Some Like it Hot

Julia Child once said, “I think every woman should have a blowtorch.”

Whether it’s to caramelize the delicate topping of a crème brulee or to shoo a Bobby Flay wannabe out of our kitchen, yes—women like to play with fire.

Despite our rich culinary intellect and dedication to our craft , female chefs are oft en branded with having an understated role in the industry. For years, professional kitchens seemed to be a Boys Only club. Well, times-they-are-a-changing, folks. (I’ve always wanted to say that.) Women have risen to the top of the culinary world, proving that cooking is no longer a man’s sport. Why the enthusiasm in my voice? Well, I, too, possess foodie powers in the kitchen. When asked where I learned how to cook, my answer is always the same: standing on a chair over the stove with my dad. I didn’t attend a formal culinary school, but I learned how to pair fresh sage with white cheddar when I was four. I may not bear the official chef jacket, but food is still my game. That being said, the increase of strong women skillfully overseeing kitchens is nothing short of inspirational for me. Each day I’m welcomed home by the faces of Giada De Laurentiis and Ina Garten on my TV.

Today, my Food Network stars came to life as I interviewed some of Wilmington’s leading ladies maneuvering the magic behind our favorite eats. Before I became a Port City local, I was a Raleigh native who would frequent Wilmington on the weekends. My best friend and I would gear up in our Peace College hoodies and our favorite leggings and trot down Front Street to our most treasured destinations. From a pannacotta burger to a pork belly-forest mushroom-stuffed patty, pull up a bar stool and let’s discuss Hops. I’m not referring to what’s in my glass as I write this article; we’re talking about one of the finest American gastropubs in town. Along with a wide range of brews and short rib nachos so good you’ll need a moment of silence, Hops Supply Co. is dedicated to turning “pub food” on its head.

Your typical bar scene might be a vision of dudes, but swing back that kitchen door and you’ll see who’s calling the shots. Johnson & Wales trained Chef Tiff any Eislen is the soulful mastermind behind this foodie-driven menu. After being presented with a list of traditional American fare, it was her responsibility to integrate variety and spin each item with her own personal touch. But it’s not all burgers and nachos. Tiffany has the freedom to explore her culinary limits when it comes to the specials, and her Braised Lamb Shank with Lemon Rosemary Orzo illuminates that extensive range of talent. Chef Tiffany Eislen, Hops Supply Co.

Chefs In Hops 1Braised Lamb Shank and Lemon Rosemary Orzo

2 lamb shanks
2 carrots cut in 2-inch chunks
1 yellow onion diced into 1-inch cubes
2 celery sticks cut into 2-inch chunks
4 garlic cloves
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef stock
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons rosemary
1 tablespoon thyme
1 cup orzo (uncooked)
1 lemon zest
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounces olive oil
3 tablespoons salt and pepper.

Directions: Preheat oven to 300°. Season lamb shanks with salt and pepper and sear off in a large sauté pan. Remove shanks and deglaze pan with red wine. Place carrots, celery, onion, garlic, thyme, and 1 ½ tablespoons of rosemary in a roasting pan. Add enough beef stock to the pan until the liquid comes up 2/3 of the way up to the shank. Wrap with foil and braise in a 300° oven for three hours or until tender. In a small stock pot, cook orzo. Once al dente, strain and add butt er, lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon of chopped rosemary. Season with salt and pepper.

For the sauce: strain out the braising liquid and slightly thicken with a cornstarch slurry. Serve lamb shank with the orzo, roasted vegetables, and sauce.

Tiffany utilizes Asian and French flavors to create a menu that’s regionally diverse, yet seasonally influenced. As for what the future holds, Tiffany says, “I would like to brush back into nutrition and also focus on the research and development of the industry—like menu planning.” A kitchen extraordinaire with a humble spirit and a whimsical fl are for elevating comfort food, Tiffany is truly the heart of Hops. Speaking of female extraordinaire, please tell me that your weekend outings to the Cameron Art Museum are done on an empty stomach. If you’ve studied the art but skipped the café, you’re missing out on a phenomenal eating experience.

Chef Jessica Cabo has sparked foodie buzz at CAM Cafe’, yet with simplistic food. Her inspiring tale depicts a self-taught foodie apprenticing under one culinary connoisseur to the next. This journey sculpted her into an expert on cuisines from around the world and ultimately led to her repertoire of satisfying, nourishing food. “As for a long-term goal, I want the café to become a food destination as well as a sustainable restaurant with fruit trees and plants. I work for a non-profit museum and it’s those people I’m around daily who inspire me.” While studying the parallels between men vs. women in the professional kitchen, one echoing pattern entices me. Female chefs tend to be motivated by an instinctive desire to nurture through their food. Jessica’s locally-driven cooking mirrors this concept, as she makes it her mission to honor each ingredient and craft inventive, global food that is unique—yet still a divine representation of itself.

Case in point: Her Red Curry Short Ribs—tender, fall-apart beef, slow-simmered in an aromatic blend of sweet white miso and spicy red curry paste. 

Chefs In Hops FoodRed Curry Short Ribs
Equal parts red wine, Coca Cola, and ginger ale
1 dupe white miso
2 tablespoon red curry paste
carrot celery
onion garlic
fresh thyme sprigs
salt and pepper

Directions: Sear short ribs in a hot pan or Dutch oven on all sides. Add the remaining ingredients to pan. Cover, and slow roast in a 300o oven for 3-5 hours or until beef is fork tender. Strain liquid and reduce by half. Use as a sauce or shred beef and warm in the sauce for tacos, sandwiches, etc.

In my pursuit of Wilmington’s female foodie front-runners, I am fascinated to learn how each kitchen authority draws influence for her menu. The common theme? Local ingredients. But it’s not just the savory dishes that stem from the Port City soil.

Pastry Chef Rebeca Alvarado Paredes of Manna is producing a dessert line up bursting with homegrown flavors that you might not anticipate in the baking field. A perfect illustration of this: her Sweet Potato Crème Caramel, which transforms a delicate sweet potato puree into a rich, velvety custard. “I use a lot of unexpected savory ingredients like butternut squash and sweet potatoes. I try to utilize what Wilmington has to off er, so the produce itself is what drives my menu.”

 Chefs In MannaSweet Potato Crème Caramel

Crème Caramel:
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods (crushed)
1/2 vanilla bean (split)
10 ounces sweet potato puree
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar zest and juice of one orange

Directions: Bring cream, milk, cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla bean to a boil. Place sweet potato, eggs, egg yolks, both sugars, and salt into a blender. Strain hot mixture into blender. Blend until very smooth. Strain again. For the caramel: Place sugar in a pot and add enough water to get a wet sand texture. Bring sugar to an amber caramel. Deglaze with the juice and zest of the orange. Before the sugar cools, pour enough caramel into your ramekins to cover the bott om. Baking: Spray your ramekins with non-stick spray and then add your crème caramel mixture. Bake at 325 degrees in a covered water bath until the crème caramels are no longer jiggly—about 20-40 minutes.

Rebeca’s four years at Johnson & Wales University refined her skills as a pastry phenomenon, and her desire for modernizing the familiar into the funky has soared her to the top of the game. With brilliant specialties like the “Dessert Happy Meal”—a decadent parody of the infamous fast food feast—Rebeca’s artistic confectioneries provoke us to always end with something sweet.

Hovering over her mortar and pestle at 6’2 and gracefully de-boning a duck, it was Julia Child who represented America’s first iconic kitchen figure. Not only did she hatch the cooking-show generation, but she helped to make food a spectator sport. However, as men in white chef coats draped the covers of magazines, it may have appeared to the world that women were an afterthought. Well world, you were wrong. Yes, female chefs are technically a minority, but they continue to run wildly popular, thriving restaurants from one city to the next. Proving that kitchens are not gender-specific environments, but rather a collaboration of eccentric minds aspiring to make fabulous food.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go burn my bra.