Monday, October 12, 2009

What you can learn from Tom Colicchio in 45 minutes...

It's a little hard to miss Tom Colicchio -- his notorious bald head, his honest (sometimes brutally honest) commentary as head judge on Top Chef and his amazing command of the kitchen and focus on seasonal ingredients. Yes, I've written about Tom before, clearly I'm a fan, but this post comes fresh off of
a) meeting the acclaimed chef in person yesterday (my entire week i
s made!) and b) watching him move swiftly through not one but four different types of confit dishes (lemon, tomato, tuna and pork butt) in under 45 minutes...and still have time for humorous banter with the audience. FYI, confit is virtually anything, meat, fruit or vegetable, slowly cooked and preserved in fat, often its own fat like duck confit.
I was lucky enough to catch Tom's culinary demo in conjunction with Food Network's annual NYC Wine & Food Festival that occurred over the weekend bringing chefs, members of the food industry and food-lovers together for demonstrations, tastings, educational seminars, book signings and more.
But back to the bald chef. Before I give you a sneak tasting of his tomato confit dish, here's what I loved most about Tom's discussion (and why he's one chef in particular I'll continue to chatter about)...

1. He could care less about recipes. He consistently speaks about learning how to work with your food, rather than follow a recipe. It's not about the exact amounts or ensuring you have each and every ingredient on hand. It's about mastering techniques and methods, experimenting and creating, so that you're able to feel at ease in the kitchen. You're mastering cooking, not the ability to follow a single recipe to the tee. Take a flip through his cookbook, Think Like a Chef and you'll understand what I'm talking about.
2. He likes things in moderation. Sure, confits traditionally are made with A LOT of fat (whether it's duck fat, pork fat or olive oil like Tom used yesterday). But he made the point to emphasize balance at mealtimes and small portions, and to call out that processed junk is the primary problem our overweight society is faced with (THANK YOU, Tom!). Real food, good food in smaller portions and leading a balanced lifestyle, exercise and all. When you're focused on that, a little confit in your diet isn't a big deal -- the majority of the fat stays behind in the pot and you come away with major flavor and taste in a few bites.

3. He's big on seasonality and he's prepared. I'm always writing about making an effort to shop and cook seasonally on this blog and Tom is just hammering it home for me (and you). Better flavor, better taste, better nutrients, means you're a happy eater. Creating items and having things prepped and stored away ahead of time allows you to whip up a speedy, healthy meal in no time. No more excuses for the delivery guy.

With all that said, here's Tom's recipe...wait, let's say 'method' instead, for tomato confit.

Tomato Confit
*This is great for end of season or out of season tomatoes that don't have a ton of flavor left in t
Cut tomatoes in half, place them face down on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a healthy amount of olive oil (we're talking a good half-inch or more). Toss on top some sliced garlic and sprigs of thyme. Cook slowly at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.
Peel off the skin, add additional olive oil and place back in the oven at 300 degrees until the tomatoes cook down, shrink in size, about half, and are completely soft. Remove from oven and pack those babies in...more oil! Jar them or store in them in an air-tight container.
Use the confit to top braised lamb shoulder or grilled fish or chicken, or toss in with some pasta for a quick meal or flavorful side dish. Any confit will last for a good 6 or 7 months in the refrigerator, just be sure not to touch it with your fingers, otherwise it'll spoil.

Here's Tom in action...and just a final note, he mentioned that he's in the process of filming a documentary on obesity and the connection between hunger, type-II diabetes and obesity. Good stuff, Tom.

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