Friday, April 15, 2011

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr., Part Two: One thousand pens and one thousand uses for mozzarella

Posted by on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 10:30 AM

The tableside mozzarella is one of Jasper's signature dishes.
  • The tableside mozzarella is one of Jasper's signature dishes.

Had the pasta carbonara. It was penne with cheese. Dad was mad that there was cheese, but you're always supposed to have cheese in the carbonara.

October 2000 -- I met the head of Slow Food. I think this could be something

if we do this in KC. I saw a snail in his pocket. I'd like to get one of those snails. Note to self: Slow Food.

2003 -- Research porchetta. It could be a new item.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. constantly jots down his thoughts and dining experiences in an ever-expanding stack of small spiral notebooks that stretches back decades.

"I take notes on everything I eat, except in Kansas City." Mirabile says. "I remember my dad saying that people should always be looking at us and taking notes on what we're doing."

Yesterday, Mirabile shared the story of his family's business, and on Monday he'll share one of the recipes currently on the menu. 

What are your culinary inspirations? When I travel, I get inspired. It's kind of like when I was finishing the last cookbook. The first thing that came to mind is a cannoli. I look at my nephew and I say we're on the cannoli trail in Italy. We're not going to stop until we find the world's best cannoli. I stopped counting after 60 cannolis. And 10 days later, it turns out my cousin had the world's best. Sometimes when you're looking for something, it's right in your own backyard.

I think I was a foodie before you heard the word foodie. I constantly had a notebook and pen. I've got thousands of pens. I love the names and history of a dish. I also want to know more. On our honeymoon in Hawaii, Lisa and I went on the Dole pineapple tour. We'll take a road trip in June, and I'll make my family stop at every iconic restaurant from here to Florida. I'm always looking for a new platter, style or presentation for a dish.

It's harder and harder to get inspired. The younger chefs are doing dishes that I don't understand. I praise them and give them credit, but for me it's all about tradition. I like that I was in Italy, milking cows at 5:30 in the morning. And then I'm riding in the back of a truck -- it could be in the middle of Kansas -- to a cheese factory. The milk is tested and then made into parmigiano reggiano. And it will be here in about 14 months. My guests will be tasting something that I had my hands on.

What's your favorite ingredient? Ricotta cheese. It's so versatile. I can make it into an appetizer. I can make it sweet or savory. It can be in pasta salad or main entrees.

What's your best recent food find? I'm going to start using black garlic on the menu. It's got a little sweet, charcoal flavor to it. I'll introduce it as an appetizer, bring out a sample to customers. It's how I got them interested in lobster cappuccino. I just said try this.

What's your favorite local ingredient? This time of year, it's the garlic chives. I'm thinking about spring right now. I'm not saying artisan product because then I couldn't choose between Jude's Rum Cake and Shatto Milk and so many others. But with the garlic chives, I get so much flavor with just extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.

What's one food you hate? I will not eat frog legs. It's just the thought of it. I can't imagine eating a frog's legs. But my wife loves them.

What's one food you love? Mozzarella. I like the idea of something you can watch being made in two minutes, and then you're eating it. It's mysterious to add boiling water to curds. Add sea salt and in just two minutes, you have a dish that is so versatile, you can use it in thousands of dishes. And the byproduct is ricotta.

What's your guilty pleasure? Number one is chocolate. Number two, and you're going to die on this one -- it's Buffalo Wild Wings. I go there and I tell them how to make them. I like the Asian wings with buffalo salt -- it's a buffalo spice with vinegar and salt. Then I want the hottest sauce on the side. My wife, Lisa, says I'm addicted to them.

What's never in your kitchen? Curry. No one in my house likes curry. I've tried to introduce it to my family, tried to sneak it into dishes, but they're smarter than me. I got inspired traveling to Washington, D.C., because there's so many great Indian restaurants there. But there's still no curry in my house. That and I have a little coffee pot that only I use because I'm the only one that likes Vietnamese coffee. 

What's always in your kitchen? Extra virgin olive oil, first cold press. I typically use it at home and then bring it to the restaurant.

Besides Jasper's, where do you like to eat? I love Starker's. I think he [chef John McClure] is one of the top chefs here in Kansas City. I was fortunate to be one of the first people to try the Tomahawk Chop in December. We split it between three of us for lunch. I love Michael Smith. He's innovative and at the top of his game. Colby [Garrelts] at Bluestem, of course. If he doesn't win the James Beard Award this year, they should get rid of the award. And Cafe Roux; it's close to our house. I love anything New Orleans; it's my favorite city in the country.

If you could steal one recipe in town, what what it be?
You know what I'm going to say. [Laughs.] Buffalo Wild Wings. 

One book that every chef should read? Larousse Gastronomique. It's the first book my father ever gave me. He always wanted us to be reading, whether it was a magazine, newspaper or book. And Ma Gastronomie by Fernand Point [with an introduction by Thomas Keller].

Who's got the best barbecue in town, and what are you ordering? Three of my good friends own three of the best in Kansas City. It's between Gate's, Arthur Bryant's and Jack Stack. I'll have to say, since I stare at it every night, it's Gate's. I get burnt ends with sauce on the side, no bread and no pickles.

A chef is only as good as ... the last meal you've cooked. But I would say as good as his updated menu. Nothing is worse than going to a restaurant and seeing a menu that still has such and such over winter greens. You have to work in the season.

[Photo by Charles Ferruzza]

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