"The smoother the skin, the juicer the pulp, especially with limes and lemons," says Taylor Boudreaux, the chef at Westwood's Napa Valley Grille. Boudreaux is walking around the Original Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax, picking up produce. It's not his usual shopping spot, but Boudreaux is a busy man, and not just in the kitchen.
The second week of January was occupied by jury duty and at the end of the third week he was in the Bahamas for the Tavistock Top Chef Semifinal Competition at Tavistock's Albany Resort. Fortunately, he's back just in time for dineLA 2013.
Starting today and running through Feb. 1, people who love to eat out can experience more (and new) restaurants for less. Napa Valley Grille is one of over 200 restaurants participating in the 12-day dining event.
Charging $20 for prix-fixe lunch and $35 for dinner, Napa Valley Grille's dineLA menu features a choice of three starters like chopped kale salad and oven-roasted artichoke, three main courses, including pan-seared salmon and braised short rib, and two desserts.
"I get paid to play with food and talk to people," says Boudreaux, who was honored with the 2010 Santa Clara Professional Wine Society Purple Foot Award. The chef is a Wolfgang Puck Worldwide alum with over 17 years experience. He bounced around from Mastro's Steakhouse at age 26 in Arizona, where he also attended Scottsdale Culinary Institute, to opening Mastro's Steakhouse in Beverly Hills and then Citizen Smith in Hollywood.
In 2007, Boudreaux relocated to Northern California to be the executive chef at Tavistock's California Cafe. But he felt the pull of Southern California's weather. It suits his Cajun roots. Boudreaux was born in Maryland and raised in Louisiana, and tips his hat to his grandma on the Napa Valley Grille menu with his signature seafood dishes, like Blue Crab Cakes, which are broiled, not fried.
Napa Valley Grille's menus are driven by the seasons. "I have to create something from what's available," Boudreaux says. "What's at the farmers' market is in season, and what's in season is less expensive."
On his radar in the winter are citrus, apples, Asian pears, persimmons, star fruit, and dragon fruit. "Blood oranges just started coming in," he says. "For a long time they had no color. It should be a deep red when you cut into it. Last week, they were starting to get lots of color. We've been dealing with shitty oranges for the last couple of months. There was a gap between the seasons, but now it's in full swing."
Two of his go-to items are Meyer lemons and thyme (featured in the breadcrumbs of the oven-roasted artichoke). He says oregano is good for salad dressings. Luckily, when tomatoes go green, Boudreaux calls on local farms like Country Fresh Herbs in Tarzana, which grows heirloom tomatoes, squash, and zucchini year-round in greenhouses.
Also on his buy list are Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, spinach, mizuna, tatsoi, beet greens, chard and fennel. When visiting a farmers market, Boudreaux ranks one piece of advice above all others: Walk the entire market before you buy produce to get the best deal. "I take mental notes of what's there and the price," he says. "Vendors on the outside tend to be more expensive. They're the first ones. They get hit the first."
Before exiting the Original Farmers Market, Boudreaux looks around for the Gumbo Pot. He was looking forward to sitting down for a cup of spicy gumbo. It's quick and good. And then it's back to his kitchen.
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