GIC Trilogy: Flavors, heritage, traveling
Following Gainesville's 2015 Iron Chef Frankie Harvey as a Facebook friend, I knew my interview with her was going to cover a lot of foodie territory starting with her spanking of the well-known, white-coated, Hogtown kitchen boys with determination and skill to win the recent Taste of Gainesville's 2015 Iron Chef competition. This had been her first cooking competition ever, and she was Taste of Gainesville's first female Iron Chef competitor. Being a private chef, she was also the TOG's first non-restaurateur competitor, so she set two records with her win.
While the Iron Chef competition is a big part of this interview, first I want to share some interesting WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, and HOW tidbits about her, including her wayfaring life and her creation of a Gainesville super hero comic book.
Chef Frankie and I agreed to have lunch and talk some serious food. It was a late lunch at Harry's Seafood Bar and Grill, and we both decided the Marinated Salmon Salad with goat cheese, aged balsamic vinegar, fresh arugula in mixed greens, and Harry's house vinaigrette was a perfect entree to pick at while we conversed. As an aside, finding the red fish somewhat flavorless, I'm not a big salmon eater. However, the balsamic glaze did wonders trumping up the flavor of the dish, so the salad was very enjoyable.
The Iron Chef ate her salad "just because I didn't want to offend you by not eating. I normally don't eat during an interview," anda aded, laughing, something about food in her teeth.
The lunch did bring up the subject of how restaurant entrees seem to have grown like they were on steroids, perhaps to justify XXL prices.
In my research to prepare for the interview, I learned this mother of five, who hailed from Indialantic on the Platinum Coast of Florida, has lived in Jonesville for the past 38 years, adheres to a simple cooking philosophy:
"Food brings people together. Food is all about serving love on a plate. It is the centerpiece around which family and friends gather, Mike," the Chef said.
When I asked her to describe her favorite food, she didn't hesitate. "Grape Leaves and Kibbee. I'm of Lebanese heritage, so I largely use the herbs and spices of Mediterranean cuisine, which works in harmony in all of my cooking," she added. "Flavor profiles are something you learn along the way. It's all about how to balance flavors. Did you know, Mike, that umami was crowned the fifth flavor profile in 2002?"
If you include extensive world travel as an important part of Chef Harvey's understanding of flavor profiles, you can see why she believes in finding your heritage in your cuisine and how that is a cornerstones of her cooking experience.
The Iron Chef's cooking tenants are in full bloom at The Elegant Gourmet. With her love of family and food and many years in the food industry, Chef Harvey was convinced by friends and family a few years ago to start her own business. She began with a weekly cooking blog and, within a year, had gained a worldwide audience of readers. In response to many queries about her menus and recipes, her business has blossomed. In the last four years, the Iron Chef has become:
A cookbook author: She wrote Entertaining With The Elegant Gourmet, which led to book signings and tasting parties
Culinary consultant: She assists with and plans menus and how to meet dietary requirements
A private chef
A cooking instructor: She holds weekly international cuisine classes/parties, with small groups of students in a private and intimate setting
A Food Channel contributor: She supplies how-to video segments on how to cook entrees
A television personality: She has done numerous television cooking shows and live TV
A local and international food columnist: She has been contributing to HOME MAGAZINE on all things edible for the past 2 years. Gainesville Magazine featured the story Chef Frankie and The Joy of French Cooking. Our Town magazine featured the Iron Chef in a monthly cover story, Hospitality Magazine from the Middle East featured Chef Frankie and Tapas creations, Hospitality Magazine featured her in MEET THE CHEF, Middle East, and the Iron Chef has contributed to the Haile Village Journal. Chefsroll, and the World Gourmet Society.
"I am so blessed to have a variety of daily opportunities in my life. I wake up every morning, hit the ground running excited to fulfill obligations and requests from so many special clients," Chef Harvey said. "If you add in family demands from my husband, children, and grandchildren, it can get crazy real fast, GLOB Master," she laughed.
"All my kids were so supportive with my son Shaun Bouwens leading the way,: the Iron Chef said with a bright smile
Bob Harvey, Frankie's husband, speaks proudly of his wife's accomplishments, "What makes Chef Frankie's story interesting is, in the Taste of Gainesville Iron Chef compeition, she is the first female participant; she has never owned a restaurant and, unlike all past competing chefs, Chef Frankie has never professionally cheffed at a restaurant. She was truly the Home Chef representative."
"Don't forget 'Kickin' It in the Kitchen' Cooking Classes, Mike." Chef Harvey added while watching me hurriedly writing my notes. Inspired by her travels and passion for cooking, Chef Harvey is ready to share her favorite 'Around The World' recipes. Her menus are fresh, adventurous, and authentic--"a fun fusion." The ingredients are seasonal, organic, and locally sourced when available. In the classes/parties, fellow foodies enjoy being together while they individually prepare and dine on a specialty cuisine. Some participants have used the classes to celebrate special occasions with friends and family or to make new acquaintances. For all the classes, though, everyone comes together to explore traditional spices, sauces, and unique flavor combinations. some of which include spices the wayfaring chef brings home with her from her travels specifically to share in her classes.
Chef Harvey says her goal is to make the classes "a fun way to learn new tricks, tips, and techniques," and "an expression of cooking creatively and dining casually."
