Company coming? Defrazzle!
Some hints from Chef Mary Sue Milliken
You know the feeling. Company is coming in half an hour and you’re
panicking because you’ll never finish before the doorbell rings. Now
multiply that feeling by about a thousand and you will begin to
understand the pressure that famed LA chef Mary Sue Milliken (Border
Grill Restaurants and Truck) faced as a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef
Although edged out in the final round by Chef Floyd Cardoz, Chef Mary
Sue won over the judges’ hearts with her lemon soufflé. Last week I
embarrassed myself by reliving for you my disastrous attempts to
duplicate her recipe, but I’m happy to report that the second time
around the results were superb. (For the recipe and update, plus my
complete interview with Chef Mary Sue, see my website, www.
I wondered, however, if I could reduce that last minute frenzy by
preparing the egg yolk mixture ahead. “Certainly,” said Chef Mary Sue.
“I worked on a soufflé station when I was at Le Perroquet in Chicago. We
would have the yolk mixture prepared ahead, and as the order would come
for a soufflé, we’d butter and sugar the molds and whip the egg whites.”
What can the home cook do to reduce the stress of entertaining, I asked.
“The best thing is to sit down and make a list and work backwards from
the moment your guests will walk in the door to 48 hours back. Make a
shopping list so you have all the ingredients on hand. Make a prep list.
And realize that you set the tone. Just go with a smile and enjoy your
guests. If you’re not finished, ask a few of them to peel some onions.
Everything is forgivable. What is not forgivable is when the host is a
But how does even an experienced chef prepare for the grueling
competition of this show, I wondered.
Milliken reflected, “I asked Susan [Feniger], my partner of 30 years,
who had been on the show in Season 2, ‘Do you think I should get in the
kitchen and work on the line for a few weeks?’
“She said, ‘No, you’re not going to have any problem. You’re fast with a
knife.’ What I tried to do to prepare is think back through all the
different dishes I’ve made and loved that were a huge success…so I could
access something pretty quickly.”
Chef Mary Sue earned $40,000 on the show for her charity Share Our
Strength, which seeks to end childhood
hunger. Aside from donations, there is much we all can do.
“There are so many different ways to get involved. Go to strength.org to
learn about their programs,” she advised. “You can become a volunteer,
participate in bake sales or fundraising through Taste of the Nation.
Become part of the pledge to end childhood hunger by 2015.”
And what did she take away from the experience? “I allowed myself to
focus on nothing else except the competition and really learned and grew
through that,” she noted.“Now when I get frustrated or irritated I just
focus and let all the distractions go away. Anybody could use a dose of
that kind of focus.”
Here is a surefire, un-frazzling recipe from the show.
*Quinoa Fritters with Red Pepper Mayonnaise*
2/3 cup white or black quinoa, rinsed and well drained (if necessary)
1 1/3 cups water
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup grated cotija or feta cheese
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 green onions, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
1/2 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup canola or grape seed oil
Red Pepper Mayonnaise:
1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise
1/3 cup roughly chopped, roasted red peppers
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 cloves roasted garlic
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place a small, dry saucepan over high heat.Add quinoa and toast for
about 5 minutes, shaking and stirring constantly to prevent
scorching.Transfer to a large saucepan and add water.Bring to a boil,
reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, until water is absorbed, about 10
minutes. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, to make mayonnaise combine ingredients in a blender or food
processor and puree until smooth.Taste and adjust seasoning as
necessary.Refrigerate until ready to use.
In a large bowl, combine cooked quinoa, flour, cheese, and salt.Add
onions, parsley, egg, and yolk.Stir thoroughly with a spoon until the
mixture has the consistency of soft dough.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.Using two soup spoons,
press batter into egg-shaped ovals and gently slide into the hot oil or
use a small ice cream scoop.Fry until the bottoms are golden and brown,
less than a minute.Turn and fry the second side until golden, less than
a minute.Drain on paper towels and serve warm, topped with red pepper
Copyright © 2011, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger,