Meet the Chef: Ian Kokkeler

Chef Ian Kokkeler, the Executive Chef at Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant in Fairfield, CT, explains his cooking style and his future plans for the on-site garden.

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How does your eclectic cooking style influence the dishes at Barcelona?
Barcelona is all about using fresh ingredients and preparing delicious food in a simple way. I want to make the smallest item on the plate shine. I love to use ingredients in a way that one would not normally think about using them. For example, I can create a dish using steak as the protein but the focus is making parsley the ‘superstar’ of the dish. People often use parsley as a garnish. I will take parsley and make a puree and have the protein work around it. I marry Barcelona’s cooking philosophy with my creative touch.

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Chef Ian’s Sweet Pickle Melon dish. Recipe follows.

One cool highlight about Barcelona in Fairfield is that you have an on-site chef’s garden. What is currently growing in the garden?
Right now we’re growing padron peppers, tomatoes, squash, broccoli, and cucumbers.

I notice quite a few herbs in the garden too. What herbs are in your garden and which herb you cannot live without?
We’re growing mint, nasturtium, cilantro, parsley, and fennel.  I love using nasturtium. While I use it for garnishing, it is edible. The flower petals have a unique flavor that opens your taste buds. I use nasturtium on my cucumber carpaccio and watermelon salads. It not only adds color but it adds a tasty touch too.  Mint is my second favorite herb because of its cooling effect.

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Chef Ian at the Westport Farmer’s Market in August

How often do you harvest the garden and how do use what it being harvested?
In addition to Farah (Barcelona’s purchaser)  harvesting the garden, I forage the garden once a week. Lately, I’ve been using the padron peppers in empanadas. We have beef and chicken empanadas but I’ve added lamb empanadas to the menu. I use the padron peppers in the empanada as well as in an aioli to accompany the dish. As for the squash, I prepare squash a la plancha with salsa verde. As for the other herbs, the bartenders incorporate cilantro and parsley in their cocktail creations.

What are your plans for the 2015 growing season?
I would love to create a bed dedicated to herbs and grow items such as marjoram, thyme, rosemary, oregano, chives and lavender.

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Chef Ian’s Cucumber Carpaccio. Recipe follows.

You truly have a very beautiful way of plating some of your dishes. For example, your cucumber carpaccio looks like a work of art. Tell me your definition of the “art of plating.”
I do think that plating should look like a piece of art. I want someone to think, “Should I eat that? It looks too pretty to eat but it looks so damn good that I’m going in!”  I want my dishes to look vibrant. When I plate a dish, I don’t think in terms of straight lines. I like to set things high if possible. When I pour sauce on a dish, I let my hand go and wherever it lands, it lands. I guess you could say that it’s my zen way of plating.

Join Chef Ian for his Autumn Harvest Cooking Class on Monday, September 29 at 7pm at Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant in Fairfield. Please call for reservations 203.255.0800.

Chef Ian’s Farmer’s Market recipes:

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An Evening at Eddy Farm

By Eric Harris, Wine Steward Barcelona Wine Bar and Restaurant

Eric’s musings on a memorable farm dinner before he moves from BWB West Hartford to BWB Boston

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I couldn’t think of a more perfect end to my Barcelona West Hartford experience than our first- ever farm dinner. Upon arriving at Eddy Farm, the universe seemed to nod in approval as the very hot afternoon transitioned into a perfect breezy evening. Our fantastic hosts Andy and Haley greeted us with open arms and welcomed us to their gem of a farm tucked away in Newington, CT. As our guests arrived they were greeted with warm smiles, sangria, and an assortment of pintxos prepared by Chef Eric Stagl of BWB West Hartford.

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Jamón and melon

While everything from the farm-fresh potato chips with chive sour cream to the chorizo stuffed olives drizzled with pedro ximenez vinegar was outstanding, the clear favorite of the reception was Chef Eric’s deviled eggs soaked in pickled beet juice. As I was playfully being chastised by our guests for ruining their appetites by offering them so many delicious snacks, Chef Eric came out to welcome everyone to the special farm dinner.

