I recently took some pictures for Fresh Starts Chef Events, a project to support Homeward Bound, a homeless shelter in Marin County providing food, shelter and job training for those in need. Their February event was Chef Marvin Blandon of the Novato Fire Chili Company. Marvin Blandon is a local firefighter and Executive Chef for the award-winning Novato Fire Chili Company. The Novato Fire Chili Company enters Chili Cook-Off Contests and uses the awards in conjunction with the Novato Fire Foundation to assist in providing programs to underprivileged children. Chef Marv was named California’s Best Firehouse Chef, and his team has won a whopping 17 out of the 18 chili contests they have entered! I was hoping that he would make his prize-winning chili and share his recipe, but maybe that’s best kept a secret!
Chef Marv’s event was sold out for the evening, which has only happened two other times in Fresh Starts Chef Events history. The other full-house chef events were taught by instructors, Chef Michael Mina and Chef Joanne Weir, who is coming back to teach in April. It was cool to see the great support the community has for their local firefighters.
Chef Marv started out the evening making his Marv-elous Pizza with Seasonal Toppings. He demonstrated two techniques, cooking the pizza on a regular pan and then cooking the pizza on a turned-over cast iron skillet. I always wanted to try cooking a pizza in a cast iron skillet, but never thought to turn the skillet over — has anybody ever had success with that?
The pizza appetizer was followed by the “Marv” Wedge Salad. I rarely order a wedge salad because I’m a bit of a health-nut, and iceberg lettuce always seemed to be lacking in the nutrition department, but this salad totally hit the spot! The bite of the blue cheese and the slight tartness of the tomatoes really made the dish. Plus, it was presented so beautifully, and I loved how Chef Marv recommended cutting his lettuce in rounds instead of wedges to distribute the creamy dressing more evenly.
The main course of the evening was a Firehouse Favorite Braised Chicken with Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes. This was my favorite dish of the meal — the flavours melded so well, and the sauce was delectable, with the addition of a touch of honey. The dish was very comforting and approachable — something you could easily make at home.
The students prepared a Fire and Ice Baked Alaska with Dark Chocolate and Black Cherry for dessert. It was the perfect little sweet treat after a very tasty, yet filling meal!
You could tell the Chef was a bit nervous (cooking and teaching in front of 100 people is no easy feat!), but he did it with great poise and humour, and I especially appreciated how he visited each table over the course of the evening to see how we were enjoying the food and if we were having a good time — almost like a wedding!
Next month, Chef Austin Perkins presents Oysters and More with Nick’s Cove — the menu looks delicious — can’t wait! In the meantime, I’ll be trying Chef Marv’s Firehouse Favorite Braised Chicken at home!
Firehouse Favorite Braised Chicken – Serves 6 – 8
8 medium chicken thighs (bone in and skin on), about 3½ pounds
2 large or 3 medium carrots, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
3 ribs of celery, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large shallot, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil for frying
Smoked paprika (pimenton)
Salt and pepper
Juice of one large lemon
4 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
Keeping most of the skin on, trim off excess fat and skin from the sides and bottom of
chicken pieces. Season skin side of the chicken lightly with salt, pepper and smoked paprika.
Heat a large sauté pan or braising pan on medium-high heat, add grapeseed oil. Place chicken into pan with skin side down. It should sizzle upon contact. Season the side facing up. Do not move chicken in pan until it browns well and releases on its own — this is crucial for browning. To check, try and lift one side. If it sticks, it is not ready. Once it is brown, flip over in pan. Cook for 3 minutes and remove from pan.
Add vegetables and more oil, if needed. Cook, stirring, for 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and add lemon juice to deglaze pan.
Add chicken, skin side up, back to pan. Add stock to cover chicken half way up, about 3 cups. Place lid on pan and place in oven for 25 minutes.
Remove from oven, remove chicken from pan, cover with foil and rest. Return pan to cook top and remove about 3/4 of the vegetables. Heat sauce on medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce until thick (lots of frothy bubbles). Remove from heat, then add honey and butter, whisking to incorporate.
Serve chicken with sauce spooned over top.