By Diane Henderiks
Chris Scarduzio is chef and proprietor of several award-winning restaurants in Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Chris' Italian heritage fuels his passion for cooking and his awards and acknowledgements are testaments to his talents. His restaurants include: Table 31 and The Plaza in Philadelphia, Mia at Caesar's and Scarduzio's at the Showboat in Atlantic City and Catelli Duo in Voorhees, N.J. Chris and I have been friends for years and just recently had the chance to catch up during the Atlantic City Food & Wine Festival where he personally prepared dinner for my sister and I at his restaurant Mia. It was an amazing meal of Lobster Gnocchi Bolognese, the Mia mixed green salad with bufala mozzarella, dry -aged Delmonico steak and egg-battered Fluke with Favetta that we shared. He paired that with some fabulous wine and I forgot to ask the brand but by then my culinary decisions were in his hands. It was the highlight dinner of the weekend.
Chris graduated from the CIA at the top of his class in 1988 then two days later moved to Hawaii to take a position as chef at the Sheraton Hotel. Six months later he was offered a position at the Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton, which he excitedly took and returned to his home turf of Philly. Under Chris' command Conde Nast named The Grill Room at Ritz one of the "Top 20 Restaurants" in the country. He took a side job as consultant for the Germantown Cricket and Tennis Club where legendary chef Georges Perrier was a member. This next part is textbook for being in the right place, at the right time with the right talent! The chef at the club prepared an omelet to be served to chef Perrier and Chris did not feel it was up-to-par so he showed the chef how to improve it and served this omelet to chef Perrier who minutes later screamed, "Who made that omelet?" Chris nervously replied, "I did chef." Perrier shouted, "That was the best omelette I've had in America!" and offered Chris a job on the spot. Chris became head chef at Brasserie Perrier and partner in the restaurant just one year later. The rest is history and Chris and George have been business partners and friends for over 20 years now.
Let's get Chris' take on healthy cooking and eating
Diane: Do you see a trend with diners seeking better-for-you options on the menu?
Chris: Yes - absolutely and lunch at Table 31 is a great example! Our lunch is packed with business people who are looking to dine on great food that's not too heavy. Our fresh fish and half portion salads are both big hits. On the extreme, I have even been handed a "dietary card" that had instructions for weight, cooking techniques, portion sizes, fat, sugar and salt restrictions. This doesn't happen often but has occurred at least a dozen times in my career. Gluten-free has also been a big request so we have currently implemented a GF symbol to all gluten-free dishes on the menu along with a gluten-free pasta option.
Diane: What's your definition of "healthy eating"?
Chris: For me it's really portion control. If you pile your plate with food you are going to eat it! My rule is never over fill your plate. Less is better. I want to eat what I want and would rather taste something than not taste it so I like small portions of a variety of good food.
Diane: What is your secret to cooking healthier without sacrificing flavor?
Chris: Again I like smaller portions. Herbs, lots of extra virgin olive oil and lemon add great flavor with not a lot of unhealthy fat. I use a lot of local and seasonal ingredients to support local businesses and to create simple, fresh, flavorful and light dishes. Everything in Jersey that is available from the garden or the ocean is used in my restaurants. Right now the simple Jersey tomato salad is my favorite.
Diane: What is your favorite healthier dish on your own menu and why?
Chris: I have so many favorites and one of them at the top is my fluke with favetta, pickled beets and caper vinaigrette. The fluke, fava beans, tomatoes, beets and herbs are all sourced locally at this time of year. There is very little fat in this dish but it's fresh and pungent with explosive flavors and I really enjoy it. (See below for recipe.)
Diane: How about an update on what's new and exciting in your culinary world?
Chris: Well, we will be launching a new restaurant group called "Five Senses Hospitality Group" and under that group will be all of my restaurants - Table 31, The Plaza, Mia, Scarduzio's, as well as, Catelli Duo. Five Senses Hospitality is a new dimension in dining. The focus is not just on taste, but also the smell, feel, sight and sounds. We have a lot of exciting things happening at Table 31. We are launching a new menu that boasts our reputation as Philadelphia's premier Italian Steakhouse. In addition to hearty meat options, including an amazing 14 ounce prime dry-aged New York Strip Steak from DeBragga, there are lots of pizza and pasta dishes including family recipes that I have been preparing since I was a kid and would sneak home from school for lunch to cook with my grandmother. I used to get yelled at by my teachers for coming back with flour all over my uniform! At the Plaza, we are extremely fortunate to be the "go to" al fresco dining destination in Center City Philadelphia. Located at the Comcast Center, our Plaza guests enjoy more casual cuisine, happy hours, entertainment and our $12 bites menu.
Looking to the future, I am excited about Catelli Duo, which is opening this month and is a collaboration with Jan Talamo and Linda Rasanio, hospitality and marketing professionals. An osteria and wine bar, it is just the type of restaurant that South Jersey needs. We are also breaking ground on a new neighborhood bistro in the heart of South Philly . It's the type of restaurant that I've been dreaming of opening. We are still working out the details so I can't say too much. It's a long-t erm opportunity, we own the building and it's where I can hang my hat.
Chris Scarduzio's Jersey fluke, Favetta & Roasted Beets with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette
For the Favetta: 2 cups fava beans 2 ea. lemons ½ orange 1 cup olive oil For the Beets: 1 red beet 1 tablespoons olive oil
For the Vinaigrette: 1 preserved lemon (a plain lemon will work here however result may be slightly more acidic) ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard 1/3 cup champagne vinegar 1 cup olive oil 5 ea. capers 1 shallot, minced 1tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley 4- 6 oz fillets of fluke, skinned 1 tablespoons olive oil 1 very ripe Jersey tomato; diced
Make the favetta: Blanch the fava beans in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes or until tender. Strain from boiling water and place immediately in salted ice water (this step is called shocking. It preserves color and stops the cooking process). Peel the outer shell off of the beans. Discard the shells. Place the beans into a food processor and pulse a few times to break them up. Add the juice of the citrus fruits. Turn on the food processor and slowly add the oil to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Make the beets: Peel and cut the beet into ¾ inch cubes. drizzle with olive oil with some salt and pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven until fork tender (about 20 minutes). Let cool to room temp, then place into the refrigerator to chill. Serve cold tossed with 1 tablespoon olive oil salt, pepper and some finely cut parsley and chives.
Make the vinaigrette: Place all ingredients except the olive oil and capers into a food processor. With the processor running, slowly add the oil to emulsify. Stir in capers, minced shallots and chopped parsley.
Cook fish: Sear fish filets in oil until golden brown
Plate: Spread 2 tablespoons of favetta on plate and top with 1/4 of beets. Place fish on plate next to favetta and spoon 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette over the fish. Garnish fish with some small diced tomatoes and handfull of micro greens for crunch (you can substitute the micro greens with baby arugula).