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After this heartfelt welcome from Chef Eric and Andy, we were ready to start the dinner. Our first course was delicious heirloom tomato gazpacho made with Eddy Farm’s organic heirloom tomatoes. The wonderful flavor of the gazpacho was matched by its beautiful yellow orange color from the heirloom tomatoes. It was finished with butter poached shrimp, fresh cucumbers, and, of course, a touch of olive oil. The gazpacho was paired with Paul Zinck Pinot Gris. The touch of sweetness and fresh fruits in the wine were supported by its nice acidity, making it a delicious pairing for the slightly acidic, slightly sweet, summer soup.

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Here I am, serving delectable pintxos

As the sun began to dip behind the tree line, it was time for our second course. Chef Eric prepared a delicious fluke crudo with watermelon, sun gold tomatoes, breakfast radish, and lemon basil. Each aspect of the dish worked in harmony. A touch of sweetness, a little crunch from the radish, and the delicious citrusy, herbal, flavor and aroma from the lemon basil, all accompanying the light, clean, fluke. The crudo was paired with Ulacia Txakoli.

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For anybody unfamiliar with Txakoli, it is unique wine from the Basque region of Spain. It is characterized by its strong acidity, fresh fruits and minerality, and by its effervescence. This lovely clean wine held its own with the complex flavors of the crudo without overpowering the very light fluke. Everybody also seemed to be enthralled with the traditional, flashy long pour synonymous with Txakoli.

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Chef Eric Stagl

Between courses, conversation grew to a steady hum. It was nice to stand back and watch everybody having such a lovely evening. The string lights and lanterns provided the perfect glow in an otherwise pitch black field. The night really had a somewhat majestic feel to it. For the third course, Chef prepared braised pork belly, fresh from Speckled Rooster Farm in Westport over Eddy Farm’s sweet corn. Yum! This was paired with El Coto, a Crianza from Rioja. The wine’s bright fruits matched the sweet flavor from the corn, while its youthful acidity cut through the delicious, rich fat of the pork belly.

eddy farm barcelonaeddy farm barcelona Braised Speckled Rooster Farm pork belly over Eddy Farm’s sweet corn

The last course in our dinner was grilled salmon over a sweet corn succotash. This dish was late summer on a plate. The nice char on the perfectly cooked salmon accompanied the medley of fresh veggies wonderfully. As the first bites of the dish were taken, murmurs of pleasure were heard from the crowd. The salmon was paired with the Domain Carneros Pinot Noir. The wine’s smoky character played well with the char on the salmon. We gladly obliged requests for more of the delicious wine.

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The final course: salmon over sweet corn succotash

eddy farm barcelonaeddy farm barcelonaThe BWB West Hartford team: Kelly, Emery, Hilary, Eric, and Anna. Cheers to a wonderful evening!

 

Conversations continued long after the dinner was complete. There was a sense that nobody wanted to leave. Who could blame them? The setting was gorgeous, the weather was perfect, the wine was delicious, and the company was great. As I made my way around to each table to say goodbye to the many familiar faces, I was met with a chorus of well wishes and gratitude for the wonderful evening. I couldn’t help but be filled with pride. It was yet another fantastic Barcelona event. While we packed everything up to head back to the restaurant I enjoyed a glass of wine with our gracious host Andy to celebrate a successful evening. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect last night. Boston here I come.

 

Photos by Anna Beyer

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My Summer Job at Barcelona Wine Bar and bartaco: Part 6

My name is Sinclair Welch, currently a sophomore at the University of Vermont majoring in Environmental Studies concentrating in Food Systems. Prior to my studies at UVM, I attended the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, where I received a culinary degree. This summer I am working for Barcelona Wine Bar and bartaco in their South Norwalk offices with Farah Masani, a farmer and the Director of Culinary Procurement helping with food sourcing, inventory, distribution and farming. I will be writing weekly blogs to give you a peek at what goes on behind the scenes.

Last Friday, I drove up to Cherry Grove farm in Newtown, CT to meet Joel Thompson, one of the many farmers that supplies fresh produce to Barcelona. At the farm, Joel showed me around his three fields where he grows produce, and then he took me to his blueberry field where he has 450 blueberry bushes.

