HRM Cooking Class

Hampton Roads chefs give cooking tips


When you have trouble with your car, you go to a mechanic. When you have a toothache, you ring up the dentist. And when we had questions about what to cook and how, we went to the experts in that field—five of the region’s top chefs. Our virtual cooking school asks relevant questions for the home cook—everything from what utensils are musthaves in the kitchen to picking out dry or fresh pasta. Here are the results:

Alvin Williams Of the Cobalt GrilleAVLIN WILLIAMS
Executive Chef/Owner Cobalt Grille, Virginia Beach
Cooking: 30 years; 23 years professionally.
Passion for cooking: came from parents and family.
Best cooking advice received: “Cook with love in your heart, and always respect your ingredients” from former boss Frank Spapen, owner of the (now closed) Le Chambord in Virginia Beach.

What are a few good tips for getting my kids involved with helping in the kitchen?

Make it fun! Give them colorful ingredients to work with, let them get their hands into it. Also make sure the finished product is something they like. —AW

Create a kid-friendly kitchen, get organized, keep them interested, be patient, watch for downtime, set tasks, remember messy is fun, and start by keeping it simple. Praise them. I make fresh pasta with my 4-year-old daughter, Siri; she makes an amazing sous chef. Food is fun at any age. —LB

What are some of your favorite food combinations?

Fresh fish, lemon and butter. Duck breast, balsamic, honey and brandy. Bacon, eggs and tomatoes. —AW

What is better—fresh pasta or dried pasta?

That really depends on what you are making. Some dishes such as Spaghetti con Vongole are best made with dry pasta, as they require al dente pasta, and that is not allowable with fresh. When making dishes such as a nice meat ragu, you really want to use a fresh pasta such as fettuccini, as it will absorb the sauce best. —VDC

I say go with fresh. Even better if you make it yourself; it’s a labor of love. —JK

Can you save an over-salted or over-seasoned dish?
No, not really. Potatoes and other starches have been said to remedy this, but only in the case of small occurrences of overzealous salting and seasoning. Start over. Period. If it’s too sweet or too sour it is much simpler to correct. Taste your food constantly through every temperature variance and milestone in a recipe. —LB

LEON BUENVIAJELeon Buenviaje of The Smithfield Gourmet Bakery And Cafe
Executive Chef Smithfield Gourmet Bakery and Café
Cooking: “I’ve been around cooking all my life; I would tag along with my dad who was a caterer ... I have been cooking professionally for more than 20 years.”
Passion for cooking: “Watching my father in the kitchen during a busy service was like watching a bull fight in Madrid, carving chaos into balanced energy, into music.”
Best cooking advice received: During a candid conversation with Martin Yan at a food show in Virginia Beach, he said, “Flawless technique and speed mean nothing without common sense, openness and heart.”

How do I measure if meat is done? What temperatures are safe for: beef, chicken, pork?

Using a meat thermometer, internal temperatures should be: beef, 145F; chicken, 165F; and pork, 145F. The easiest way for me is by touch, or you can simulate doneness by pressing the flesh between your thumb and index finger— the thin part of your skin simulates well done; the thicker fleshy part simulates rare; other degrees are in between. —AW

What is the best way to make a simple pan sauce?

After removing the meat, deglaze with red wine, reduce, whisk in a little butter, season to taste with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. —AW Start with the pan; a stainless steel pan (not a nonstick pan) is a fine collector of brown bits from proteins; reserve some fat and don’t scrape out the fond (Editor’s note: a French cooking term referring to the remains, or the base), add your aromatics (shallots, etc.), and deglaze with a wine or stock; reduce and remove from heat. Strain and add two pats of cold butter, whisking until smooth. —LB

What is a delish dish someone could whip up in a half-hour?
Wow, tough question as there are so many. Let’s go with the Shrimp Fra Diavolo  —VDC

I enjoy eating fresh fish; a simple pan-seared fish with some bacon, corn, lima beans, tomato and onion. —JK

A nice healthy meal I like to do is a salmon filet in the oven, and then stir-fry whatever fresh vegetables I have and put it all over steamed rice. It is simple, easy and delicious. —MH

What is a simple garnish I can do to have that restaurant look?

