Correction to This Article
An article in today's Food section, which was printed in advance, contains an incorrect name for an Indian street food being prepared at the Folklife Festival this weekend. Chef Suvir Saran will demonstrate how to make behl puri, not devi puri. Devi is the name of his restaurant in New York.
Tastes From the Melting Pot

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Chefs from all over the country are joining local cooking celebrities at Food Culture USA, one of the themes of this year's Folklife Festival on the Mall. They are demonstrating how to make dishes as varied as pizza and the Indian street food, devi puri.

"The most common characteristic of American food is change," says Joan Nathan, cookbook author and co-curator of the Smithsonian program. "Now, people look to chefs not only for their own traditions, but also to the traditions of the immigrant chefs who are working for them. Our melting pot is constantly evolving."

Here are some of the names and faces in the festival lineup:

EMERIL LAGASSE In many ways, Emeril Lagasse is the rock star of the food world. He's head of a business empire that encompasses seasonings, sauces, wine, cookware, chef's clothing and gourmet sausages, as well as nine restaurants, numerous cookbooks and, most importantly, his highly rated cooking show on the Food Network.

Known for his catchphrases "Bam!" and "Kick it up a notch," he'll undoubtedly be repeating those tomorrow at the Folklife Festival when he demonstrates hot crab dip, watermelon daiquiris, Asian broccoli salad, and shrimp, okra and tomato gumbo.

A native of Massachusetts, Lagasse turned down a prestigious music scholarship to attend culinary school. He worked at restaurants in several cities, but it was his seven years as executive chef of the famous Commander's Palace in New Orleans that proved the stepping-stone to fame.

Lagasse's newest project is fatherhood and a third kids' cookbook. He and his wife have a 2-year-old son (Emeril Jr., or E.J.) and a 6-month-old daughter (Meril -- Emeril without the e), as well as two grown daughters from his first marriage. The new cookbook, "There's a Chef in My World!" will feature international recipes for children. Lagasse says his son already stands next to him in the kitchen "helping" him cook.

He didn't say whether E.J. also helps by saying, "Bam!"

He will appear at 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Beyond the Melting Pot kitchen, followed by a book signing.

PAUL PRUDHOMME Legendary chef Paul Prudhomme has been serving up native Louisiana cuisine since 1979, but he's still got new tricks up his sleeve for diners at his K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans' French Quarter.

Prudhomme, who will turn 65 next month, spends a good portion of his time in recipe research and development, in addition to appearing at food trade shows on behalf of his ever-expanding line of Magic Seasoning Blends. According to his company's chief executive, Shawn McBride, he treats the R&D crew like one big family.

On the road and at his restaurant, the chef enjoys talking with newcomers to the field. "Talking to someone who's just getting started is what I really like," he says. "I tell them cooking's a very hard job -- they've got to love it. If you're young, you should cook three to five years professionally to know what you're getting into." Prudhomme sees a growing need for R&D chefs for corporations and manufacturing and thinks culinary schools will soon add more of that kind of training and education to their curricula.

The results of Prudhomme's own research are about to show up on K-Paul's menu: seven side dishes based on grains such as wheat berries and bulgur, which will accompany the likes of blackened fish and bronzed chicken. "In all these years, we've never done [grains] at the restaurant," he says (see recipe, page F6).

Prudhomme will demonstrate recipes at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Melting Pot kitchen; 1 p.m. Sunday in the Garden Kitchen; and 1 p.m. Monday in the Melting Pot .

AKASHA RICHMOND When people on the Hollywood A-list want healthy but chic food at their parties, they call Akasha Richmond. The Los Angeles private chef and caterer handles dishes as varied as grilled tofu skewers with Thai chili sauce, and organic beef burgers. Her specialty is easy recipes using soy milk or tofu, which she will demonstrate this weekend at the festival.

Richmond got her start as chef at L.A.'s Golden Temple, one of the city's first vegetarian restaurants. Her passion was "foods that heal," and she soon was catering for actors including Billy Bob Thornton, Richard Gere and Winona Ryder.

So what are the beautiful people craving these days? Richmond says organic meat and healing ingredients -- such as pomegranate juice and green tea -- are big. Some of her most requested items for parties:

· Green tea lemonade and pomegranate martinis.

· Shot glasses filled with soy milk smoothies or cold creamy tomato soup (also made with soy milk).

· Vegetarian appetizers, such as Vietnamese spring rolls made with tofu.

"My clients want healthy ingredients -- even when it comes to their martinis," she says with a laugh.

