Welcome to the first installment of "Home Cooking Heroes" where we talk to every day people with a knack for cooking up an awesome snack or full fledged meal in their own home kitchens.
To start out the series, I've asked my bestie to prepare a meal he made for me and my hubby a couple years ago - a meal that blew us away and was so indelible, I still find myself craving it to this day. The recipe is featured after the interview.
Without further adieu, I'd like to introduce the amazingly awesome and otherwise inestimable, Peter Bunin.
V: Hi there, Peter, thanks for letting us feature you as our very first ‘Home Cooking Hero.” Can you tell us a little about yourself?
P: Thanks for featuring me! My name is Peter Bunin and I'm a journalist living in New York City. I'm a life long New Yorker and it's tough for me to imagine living anywhere else.
V. Would you describe yourself as a foodie?
P. I'm not a true foodie per se. I always enjoy well prepared, good tasting food but I think "foodie" has a negative connotation often. In my mind it can be used as a substitute for "food snob". I'm definitely not that! My older brother is much more of a "foodie" than me or my parents. We joke that he will eat just about anything at least once. The more exotic, the better. Me, I'm not so brave.
V. Ha! Good answer! I've never been fond of the term 'foodie' either as it always sounded kind of silly to me, though I admit I've used it often to describe myself as it is so identifiable now. I know over the past few years you have gotten much braver at trying new things though!
P: We can't live with our preconceived notions forever and tastes change as we age. Also it's nice to have someone to help expand ones palate!
V: How true it is! I've enjoyed every second of it! By the way, what got you interested in cooking in the first place?
P. I come from a cooking family! Growing up, my mother wasn't always the main cook in the kitchen. With much credit to my father, he would often take over cooking on the weekends giving my mom a break. Both my parents worked a lot and so as time went along and I got older, I started to have to fend for myself.
V. That definitely makes sense. Along that line - what got you interesting in Food in general?
P. My dad had an interest in Chinese cuisine and learned to make several different dishes. I always loved my dad's cooking so, I learned to use a wok early on. Mom often cooked classic American dishes like chicken and veggie dishes, casseroles and soups. Good traditional meals for sure.
V. What foods do you tend towards when cooking everyday meals at home?
P. Ah, a tricky question! I try to keep my cooking simple and tasty. I love pasta dishes and enjoy making a nice sauce, of course. During the fall and winter I like making hot and savory soups and stews. During the summer a nice ceviche will also be made. But basically I'm a meat and potatoes kinda guy. That means steaks, roasts and chicken for myself. Potatoes, broccoli, corn, and salads are all staples too.
But if I'm cooking for others, I try to get more creative and flex some culinary muscle.
V. Speaking of being creative, when you feel like experimenting in the kitchen, what inspires you?
P. Usually my inspiration comes from someone else being passionate about a specific dish or a type of cuisine. Just hearing someone be passionate about something they've tried or that they love helps inspire me. Sometimes I just brainstorm out of nowhere and then try to put my thoughts into practice. Sometimes experimenting needs little inspiration, just time.
V. That makes a lot of sense. Passion is definitely infectious. Is there anything (recipe/blog) or anyone (chef) in particular that inspires you?
P. There was a lot of PBS on in my home growing up, so inevitably I would watch Julia Child and later Martin Yan among others. However the chef that made the greatest impact on me was Jacque Pepin. Pepin was (and is) and French master chef with a long and storied career. I love the way he would go about food preparation (not to mention his classic French accent). His kitchen skills were always impressive and he explained why he was doing things certain ways and that was always so interesting to me. I would regularly watch his many television shows and I own a few of his cookbooks. I'm an unabashed fan.
V. Jacque Pepin - he does have an interesting background for sure, though I've never seen his shows. I think I've been missing out. It sounds like your culinary inspirations are all over the board, from your dad's Chinese cooking, your mom's American, and then your love for this French chef. I'm curious to know what a few of your favorite local restaurants are.
P. For a long time I loved a Nepalese-Japanese restaurant in Queens, NY called Yeti of Hiezan. The sushi rolls were very creative and delicious and Nepalese food is very interesting, a blend of Chinese and Indian flavors. Nearby to "Yeti" is a place called "Salt and Fat" which is an Asian fusion restaurant where the menu combines many of the dishes with a bacon undertone and as we all know...everything is better with bacon!
V. Having been to both places with you, I can definitely say they are worth a try. Yeti was downright fun, while Salt and Fat was of course delicious. The name is cute, but it belies how truly delicately the dishes are prepared... Now I want to go back! Anyway, let's get to what the readers are probably waiting for most: What recipe are you sharing with us today?
P. I'm going to do pan seared sea scallops with a white wine reduction. A really delicious dish, simple and elegant.
V: Well I know your scallops are amazing! So, the floor is yours!
P: Thanks Val! Well first off, I put 1 t-spoon of Old Bay seasoning into a pot with 1 cup of long grain rice and 2 cups of water. After stirring that, bring it to boil, then cover and reduce for about 15 mins.
|long grain rice and old bay seasoning
Once this has cooked down for 15 minutes, place it to the side. Now it's time to cook up the scallops. Clearly, you should have your ingredients already gathered. In this case, we have sea salt, black pepper, chopped shallots, crushed garlic, some Dijon mustard, a fruity Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa, and of course, scallops. Also necessary: butter and olive oil.
Ingredients for sauce & scallops
The trick for making good scallops is perfecting the cooking time. You want to salt and pepper them, and make sure your pan is already hot before you add them.
|salted n peppered scallops in olive oil
|Once seared they should have a nice golden brown color to them. When you've seared both sides, remove them from the heat. Now, it's time to work on the sauce.
Add 1 t-spoon of mustard, a pinch of white pepper, and slowly pour in approximately 4 oz of dry white wine. As I mentioned, I used a Sauvignon Blanc. To thicken the sauce and add a nice sheen, I sprinkled a little Wondra Mix in. Cook this down for two minutes. Finally, add the scallops back to the pan for 30 seconds.
|Return of the scallops
After 30 seconds, quickly plate the scallops with the rice, pouring your sauce over the top and around the sides.
V: Wow! That sounds surprisingly simple yet excellent - and I know! I've had it! So you guys at home, this is a great dish to prepare for yourself or dinner guests, and it is certain to impress! It decidedly impressed us when Peter made it for us.
Thank you so much for your time, recipe, and awesome photos, Peter! We can’t wait to see more from you!
And now I'm hungry.