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Culinary Concepts - July 2012

In this issue, Salamander’s Culinary Director Todd Gray, who co-founded the successful Equinox restaurant in Washington, D.C. with his wife Ellen, goes beyond the cherry blossoms of the cherry trees of Virginia.
While thousands of tourists congregate in Washington, DC each year to enjoy the National Cherry Blossom’s annual plumage, a few miles south a different sort of cherry emerges from its winter hibernation, producing one of my favorite culinary staples. Perhaps the earliest and most famous association between an American president and a gastronomic essential is that of George Washington and the cherry tree. Prunus Avium: forever a symbol of honesty & virtue.
The cherry tree of Virginia also represents the richorchard heritage of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. The English colonists grew cherry trees from European seed in New England and they made their way south. Cherries were grown in abundance in Virginia during the second half of the 17th century. There are lots of cherry species, but only a few have been domesticated.
Tart cherries are used for processing, jam, and pie filling. Most sweet cherries are consumed as fresh fruit. One of my personal favorites is using cherries for a tasty cocktail - a Cherry Lime Collins (see recipe below).  And how awesome is it that such an adored fruit is considered one of the “super-fruits.” As an antioxidant, the health benefits are bountiful. Perhaps the best-known and oldest orchard in Virginia is Levering Orchard, which celebrated its 100th year in 2008.  The orchard has remained a family tradition to this day.  
As a chef, I like to support local farms and local culinary traditions. It’s one of the reasons that we use local produce wherever possible at Market Salamander in Middleburg. The talented culinary team at this working chef’s kitchen often uses cherries in a compote with a slow roasted pork loin, or kiln-dried cherries in a wild rice salad with Italian hazelnuts. 
I’m always asked where I get my culinary inspiration and my reply is simple: wherever in the world I am, and in Virginia, there’s plenty to choose from.
Recipe - Cherry Lime Collins (a great summer drink)
  • 1 ½ jigger Vodka (we like Grey Goose)                                                 
  • ½ jigger Cherry Liqueur (Kirschwasser is good)                                          
  • 2 Tbs Cherry Nectar (juice from 1 cup pitted cherries)
  • 1 Tbs Fresh Lime Juice
  • Part Club Soda
  • Slice Lime for garnish
  • 1 Cherry for garnish
1.    Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add all ingredients except club soda.
2.    Shake well until the outside of the shaker is frosty and beaded with sweat.
3.    Strain into a highball glass filled with ice.
4.    Top off with club soda and garnish with cherry & lime.
From the seasonally inspired dishes he creates every day, to the numerous charities he has supported over the years, to his undeniable influence on the city’s palate, Chef Gray’s impact on Washington, D.C.’s culinary scene is immeasurable. Many of the top toques in the nation’s capital have been shaped under his calm and patient tutelage.
His background in classical French and Italian techniques, proclivity for invention, and unflappable kitchen leadership have made Chef Gray a sought-after culinary mentor and an influential leader in the world of D.C. gastronomy. A longtime advocate for sustainable agriculture, he has worked tirelessly with local farmers to develop fresh, organic produce and other ingredients for his kitchen, including custom-grown beef.
Chef Gray has earned numerous awards for his kitchen artistry and inspired menu combinations, and in 2011, after eight nominations, he was named the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s 2011 RAMMY Chef of the Year. He has also received five nominations for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic Award.
Raised in Virginia, Chef Gray studied at the University of Richmond and graduated with honors from the Culinary Institute of America. After the CIA, he worked at a number of fine dining restaurants, where he was able hone his craft, refine his technique, and develop his kitchen philosophy prior to launching Equinox.
Since opening Equinox more than a decade ago, Todd and Ellen Kassoff Gray have risen to the top of the city’s vibrant culinary scene. In addition to developing a reputation as one of the area’s most passionate and formidable hospitality and philanthropic duo, Todd and Ellen’s shared passion for inventive interpretations of American cuisine, sophisticated style, and standards of excellence have garnered them wide recognition and success. Harvest Moon Hospitality Group, their growing hospitality portfolio, includes four restaurants, two catering companies, and partnerships with leading brands and institutions. Todd has been Culinary Director for Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Hotels & Resorts since 2000, and earlier this year he and Ellen partnered with the Corcoran Gallery of Art to reinvent the museum’s café, now known as Todd Gray’s Muse at the Corcoran.
The two are currently at work on a book, tentatively titled Kitchen Conversations: Blending Jewish and American Flavors for Delicious, Easy Meals, that examines the couple’s culinary and personal lives and reveals how rewarding the sharing of two people’s traditions — and meals — can be. Todd and Ellen’s partnership in and out of the kitchen is the ultimate demonstration of their love of food and a desire to bring people together. Ellen, the ultimate multitasking wife/mother/entrepreneur, wears many hats, overseeing the operations, marketing, and management of their growing hospitality enterprises. In the kitchen, Todd crafts imaginative gastronomic delights and serves as a mentor to up-and-coming culinary talent. Together, they oversee a staff of more than 120 dedicated employees, many whom have been with them since the beginning.
As pioneers in the movement to promote regionality and seasonality on the plate, Todd and Ellen use their culinary creativity and enlightened leadership to inspire change and build community. They are among D.C.’s leading advocates for sustainable agriculture and fisheries and for humanely raised animals, and they embrace and encourage stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay area’s natural resources by supporting regional producers that champion sustainable practices. The two expect their staff to make a difference in the community and lead by example: As a part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Chefs Move to Schools” program, Todd and Ellen were recognized by White House for their dedication to promoting healthy lifestyles for elementary students and their families.
The couple has been recognized with numerous industry accolades over the years, including the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s RAMMY Award for Best Fine Dining Restaurant, for Equinox in 2008, and Foodservice Leaders of the Year by Food Service Monthly in 2011. They have also garnered applause from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, Southern Living, The Washington Post, Town & Country, Gourmet Magazine, Newsweek, Time, and Travel & Leisure.
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