Richmond will demonstrate recipes at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Home Cooking kitchen and 11 a.m. Sunday in the Garden Kitchen.

ED LADOU A pizza professional for 29 years, Ed LaDou is the owner of Caioti Pizza Cafe in Studio City, Calif. He was the first pizzamaker at celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's Spago restaurant in Los Angeles. His demonstrations at the Folklife Festival will highlight classic Neapolitan pies of tomato, mozzarella cheese and basil as well as his own creations. For example, the Pacific Rim pizza is fashioned with chili-and-garlic sauce, leeks and peanuts. "What it really is about is a starch-and-topping culinary form," he says.

LaDou is following with interest the latest trend of artisanal pizzamakers: "using regional ingredients, top-notch flours and quality wood-burning ovens to make creative pizzas that are not homogenized." A current favorite at his own restaurant is a combo topping of Jerusalem artichoke, applewood-smoked bacon and fresh dill, which he says "we can proudly call American style."

He says his pie mission is to convince people that California-style pizza is not so hard to make and that it's, well, pizza. "There's bias. People are intimidated," says LaDou. "If it isn't what they grew up with, they think it's no good."

LaDou will demonstrate recipes at 2 and 4 p.m. tomorrow in the Melting Pot kitchen and Garden Kitchen, respectively; at 1 and 3 p.m. Friday in the Melting Pot and the Home Cooking kitchen, respectively; at 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday in Home Cooking; at 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday in Melting Pot and Garden Kitchen, respectively; and at 1 and 4 p.m. Monday in Home Cooking and Melting Pot, respectively.

LIDIA BASTIANICH When she's not taping a cooking television series, writing, visiting her restaurants in New York, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, or hosting her gourmet tours, Lidia Bastianich returns to her native Italy to keep a close eye on what's evolving in the food culture she loves.

" Crudo Italiano -- the raw fish craze -- is crawling up the peninsula these days," she told us by phone while vacationing in the Adriatic last week. "It's very traditional in the south and in Sicily, but now you see it in the middle of Rome and Milan. The restaurant Uliassi [in Senigallia on the Adriatic coast] has built its reputation on its crudo.

"And, of course, it's made its way to New York and even California," she says. Bastianich reports that the raw fish is served with condiments no more obtrusive than a sprinkling of lemon or orange juice, or a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

She thinks Americans' taste for sushi has paved the way for the Italian version of raw fish and finds the cultural overlap fascinating, a topic she plans to explore in her talk this weekend.

She says simplicity, fresh ingredients and minimal treatment of artisanal products are keys to Italian cooking: "Exalt the product itself. Use the right vegetable in the right season. You put artisanal products [such as balsamic vinegar or cheese] on a plate, you don't need to do anything else."

If you're planning to ask Bastianich for her recommendations on which olive oil or tomatoes to use, she may turn the tables and ask you to trust your own "gustatory apparatus": "Buy two or three different ones and taste them next to each other," she says.

Bastianich will demonstrate recipes at 3 p.m. Friday in the Melting Pot.

SUVIR SARAN One of the most talked-about chefs in New York, Suvir Saran wants to show home cooks how they can incorporate Indian techniques into American cooking. "I make a mean macaroni and cheese by frying rosemary, thyme and basil in butter with flour and milk," says Saran, owner of Devi restaurant. At the same time, this New Delhi native wants to "dispel the myth that Indian food equals cream and butter and hours of preparation." He plans to share his knowledge of medicinal herbs and spices, seeds and plant stalks when he takes the stage at the festival.

In New York, the latest trend in restaurants is what Saran calls "simple, Indian street foods." An example is bhel puri -- the No. 1-selling appetizer at Devi and the dish he will make on the Mall. He predicts that Indian restaurants in this country will start incorporating more exotic, unlikely ingredients into dishes, such as morel mushrooms, basil seeds and lotus seeds as well as green mango. He also thinks they will stop using red and yellow food coloring in dishes. "Young Indians here don't want that," he says.

Saran says Indian restaurants in the Washington area "are a decade behind what we do in New York." His favorite D.C. restaurant is Ceiba in downtown Washington, where "I love the Latin flavors, the ambiance and especially the desserts. It's one of the most exciting restaurants I have ever visited."(See recipe, Page F6)

Saran will demonstrate recipes at 1 p.m. Friday in the Garden Kitchen, followed by a book signing; at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Melting Pot; and at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Melting Pot.

--Interviews by Bonnie S. Benwick, Walter Nicholls and Candy Sagon.

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