6 Dishes, 1 Hot Class Act

Steven Raichlen -- author, TV personality and guru of the grill -- teaches Tom Natan the tricks of the trade.
By David Hagedorn
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A last-minute request poured in: Could Chef on Call spend an afternoon with grillmeister Steven Raichlen?

It was like asking a shoe fetishist to hang out with Manolo Blahnik.

Raichlen, who lives in Miami and on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., with his wife, Barbara, would be in town for a day and could spare four hours before presenting a lecture that evening at the Smithsonian.

All that was missing was a student. I called Tom Natan, 47, an Adams Morgan neighbor who imports wines from France's Rhone region and sells them on the Internet. He's an excellent indoor cook, but his outdoor skills need help. I suggested he come over on Tuesday, attend a mini-session of Raichlen's Barbecue University and learn how to prepare an entire meal, dessert and all, on the grill. Natan offered to pair the food with selections from his wine portfolio.

A few days beforehand, Raichlen forwarded an e-mail curriculum with an international theme, which was not surprising given the ways in which he explores the world's barbecue trails. For his current television cooking series, called "Primal Grill With Steven Raichlen" (airing Saturdays on some Maryland Public Television stations), and for his upcoming book, "Planet Barbecue" (2009), he has traveled to 47 countries and has three to go (Armenia, Georgia and South Africa).

And, of course, there are plenty of global flavors in the recently released, 10th-anniversary edition of his award-winning "The Barbecue! Bible."

Raichlen's menu for Chef on Call included Catalan bread rubbed with tomato and garlic, shrimp cocktail with Mediterranean salsa, five-spice smoked short ribs with Shanghai barbecue sauce, Cambodian corn on the cob, sesame asparagus rafts and smoke-roasted raspberry pear crisp.

Six dishes in four hours?

It didn't take Raichlen that long. And had I not slacked on the prep that should have been completed before his arrival, it would have taken him even less time. So while I was getting caught up in the kitchen, Raichlen put Natan to work on the back deck of my house.

As Francophiles and Rhone wine fans, the two enjoyed an instant rapport. Raichlen is 56, looks 36 and maintains a public appearance schedule as if he were 26. He was running on two hours' sleep that day and already had shot a video for the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board.

Though tempted to sample the wine, Raichlen opted for iced tea and got down to business in an organized fashion, which made the afternoon plan work well. The dishes were finished in exact order: the bread, then the shrimp, followed by the corn and asparagus; next, the fruit crisp, then the ribs.

The bone-in short ribs took the longest, so they were the first to go into a smoker-type grill. "Those big gazunka ribs would normally take two to two and a half hours to smoke at 250 degrees," he said, "so I'm going to have to go a little hotter than I usually do." Raichlen didn't waste any of the 30 minutes it took to ready the smoker's charcoal. Wood chunks were set to soak for a half-hour (wet wood produces smoke when placed on burning embers); then Natan constructed the asparagus rafts.

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