If your ideal meal does not include butter, a deep fryer and is fewer than 475 calories, raise your hand. Sound like some hasty trend in weight watching programs? It’s not. Well, it is, but not really.
It is the mission tasked to Robert Mitchell, Executive Chef and partner at Garden City’s newly installed Seasons 52. The restaurant uses natural cooking techniques designed by founder and Culinary Director Clifford Pleau. After seven years at Season 52’s Tampa and Palm Beach Gardens locations, Mitchell is set to exercise the company’s mantra here. “This life can sometimes be a bitter mistress, but I am on a constant journey and Seasons 52 is the perfect destination for me,” Mitchell remarks.
Based on his culinary philosophy of “dressed-up simplicity,” Mitchell says a chef may want to start with the basics, but he must do something to make them appealing to the customer. He relies on seasonal fare and uses light ingredients in minimal quantities to provide rich and exciting flavor. Betraying a down-home upbringing, Mitchell says simple food is always better.
His Kingston, NY-based Greek and Scottish family believed in the community of the table and the chef remembers helping his mom cook as a toddler. His family owned a diner and the Mitchell men were always happy to work in the kitchen. He shares this joy and sees cooking as much a hands-on endeavor as carpentry.
When his turn at a career came, it wasn’t a direct path to the kitchen. However, when he finally decided to become a chef and visit The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, “A light switch went on. I knew that this is what I wanted to do for a living instantly.”
While attending the CIA, he was asked to do an externship at several boutique restaurants, including Oliver Saucy’s Café Maxx in Pompano Beach. Later, at East City Bistro in Delray Beach, Mitchell learned that creativity is not a substitution for imagination.
Perhaps the best way to get a sense of a chef’s values is hearing about the most memorable meal he did not prepare, like one Mitchell enjoyed while in Santorini. Paolo, a fisherman he met, did not speak English, but motioned for Mitchell to join him. They shared a simple meal of crusty bread with bone marrow, fresh Greek olives and simply grilled lamb chops. The food became their language and the meal memorable. “Planning a meal is like a silent movie. It only becomes animated when it is served and people share it. Dining is like a love affair and you don’t know how it is going to end,” Mitchell said.
Artichoke-Stuffed Artichoke and Grilled Spring Asparagus with Crumbled Feta Cheese and Fresh Tomato Caper Salsa. Chef Mitchell’s two seasonal recipes are perfect for summer entertaining or with a light family dinner. Both artichokes and asparagus appear frequently on the Seasons 52 menu, on flatbreads or with an entrée.
3 quarts water
1 tbsp Kosher salt
2 each artichokes (med-large)
¼ cup yellow onion, peeled, ¼” diced
2 tsp fresh garlic, minced
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup sun-dried tomato, chopped fine
6 ounce jar marinated artichokes,
drained and chopped (save 1/8 cup of juice)
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp Italian breadcrumbs
2 tbsp basil pesto
1½ tsp creamy Caesar dressing
½ tsp coarse ground mustard
½ tsp Old Bay seasoning
1/3 cup shredded Italian cheese blend
Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
Drizzle of balsamic glaze
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In large pot, add 3 quarts water and 1 tbsp Kosher salt and bring to boil.
Trim ½” off top of artichokes; trim ¼” off stem and trim spikes off the leaves. Add trimmed artichokes in the boiling water and cover for approximately 20-25 minutes until done. Remove from heat and place artichokes in refrigerator to cool.
In sauté pan, heat 1 tsp olive on medium-high heat for 1 minute. Sauté onion and garlic for 2 minutes. Add sun-dried tomatoes and marinated artichoke. Stir to combine and remove from heat. Add all other ingredients and mix well. Place mixture on sheet tray and allow to cool.
Remove artichokes from refrigerator and split in half. Scrape out choke and inner leaves with a tablespoon. Place artichokes cut-side-up on sheet tray and brush with olive oil. Fill each piece with ¼ of the artichoke stuffing mixture. Top each piece with 1 tbsp shredded cheese and bake in 350°F oven for 20-30 minutes until heated through. Drizzle balsamic glaze over the artichokes.
Serve as a side dish.
Bite Size Appetizer Option:
Follow procedure above, but do not trim spikes off of artichokes before cooking. Once artichokes are cooked, remove larger leaves and fill each one with some stuffing mix. Top with cheese and lay out on a sheet tray for heating in 350°F oven. Plate on serving platter and drizzle with balsamic glaze.
Note: leftover artichoke heart may be used for salads or garnish.
GRILLED SPRING ASPARAGUS WITH CRUMBLED FETA CHEESE & FRESH TOMATO CAPER SALSA
2 quarts water (to boil)
2 quarts ice water
1 lb fresh asparagus, trimmed ends
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
4-5 spritz extra virgin olive oil
1 cup tomato caper salsa (recipe below)
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Dash of aged balsamic vinegar to finish
Add water to a large pot and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste. *Blanch asparagus by placing in boiling water for 45 seconds. (*Blanching retains the color and does not wash out the nutrients if done quickly.) Remove asparagus from hot water and place in ice water for one minute. Remove asparagus from ice water and pat dry with paper towels. Arrange on tray for grilling (or broiling if you don’t want to grill). Season with kosher salt, black pepper and spritz with extra-virgin olive oil.
Wipe grill grate clean. Spritz grill with extra-virgin olive oil and grill asparagus (over hot coals with no flame) to caramelize and obtain grill flavor. Remove from grill and place on serving plate.
Top each portion with tomato caper salsa and Feta cheese (see below).
Serve as a starter, a side dish or as a light entrée to accompany grilled fish or chicken.
For Chunky Caper Salsa
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 oz extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup tomatoes, peeled and diced
¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
¼ cup capers, drained and chopped
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
1 whole lemon, zest and juice
Black pepper to taste
4-5 dashes of Tabasco Chipotle
Zest and juice the lemon. In a small pan, heat extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds until golden brown. Remove garlic from sauté pan and place into a glass bowl. Combine all other ingredients and stir together. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature before using.