Fresh herbs are a chef’s best friend; do not chop them finely—keep them in their natural state as much as possible. —VDC

Garnish with microgreens and pea tendrils. You can find them in some grocery stores, like Trader Joes. Also make colorful and flavorful oils (like chili oils, herb oils), and drizzle them on a plate. —JK

Thinly sliced spring onion and fresh ground sesame seeds. —MH

Victoria DiCarlo-Caruso Of La Bella ItaliaVICTORIA DiCARLO-CARUSO
General Manager/Chef La Bella Italia, RedMill, Virginia Beach
Cooking: “Since I was 8; I remember burning my first pot of tomato sauce.” 18 years professionally.
Passion for cooking: came from parents and summers spent in Sicily with other family members.
Best cooking advice received: “From my mother ... prepare properly... whether for one person or 100, you should keep your area clean and over-prepare ... never compromise yourself; if someone asks for Linguini Frutti di Mare in an alfredo sauce, I flat out will not do it.”

Which is better: a non-stick or a cast iron pan?

I personally like a non-stick even though I understand the romance of cast iron. —AW

Both have their advantages. A nonstick pan does wonders with breakfast and reduced fat cooking, but reliability and lifespan have always been an issue, not to mention conflicting information on chemicals used in the manufacturing. A cast iron pan has amazing heat distribution and maintains heat easily. Cast iron easily sears, fries and bakes evenly and can last a lifetime. Cast iron wins due to longevity, heat dispersal and retention as well as being eco-friendly. —LB

How do you maintain your knives, keeping them clean and sharp?

Always hand wash and usually use a steel to sharpen; sharpen on a stone every so often. —AW

What knives do you use?

I personally love my chef knife. I use it for almost everything. My preference is the Shun Kaji 8-inch; never leave home without it. —VDC

I like to have an 8-inch chef knife, good paring knife and a serrated (bread) knife. —JK

A good all-purpose chef’s knife. I personally use a Japanese brand, Masamoto ... for the home cook, I would recommend a Wusthof or Henkel—something that doesn’t have to be sharpened every week. That is not to say that knives shouldn’t be sharpened often; it really makes all the difference. —MH

Five must-have tools?

1. A good chef knife; buy quality and buy the best you can afford. 2. A nice pair of kitchen tongs; I prefer metal tongs, but silicone works well too. 3. Mandoline slicer; I prefer the Benriner brand. 4. A nice Dutch oven. 5. A food processor. —JK

1. Makisu (a bamboo mat used in rolling sushi.) 2. Pair of tongs. 3. Good set of knives. 4. A tasting spoon. 5. A whetstone (a sharpening stone for knives.) —MH

What kind of cutting board should I choose?

Go with a nice bamboo cutting board. They are attractive, easy to clean and relatively inexpensive. Just make sure you hand wash them, and oil it once a month to keep it beautiful. —JK

At home I like to use a nice large wooden cutting board, but at the restaurant we use plastic composite to reduce wear and tear on our knives. —MH

Michael Hart of Sushi AkaMICHAEL HART
Chef/Owner Sushi Aka, Suffolk
Cooking: 17 years; 15 years professionally.
Passion for cooking: comes from seeing the reaction from customers.
Best cooking advice received: “Dude, it’s just food,” was told to me by Ronnie Brown at 501 City Grill. It reminds me to not take myself too seriously. In order to create new dishes and innovate, it requires you to take risks, and you can only do that if you aren’t afraid to make mistakes.”


How do I plan for how much food to put out for a party?

Normally, just figure out how many ounces of protein per person (typically four to six ounces) plus starch and veg. If its apps or bite-size pieces figure three or four pieces per person. —AW

What are a few must-have spices for the kitchen?

Kosher salt; I also love cinnamon, fresh nutmeg and freshly cracked black pepper. —VDC

Other than the obvious salt and pepper, one should have on hand: cayenne, cumin, dry mustard, clove and cinnamon. —JK

Salt, pepper, garlic, soy sauce and ginger. —MH

Butter versus margarine?

I am a huge proponent of using butter. I feel people that use margarine really think they are making a huge dietetic different, when a tablespoon of margarine and one of butter both have 100 calories. The only difference is saturated fats; margarine has a bit less. [But] remember that margarine is man-made, and butter comes in its natural state. —VDC

Butter! Fat adds flavor. It all comes down to moderation. If you are afraid of using butter or margarine, use cream. —JK

Butter. Butter. Butter. —MH

Canned or frozen vegetables?

If you must use either, go with frozen; they will retain more of their color, shape and nutrients. —JK

Frozen: less preservatives, better texture. —MH

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags