We continue to lead more and more public lives. Between Facebook and Twitter, MySpace and FourSquare we are constantly and ultimately connected, sharing a running stream of our whereabouts, feelings, exercise routines, and meals.
So I suppose it should come as no surprise the institution of the chefs table has seen exponential popularity and growth in the last two or three years. For those of you not familiar with the concept, this is a bar or table that has been attached to open kitchens where patrons can watch their meals being made and chat with the chefs while they’re at it. Think of it like the wilderness safari of a restaurant.
Having worked in just enough restaurants to know there’s a whole lot going on back there you don’t want to know about I both adore the chefs table from a foodie diner’s perspective and yet am baffled so many chefs allow it. Gone are the days of joking about the “MILF at table seven with the bad boob job” or spitting on the steak that came back for a third time to be cooked more. Chefs and their staffs are on constant display and pressure to not only create an impressive meal, but to do it gracefully and look like they’re having fun to boot.
I recently stumbled upon Rioja in Denver’s trendy LoDo neighborhood. Sans reservation I walked in and thanks to my solo status was offered a sole seat at the chefs table. What followed for the next two hours was an absolute symphony of culinary excellence, innovation, and performance. The food was exceptional, the service flawless, and the kitchen, which was turning out plate after plate of Mediterranean inspired creations, literally humming. The lead chef, Jennifer Jasinski, was focused and no-nonsense, but finished each sentence with a ‘please’; Incongruous, if not unheard of in most kitchens.
The entire meal was spectacular, but the appetizer of hand-made mozzarella, wrapped in smoked prosciutto, grilled bread, oven-dried tomatoes, arugula, and green olive pistou was perhaps my favorite.
I’ve simplified it here to make it more doable for the home chef but if ever in Denver I highly recommend a trip to 14th and Larimer, where you can see the magic up close and personal.
Grilled Bruschetta with Pesto, Prosciutto, Mozzarella, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Serves 4. Perfect as a first course to a fancy, dinner…or as a light lunch.
8 slices Rustic bread, brushed with olive oil
8 prosciutto slices
8 slices fresh mozzarella, approximately 1/4″ thick
Pesto (homemade is better…but store bought will do the trick)
8 large pieces Sun-Dried tomatoes, packed in oil
- Assemble sandwiches, starting with pesto, then adding prosciutto, adding tomatoes, and topping with mozzarella
- Using a stove top griddle or cast iron pan, heat the pan to medium heat. Add the sandwiches and cook 3-4 minutes per side until golden brown and cheese is melting. If the cheese isn’t melting and you’re worried about them getting too brown, add a lid to the pan for about 60 seconds.
- Cut in half and serve.