried-and-true favorites — to make weeknight mealtimes a little more zen.
There’s one important critic that Chef Ben Poremba of Mexican restaurant Nixta in St. Louis aims to please with his weeknight dinners: his 5-year old son, Omri. These days, Poremba relies on some recipes that he picked up during a three-month family stay in Israel. During the trip, Poremba’s mom — who has been a culinary professional for over 40 years — wowed Omri with her Moroccan-style meatballs and a super-crisp schnitzel (a recipe that was passed down from Poremba’s late grandmother). “Ever since we came back, I’ve been making — and eating — meatballs and schnitzel three to four times a week,” says Poremba. “Neither Omri nor myself get tired of it. Not so sure that’s the case for [my partner] Angela.”
With two children under three, Chef Jon Wallace has two criteria for his weeknight dinners: One pot or less and executable in 30 to 35 minutes with said children at his feet. This differs from the scene at his live music, craft cocktail haunt, Analogue, but Wallace knows what works for his family.
“Simple steak fajitas are often my go-to meal of choice,” Wallace says. “I use whatever steak is on sale at the grocer that week — flank, skirt, flatiron, hanger, et cetera,” he shares. I cook the steaks to medium in a little neutral oil, allowing the skillet to put a nice caramelized crust on both sides of the steak, and testing regularly for done-ness.”
To kick up the dish, Wallace adds a mound of thinly sliced red and yellow sweet peppers, onions and garlic. Once they begin to take on a little bit of color, he tosses in a liberal amount of dried oregano (he prefers the Mexican variety) and about a third of a cup of lime juice. “I toast corn tortillas directly on the stove burners… and serve the sliced steak and veggies with a bit of plain Greek yogurt. Only my mostly toothless six-month-old ever complains.”
Throw It on the Grill
For many chefs, throwing something on the grill is the easiest, most-flavorful way to cook a quick weeknight dinner. Tony Galzin of Nicky’s Coal Fired in Nashville takes it next-level by using the grill to make his entire meal — from mains to sides — when he has a night off from his restaurant. “I’ll typically do a whole pork loin or tri-tip steak for two, very simply seasoned with salt, pepper and good olive oil. I like to cook whatever seasonal veggies are available [in] the same way — salt, pepper, good olive oil and a hot grill,” Galzin says. He finishes the food with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice when it comes off the grill, then sits down to the meal with a cold beer in hand.
It’s no different for Chef Bryan Podgorski of Double Take in Los Angeles. He throws everything from chicken to peaches on the grill in the summer. “Grilling gives anything and everything a bigger flavor, and best of all, it’s quick and easy when you’re short on time,” Podgorski says.
Executive Chef and Owner Ronnie Killen (pictured above) agrees — and when making meals on his own time, he doesn’t veer far from the type of food he serves in his Texas restaurants, Killen’s Barbecue, Killen’s Burgers, Killen’s Steakhouse and Killen’s STQ. “I like to grill burgers on my charbroiler, to give them that flame-broiled taste. When I don’t have time to hand-cut potatoes for French fries, I fry frozen crinkle cuts, season them with pink Himalayan salt and dip them in Whataburger’s spicy ketchup,” he says.
Wine and Cheese, Please
“I’m a man of simple pleasures, which simply means I don’t have much time during the week to go out for a 30-course tasting or to spend hours prepping a meal for myself,” says Scott Shulman, executive chef of Homestead on the Roof in Chicago. Shulman spends his evenings at work preparing upscale farm-to-table cuisine. But outside the kitchen, he’s content to grab a crusty loaf of bread, good charcuterie, great cheese and a bottle of wine to relax after a long day of cooking for others. “It’s super easy and, as far as I’m concerned, the best accompaniment to my couch and Netflix,” Shulman says.
Executive Chef Kelly Franz of Magnolias in Charleston shares the same sentiment. She loves breaking out the Boos butcher block on her nights off and making a beautiful cheese and charcuterie board. The combination of crusty bread, pickled vegetables and a wide variety of condiments adds up to her perfect meal.
Steak fajitas photo courtesy of iStock/cobraphoto