Justin Smillie - Chefs with Gusto

Posted on October 26, 2012 04:29 pm

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by Ishita Rapino

I have to start this post by saying that I LOVE Chef Justin – he is so cool.

This was the first time Chef Justin Smillie of Il Buco Alimentari E Vineria (same owners as Il Buco and right down the street), taught at De Gustibus. He seemed nervous in the beginning (he was!), but within 10 minutes, he fed off the excited crowd and really got into a groove. I can tell he will be a regular at DG, because there was such camaraderie between Chef Justin and the guests, it was like being at a really fun dinner party. And his initial nervous energy actually helped set the tone – it made him less intimidating as the “expert” and more like a really knowledgeable friend - this made everyone feel completely comfortable asking him any question that came to mind. And as everyone started asking questions, he started feeling more comfortable, and it made the night fun and relaxed. And how can you go wrong with a guy named Smillie?

Il Buco is known for their homemade salumi (they actually got in trouble years ago for making it in-house and decided to make the operation legit). The new location is a restaurant and store, selling high-end oils and vinegars, cured meats and many delectable Italian treats. Might be more fun than Eataly since you may see (and hear) Chef Justin in the kitchen.

If you knew me personally, you’d know this menu is right up my alley (particularly the Pappardelle):

 

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I need to give a shout-out to Emmy here because she has started this new venture of painstakingly writing the menu and matching the Chef’s logo – I think it’s awesome and looks really cool. It also helps me not have to type out the menu!

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The night started with an amuse of bruschetta with local grapes and mint, and Il Buco’s olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Now I understand the importance of good olive oil – you could taste the deep olive flavor, which paired really well with the sweet grapes and creamy ricotta.

Next up was the Panzanella of Heirloom Tomatoes, which included house-cured sardines and rustic croutons. Side note: Justin recommended using a mortar and pestle to grind ingredients (instead of a blender) to coax flavor and have a more sensual and interactive cooking experience. To my single friends – take note – invest in a mortar and pestle! I was really excited (read: nervous) to try this dish since I’ve actually never had sardines as a main component of a dish (I’ve only had it in a sauce or dressing). The sardines were really interesting and not fishy at all. They actually looked and felt like an orange fruit roll-up that was really salty. Overall, the dish was really flavorful with that fun crunchy and chewy texture when your bread soaks up a delicious sauce.

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Seriously – would you think the orange strips were sardines?

As I mentioned earlier, I love Pappardelle, and this was made with Rabbit Sugo, which surprisingly didn’t seem too difficult to make, especially given the fancy name (particularly since you can substitute chicken legs for the rabbit). This dish was delicious, but I have to say that I was actually more excited about the fact that Chef Justin invited Austan, an adorable young lady who was there from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, to come to the front and make the pasta with him. No offense Justin, but Austan kind of stole the show. She was really well-versed on food, and clearly was a foodie in the making (although arguably, she probably knows more and has experienced more than me based on the things she was saying). I got to chat with her and her family for a while, and I can’t tell you how adorable she is and I know she was so appreciative to Sal and Chef Justin for inviting her on stage to learn about making fresh pasta. The best part was that you could really see how patient Chef Justin is – he was so calm and collected while he taught Austan how to prep. No wonder his 5-year-old wants to be a chef like his daddy! Best tip of the night – pasta water should be salty like the sea. Wow, I knew the rule of salting your water since it’s the only time you get a chance to season your pasta, but I did not realize it was supposed to be that salty. Definitely something I’ll need to change asap.

At this point, I’m full. We still had a short ribs course and dessert, and I (again) went on my word of not finishing each dish. All I can say is that my husband would be very jealous that I was eating these short ribs because that is always his dish of choice when we go out for dinner, and this one was particularly delicious because of the addition of walnuts. The best way for me to sum up this dish is to quote one of the guests who literally moaned in delight, looked over at me with her empty plate and exclaimed “it’s just so good”. Exactly.

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Last, but certainly not least, was the Crostada of Roasted Pears. First, I have to mention that Karen, the pastry chef, is delightful! She used to work in digital animation (major career change!) and compared it to dating a guy – it was ok, but not the one! Karen and Justin had a great rapport and it was fun to see them together. Ok, moving on from my girl crush, this dish was a perfect end to the meal. It was gently sweet, with thyme flavor throughout the warm and crispy crostada. It really was a great dessert for a group, particularly if some prefer salty and some prefer sweet at the end of a meal.

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I did get a chance to catch up with Chef Justin at the end of the night and I think he had a really great time and he was someone I would totally be friends with. Sometimes when I meet chefs, I am so intimidated because I don’t speak the lingo or I’m worried that my love of my mom’s famous “dump cake” (canned peaches and pineapple, with boxed yellow cake and butter on top – trust me, it’s a crowd pleaser) is not always sophisticated enough. Well, Chef Justin’s high consumption levels of Coca-Cola (sorry if this was “off the record”) and love of chili con queso just goes to show you can love the high-end and low brow. This was a great night and I look forward to going to Il Buco to hang with my new friend Justin soon!




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There Are 2 Responses To Justin Smillie - Chefs with Gusto


Ralph Scrofani says:

October 10, 2012 at 04:44 pm

Ishita, The orange strips on the Pappardelle were not anchovies but strips of cured egg sac from a fish. I don&#039;t remember if it was from the Bronzino or not. It tasted like seawater to me, briny and fresh. Like a fishy fruit roll up! I loved the elegant simplicity of the rabbit sugo as well as all the other dishes. The quality of all the ingredients, right down to the Sicilian sea salt really made the difference!

Ishita Rapino says:

October 10, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Thanks Ralph! I actually wasn&#039;t sure if I was mistaken about the sardines, but I knew they were the fish component of the dish. Hope to see you soon at DG!

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