NAHA: Chef Carrie Nahabedian

Chef Carrie Nahabedian is the co-founder and executive chef of Chicago-based NAHA restaurant. Her career spans more than 24 years, and includes a roll-call of reputable establishments including the Ritz-Carlton, Le Perroquet, Le Francais, Sinclair’s and the Four Seasons Hotel.

Chef Nahabedian’s dedication to the clean flavors of perfectly in-season, local produce earned her the 2008 James Beard Foundation Award for best chef in the Great Lakes region. She took a moment to share her thoughts with Urban Vivant.

UV: What are the benefits of cooking with locally grown ingredients?
Nahabedian: The benefits of cooking with local ingredients and sourcing local ingredients are many…it means you are getting the freshest product possible in season, you are supporting like-minded individuals who share the same philosophy, focus and vision as yourself. You are supporting the local economy and you are supporting the stewardship of the land for future generations.

You would be surprised to learn that just a few years ago there were a great many people who had no idea how many farmers there were in the Midwest who don’t just grown grain, soybeans and corn for commercial use. But, that has changed since the public now has a better understanding via the media, the farmer’s markets, the Green City Market and community programs.

The benefits of cooking with local ingredients is in the taste. You can taste the richness of the soil, the sunlight and natural wholesomeness of the product. These are farmers who are growing using centuries old techniques that have been modernized by progress in the areas of pest control and fertilization. Farmers are much more interested in the long term viability of their farms and land then ever before. With the whole country in an economic tailspin, more and more people are looking to their own backyard for their next great meal for their family.

UV: What are some key philosophies you use when designing a menu?
Nahabedian: The key philosophy I use when designing a menu is of course quality ingredients prepared well. I like a menu that flows and reflects the season and style of the restaurant. My interpretation of Mediterranean cuisine is different from the next person because of my personal influence on the cooking and style. I utilize the entire region including North African, the Greek Islands and Middle East. The style of menu writing is very personal and distinctive to the restaurant.

Photo from TCW Mag.

UV: Could you share with us a couple of your favorite recipes?
Nahabedian: Of course. The first is a coddled organic farm egg, which makes a great “breakfast for dinner” dish, and it an be substituted with anything you like based on availability and preference. The second is for diver scallops scented with vanilla bean.

Coddled Organic Farm Egg
serves eight
1 ½ C white corn meal
4 cups water
4 oz. soft butter
½ c. heavy cream
8 oz. Sofia goat cheese or similar
salt, cracked black pepper
8 whole farm eggs, ramekins
1lb. watercress
½ lb. La Quercia Prosciutto, sliced thin
16 pc. Ramps
extra virgin olive oil
red wine vinegar

Pre-heat the oven to 350° F. Mix the corn meal with 2 cups of cold water. Bring the other 2 cups of water to a boil, add ½ of the butter and season with salt and pepper. Add in the white corn meal. Stir, stir and stir!  This dish requires a good amount of energy and love! Make sure you use a heavy wooden spoon or a wooden spoon with a blade flat end so you can reach all corners of the pot. Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Then add the cream. Add ½ of the goat cheese. If necessary, you can make the polenta richer and add more butter. Taste again and adjust seasoning. Keep warm with a buttered piece of wax paper on top.

Clean the Ramps (wild leeks) by trimming the base of the ramp, root end and wash thoroughly. Pat dry. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and roast quickly, approximately 5 minutes in the oven. Reserve and keep warm.

For the eggs…butter the ramekin you will be cooking the egg in. If you have nice egg dishes, you can serve the egg in the dish and adjust the presentation with everything else.
Line the buttered egg ramekin with a slice of proscuitto , a small piece of goat cheese and then crack the egg on top. Season lightly with salt and cracked black pepper. Bake in a water bath until the egg is soft-cooked, “coddled”, this will take approx. 6 minutes.

While the eggs are cooking, make a nice simple salad of shaved radishes and watercress that you bought hopefully from a local farmer!  Season with a drizzle of EVOO, chopped parsley and a splash of red wine vinegar.

Place a spoon of the polenta on the plate, spoon the egg carefully from the ramekin and top with the delicious and crisp salad.

Diver Sea Scallops scented with Vanilla Bean, Citrus and Spices
serves eight
16 fresh diver sea scallops
citrus/vanilla powder
4 heads Belgian endive, core removed & leaves julienned
3 T olive oil
3 T butter
2 bunches mache
2 ruby red grapefruits, supremed(only the sections), juice reserved
salt &  pepper
1 t sugar
beurre blanc (see recipe below)

Season scallops with salt and cracked black pepper. Sear in a hot pan with the olive oil until golden on one side. Before turning over, sprinkle generously with the citrus powder on each side. Cook until medium rare. Set aside to keep warm.

Heat butter until bubbling in separate pan. Add endive, season with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat until wilted. Add teaspoon of sugar and sauté until  caramelized.

In 8 bowls, evenly distribute endive. Place 2 scallops in each bowl with a few grapefruit sections. Garnish with chiffonade of mint, a small bouquet of Mache and a generous spoonful of beurre blanc.

Beurre Blanc
2 T grapefruit juice
2 T white wine
1t minced shallot
2 T heavy cream
½ lb soft butter

Reduce grapefruit & wine in small saucepot with shallots until 1T. of liquid remains. Add heavy cream and bring to boil. Remove fron heat and slowly whisk in soft butter until sauce is emulsified. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.

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