As previously mentioned, being quite the world traveler, the Iron Chef incorporates many of the cuisines she has personally experienced first hand into her classes. "It must be the chicken and egg thing, Mike," the Chef said. "I love the travel, and of course, never want to come home. However, in the end, it is great fun returning home with goodies from other countries and being able to share authentic spices and recipes with foodies everywhere, especially in my classes."
"This year it looks like the line-up will be more cooking and less competing, which is a good thing in my book," Chef Frankie added.
I asked Chef Harvey who has inspired her over the years. Her reply? "I have followed Chef Eric Ripert for years. He is the chef who left me speechless, with knees shaking, after he complimented me, while running into him on the streets of NY," The iron Chef Said. "His restaurant Le Bernardin is one of the most highly regarded seafood restaurants in the world. On top of that, if I may say so, he's a dreamboat."
"Chef Anthony Bourdain is my all-time, bad-ass hero, on every level," The Chef continued.
"My heroine is of course, Ina Garten, I really hope to meet her one day," The Chef added. "I dream of her coming to my home and the two of us cooking up something fabulous together. And Chef Michael D. Simon is my favorite Iron Chef. Ina has done so much in her career from an almost non-existent cooking background. Chef Simon always has a blast when he cooks, and we all know Anthony is just a maniac. He is my alter ego!!" She added.
'Food is all about serving love on a plate'
The idea of competing in the Taste of Home Iron Chef 2015 competition was daunting at first for Chef Harvey until she put her chef jacket on, saw her patch identifying her as a member of the World Gourmet Society, and contacted her colleagues for inspiration.
"It was a good heart-to-heart conversation with trusted friends in the industry that happened at just the right time, reaffirming to me that I can do this competition and do it well," said The Iron Chef.
"But, getting support and encouragement from my husband, kids, and closest friends helped me walk into the competition not only with confidence but also with pride to represent them, myself, and other home cooks," Hgef Frankie said, "Family discussions are so special to me - they're serious and silly and have been known to get pretty outrageous - and they've been an integral part of each step of this comnpetition. From talking tactics to taste-testing new recipes, they are my cheerleaders!"
"I also knew I needed a stellar team to work with me. My Sous Chef was Chef Charles Hahn. Charles is the Executive Sous Chef of the Villages, and a friend I have known for some time and had worked with in the past. Chef Hahn had also competed in this competition a few years earlier," The Iron Chef added.
She also recruited "the talented, up and coming, chef, Ms. Peyton Agliata, from Eastside High School's Culinary Program," the Iron Chef said.
"The entire process fell into place beautifully. I couldn't have done it without them," said the Elegant Gourmet Chef ready to chop and cook her way to culinary fame.
"We (the contestants) were allowed to bring three items each," said Ms. Harvey. "That wasn't easy for me to decide -- I have favorite herbs and spices I use all the time. So, instead, she went with these ingredients that she hoped would surprise the judges:
> Chef Frankie's Special Seasoning: The Chef's personal collection of blended spices that includes sesame seeds and different kinds of garlic.
> Dark Chocolate Caramel Sauce: "This dessert sauce can make anything yummy," The Iron Chef said smiling. "After of course, adding the secret ingredient, which was bourbon, and a little sea salt. It was over-the-top delicious!"
If you are familiar with the Food Network Iron Chef competition, there is always a secret ingredient that must be incorporated in the food entrees. To Chef Frankie and her team's delight, the secret ingredient was bourbon whiskeys, one of which was Tullamore Dew.
"After breathing a giant sigh of relief, I was very excited since I love to include liquors in so many of my recipes, pumping up the volume of flavors," Chef Frankie said. "My first thought was that bourbon will do wonders to our caramel sauce," she added with a big smile.
With the introduction of the secret ingredient, the three chefs were off to create prize-winning dishes.
"We weren't exactly sure what the pantry held for us, it was still pretty much a mystery, too." Chef Frankie said. "But once we were able to study the pantry, we were able to start brainstorming. We decided on making a Hemp and Phyllo Crusted Sea Bass on a bed of Thyme Squash Ribbons with Brown-Butter Bourbon Date Sauce for the main course," Chef Frankie said. "Once we agreed on the main course, it was on to the appetizer. They provided us with beautiful, fresh tuna, so we went with a Tuna Tartare, and Pecan Bourbon Pizzelles with Raspberry-Herbed Bourbon Cream, Raspberry Coulis and Dark Chocolate Bourbon Salted Caramel Sauce. for dessert." Chef Frankie added
"We were all so busy gathering up what we needed and focused on our recipes and the tasks at hand, we never looked over at the other chefs to see what they were making," Chef Harvey said. "There was no time to waste worrying about the competition."
Seeing we were closing out this competition conversation, I asked the chef what is next for this Type A, full-bore personality.
"That's a good question, GLOB Master, there are still a lot of culinary adventures and flavor profiles to discover," Chef Harvey said. "And, I am already excited about defending my Iron Chef title next year.
"We are traveling extensively around Eastern Central Europe this Fall, so I'm pretty sure I will be coming back home with a few culinary surprises."
Indeed, beginning with her October classes, the Chef will highlight cuisine from those travels. She said she will be visiting Croatia, Budapest, Prague, and Vienna and planning new Eastern and Central Europe menus.
"Which classes will you be attending, Mike?" The Iron Chef asked excitedly, and visions of paprikash, goulash, and--most especially--amazing Vienna pastries danced in my head," The Chef said. I also envisioned Chef Frankie sitting at a table outside a European cafe having just finished some delectable old Europe cuisine and planning some special entree that will blow away the judges at next year's Gainesville Iron Chef competition.