Friends, Romaine, Countrymen...Lend me your Croutons

Caesar salad, an American classic so well known that some classify it as comfort food, is the centerpiece of the AIWF Dallas annual chef competition (also known as party of the year) scheduled for Sunday, August 10th, 2003.

If the image of refreshing leaves of romaine resting on a chilled plate strewn with golden brown croutons and shards of Parmigiano Reggiano comes to mind, you'll love the twist on Caesar created by Doug Brown (The Landmark Restaurant), winner of the XIth annual contest. But you won't believe the form factor. Chef Brown dismissed the chilled plate and served his roamin' Caesar Salad in a Crispy Parmesan Cone - a food fantasy sans fork - from an artist's palette-shaped holder: surreal edible beauty.

Q&A with Chef Doug Brown

Q: What are your secrets for a good Caesar salad?
A: It's all about the texture: crisp lettuce, cold dressing. Make your dressing a day ahead so the flavors meld, and always serve the dressing nice and cold. In the dressing, don't use 100% extra virgin olive oil. Use half extra virgin olive oil and half grapeseed oil. Keep the lettuce very crisp-I use only the hearts of a regular romaine, not baby romaine. It's got an extra dimension of salty and sweet in the olive tapenade and tomato confit. And use authentic Parmigiano Reggiano.

Q: What about the croutons?
A: At the restaurant we use just one crouton-with a bit of tapenade and a bit of confit. In my salad for the Caesar competition, the Parmigiano Reggiano cone serves as the crouton.

Q: Do you have any tips on using anchovies?
A: For consistent measuring, use anchovy paste for your dressing, but when you want to top something, top it with a white anchovy.

Q: Is the event really competitive?
A: It is. It's a dine around. Last year they had ten chef's booths and everyone tasted and voted. It's the people who attend who decide the winner because they all vote.

Q: What are the challenges?
A: Every chef has a Caesar and everyone tasting is a judge. So each judge is tasting ten Caesar salads, all sharp, and it wears out the palate. The salad has to power through all those tastes.

Q: How did you come up with your cone?
A: This is the first time we did Parmigiano cones. We offer caviar in cones to everyone who comes in to the restaurant, and when I was working on the recipe, it just came to me.

Q: What wine would you pair with it?
A: I would do a full flavored Shiraz or Zinfandel with some big fruit to balance the saltiness and strength of the dressing and cone.

Doug Brown’s unique cone broke the form and flavor barrier. With persistence and time on their side, will this year’s chefs push farther or will the winner choose a more traditional style?
Karen Silverston 7/20/03