August 11, 2008

Kaya Executive Chef Dives into Deep Waters

By Karin Welzel

Chef Danielle Cain knows what it's like to be thrown into the fire.

She had just started an internship at Casbah restaurant in Shadyside to earn her remaining credits from the Pittsburgh Institute of Culinary Arts (now the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute) for graduation in 2000. Having been an art history major at the University of Pittsburgh before entering culinary school, she had had little experience in a professional kitchen.

Derek Stevens -- who helped to found Eleven Contemporary Kitchen in the Strip District and later became its executive chef -- was working at Casbah at the time and became sort of a "team leader" to Cain and some of big Burrito Group's brightest: corporate chef Bill Fuller, Jamie Achmoody, Brandy Stewart and Eric "Spuds" Wallace.

"Those were my first chefs," Cain says. "My career started out with the best. It was fun and exciting."

The Uniontown native, who grew up in Pittsburgh and Arizona, eventually was promoted to sous chef, a title she held for four years before taking time out to have a baby.

Cain returned to big Burrito Group to work at Soba and was sous chef for three years. She was promoted to Kaya's executive chef position in March.

Kaya's cuisine focuses on the Caribbean, South America and the Pacific. "(The restaurant) has more of a laid-back atmosphere than at Soba," she says. Part of her goal is to "start simplifying flavors."

"As chefs, we want to be super cool and hip," Cain says, "but when it comes down to it, you don't need a lot" of fuss.

Kaya's menu features seaside ingredients, such as shellfish and fish, as well as beef, chicken and pork. There is a good variety of vegetarian items, including Jamaican Green Curry Vegetables, with potatoes, zucchini, greens, cauliflower, pineapple, mushrooms, carrots, sugar snap peas, tomatoes and saffron rice.

"This time of the year is so fun because the farmers come to the back door," Cain says.

Other vegetarian items are Tofu Cracklins, Avocado Tempura, Lentil and Corn Beignets, Grilled Asparagus Torta, and Tempura Battered Chile Relleno. The kitchen prepares a vegetarian prix-fixe dinner every third Wednesday of the month.

Other items include a Cuban Sandwich, Kaya Angus Burger, Park Farms Chicken Breast and Spice Crusted Pork Tenderloin. One of the best-sellers is a recipe for pan roasted halibut with zucchini fritters, which Cain shared with Cooking Class.

Pan Roasted Halibut with Zucchini Fritters and a Local Bean Salad with Lime Vinaigrette

This item appears on the Kaya menu as North American Halibut. At the restaurant, it is served with a Peppadew relish. Peppadew is a savory fruit with a sweet-spicy flavor.

To toast the curry powder, place it in a saute pan over medium- low heat or in a 350-degree oven, stirring regularly, until it is a fairly dark brown color. Turn out onto a cool surface when it is done to stop the cooking process.

Look for Pennsylvania Simply Sweet onions at farmers markets. To avoid skin burns, wear rubber gloves when working with hot peppers, then thoroughly wash the gloves afterward. Do not touch your eyes or face.

For the Zucchini Fritters:

4 green zucchini

4 yellow zucchini

Grated zest of 4 lemons

3 tablespoons grated fresh gingerroot

3 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons toasted curry powder

1 bunch green onions, trimmed and chopped

2 large eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Vegetable oil, for pan frying

Butter, for pan frying

For the Halibut:

1 fresh halibut fillet, about 7 ounces

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Butter, for pan frying

Vegetable oil, for pan frying

For the Bean Salad:

1 pound assorted fresh beans, such as runner, green and yellow wax



Ice water

2 fresh jalapeno peppers

1 fresh Anaheim pepper

2 serrano chiles

1 sweet onion or knobby onion

1 bunch fresh herbs, such as mint, parsley, basil or cilantro, or a combination

6 leaves Thai basil, julienned

1/4 cup peanuts

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Lime Vinaigrette:

Grated zest and juice of 6 limes

1 shallot, minced

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the fritters: Using a hand grater, grate the zucchini. Using cheesecloth, squeeze some of the water out of the zucchini. Reserve in a mixing bowl.

Combine the lemon zest, ginger, horseradish and garlic with the zucchini. Add the curry powder. Fold in the onions, eggs, flour and baking powder. Season with salt and pepper.

Using the palms of your hands, mold about 1/3 cup fritter mixture to the desired size and shape. Heat a little vegetable oil and butter until hot in an ovenproof skillet and fry the fritters, turning once, until golden brown (see Photo 1). (You will fry the fritters at the same time as you will the halibut.) Transfer the fritters in the pan to the heated oven and bake until cooked through, for about 3 to 5 minutes.

For the halibut: Salt and pepper the fish on both sides. Melt some butter and a little vegetable oil in a hot ovenproof saute pan. Place the fish in the pan and cook until golden brown on one side, using a spoon to baste with the fat in the pan as it cooks (Photo 2). Flip the fish over and brown the other side, basting. (You will fry the halibut at the same time as you will the fritters.)

When both sides are golden brown, transfer the fish to the hot oven and continue cooking until the inside is opaque throughout, for about 5 more minutes.

Drain the fish and zucchini on paper towels or a cloth napkin to remove excess fat. Keep warm.

For the bean salad: Blanch the beans in heavily salted boiling water until just tender, for 2 to 4 minutes. Plunge them into ice water until they are cool throughout.

Remove and discard the stems and seeds of the hot peppers and chiles and julienne them. Julienne the onion. Tear the herbs into small bits.

For the vinaigrette: Combine the lime zest and juice with the shallot. Add the oils, then whisk in the sugar until dissolved. Season with salt and pepper.

Combine the beans, hot peppers, chiles, onion and herbs in a bowl (Photo 3). Add the Thai basil and the peanuts. Toss with some of the vinaigrette, to just lightly coat. Season with salt and pepper.

To plate: Place 2 fritters in the middle of a dinner plate, slightly overlapping. Cover with some of the bean salad and top with the fish. Drizzle with some more of the vinaigrette and a few grindings of black pepper.

Makes 1 serving.

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