Florida native and executive chef-at-large Chris Amendola joined me in Pikesville at Mari Luna Latin Grille for lunch. Fascinated how one learns to forage, what is edible and not poisonous, I wanted to learn more. We were initially going to go into the woods and he was going to take me in search of what Mother Earth was offering but it is the end of the season and the weather just didn’t accommodate.
As with all my “Lunch With” guests, there are questions to answer and you will find them interspersed throughout this story.
Dara: What is the oldest thing you have in your refrigerator?
Chris: Ketchup – I hate it. I will eat it on burgers or hot dogs but it is too sweet and acidic.
Dara: If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead – who would it be?
Chris: I would definitely want to have lunch with Chef Marco Pierre White. He has been a huge influence on my career and I think he would be someone I could just sit and listen to him talk about his past experiences.
One just doesn’t wake up and go off foraging, one needs a mentor to show them the difference between edible or non-edible but there is a big BUT there, foragers don’t wish to share their secret spots. For Amendola he had the same difficulty finding someone to teach him. About seven years ago, Evan Strusinski, who foraged for Momofoku Restaurant, took Chris on his first forage.
Dara: What was your epic culinary fail?
Chris: When I was younger I worked in a hotel in Florida. I was cooking a couple extra courses for a friend that was coming in for dinner and I spent most of the day working on a course that was a play on Oysters Rockefeller. I was trying to present it in a modern way. I was going to encapsulate the oyster in a spinach puree and then gel it. After spending all day on trying to get it to work, I tasted one them and it almost made me sick and that was just before service. So then I had to scramble to make something else. Everything ended up work out for my friend’s dinner except that course.
Dara: What is the best piece of advice another chef has given you?
Chris: Chef Sean Brock, James Beard winner of Best Chef Southeast and former employer said to “respect the food – treat it like you would treat a loved one.”
Dara: What is the most memorable meal that you have had?
Chris: The first time I ate at McCradys in South Carolina. At that point in my life I had never had any meal like that and every course just blew me away.
Mari Luna Latin Grille seemed to be the perfect choice for lunch with Chris to go back to his Florida roots where Latin cuisine was a large influence. We were so busy talking and nibbling on the large popover with the mango butter, I felt bad for the patient waiter who wants to get our order and get it to the kitchen. A cup of Sopa de Frijoles (black bean soup) and a Emparedado Cubano (roasted pork sandwich) were Chris’s choices. Even though it was Mexican Monday at Mari Luna Latin Grille the Sopa de Langosta (lobster bisque) and Gambas al Ajillo (sautéed shrimp in tomato garlic sauce), favorites, were my picks.
Read the full story HERE.