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There, Joel and I spent a few hours picking what seemed like an endless supply of blueberries. There were so many berries that Joel and I were able to spend the whole time working on only a couple of bushes. We were able to pick 40lbs of blueberries for Barcelona in one afternoon.

This is the last week of my internship at Barcelona, as I will be returning to The University of Vermont in August. During my time with Barcelona, I learned all about farming, purchasing, distributing and warehousing for restaurants. I enjoyed my time here so much that I will be back again next summer to help Farah.

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My Summer Job at Barcelona Wine Bar and bartaco: Part 5

My name is Sinclair Welch, currently a sophomore at the University of Vermont majoring in Environmental Studies concentrating in Food Systems. Prior to my studies at UVM, I attended the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, where I received a culinary degree. This summer I am working for Barcelona Wine Bar and bartaco in their South Norwalk offices with Farah Masani, a farmer and the Director of Culinary Procurement helping with food sourcing, inventory, distribution and farming. I will be writing weekly blogs to give you a peek at what goes on behind the scenes.

Rooftop Garden Update
A lot of work has gone into our garden since we planted on June 1.  Our cucumbers had to be trellised and our tomatoes staked.  In fact, we had to care for our tomatoes in a variety of ways.

There are two different kinds of tomato plants — determinate and indeterminate. Indeterminate tomato plants (also known as “vining” tomatoes) grow up to ten feet tall and produce fruit throughout the season. They will continue to grow and produce fruit until they are killed by the first frost.

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Determinate tomato plants (also called bush tomatoes) are more compact and grow only three or four feet tall. They will stop growing once the fruit has ripened on the bud, but all of the tomatoes ripen around the same time.

We have both types of tomatoes on our rooftop garden. These kinds of tomato plants require different care. Indeterminate plants should have the “suckers” pruned so that they can use their energy to grow “up” and not “out.” Suckers are the small shoots that grow out of the joint of the plant. Since they grow like a vine, indeterminate tomato plants require lots of staking. Determinate plants, however should not have the suckers pruned and don’t need to be staked because of their bush shape.

We staked our tomatoes using the stake and weave technique, using one stake for each planter and then looping the string around each stake. We used three strings each, eight inches apart.

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A month and a half after planting, we have our first signs of corn! We have lots of green tomatoes and we are seeing the start of our cucumbers and peppers.

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We have trained our cucumbers to grow vertically on a trellis made of twine. This makes it easier to harvest the cucumbers and keeps them off the ground, which helps protect them from pests and disease. This technique also helps us save space, which is limited on our roof top garden.

We’ll have lots of great pictures when we harvest – so watch for future blogs.

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My Summer Job at Barcelona Wine Bar and bartaco: Part 4

My name is Sinclair Welch, currently a sophomore at the University of Vermont majoring in Environmental Studies concentrating in Food Systems. Prior to my studies at UVM, I attended the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, where I received a culinary degree. This summer I am working for Barcelona Wine Bar and bartaco in their South Norwalk offices with Farah Masani, a farmer and the Director of Culinary Procurement helping with food sourcing, inventory, distribution and farming. I will be writing weekly blogs to give you a peek at what goes on behind the scenes.

Barteca directly sources their food locally, nationally and internationally. We work with producers and farmers in Spain to import meat, cheeses and olive oils. This directly sourced food comes together in our small warehouse in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Most of our cheese comes from Forever Cheese, a Long Island based company that sources genuine cheese from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Croatia. My favorite is Mitica Mahon. It is a 4-month aged cows’ milk cheese that is made exclusively on the island of Menorca. It is a moist cheese that has a mild, nutty taste and can be used at table or for melting.

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We purchase some of our oil directly from La Boella in Spain, where they have cultivated olive trees for more then eight centuries. Our charcuterie is sourced from New England Charcuterie, who purchases naturally raised New England pigs to make Chorizo Seco. We source our Jamon Serrano and Iberico ham from Monte Nevado in Spain.

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The Jamon Iberico is featured in our Quail Egg Crostini with Foie Gras Butter and Iberico Ham, as well as on the cheese and meat plates. Barteca’s direct food sourcing and personal relationships with our suppliers ensures quality products and reasonable pricing. Small farmers and businesses benefit from our support, and our guests benefit from the fresh, quality ingredients they enjoy in our restaurants.

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