If you can't stand the heat, you should stay in the kitchen.
These days, some chefs are getting used to working outside that box for a public that appears hungry for cooking demonstrations -- often working actually outside, even on the hottest days of the year.
We dropped in on two lunchtime demos last week.
It was in the 90s with a triple-digit heat index last Tuesday afternoon as Chef Angelo Galioto rolled a stainless steel table of cooking equipment and ingredients from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh on the North Side across the street into Buhl Community Park at Allegheny Square.
After going back inside to the kitchen of the Big Red Room Cafe, where he usually works, he returned, sauntering through the fog created by the newly renovated park's Cloud Arbor with a tray of produce on one shoulder. Even in his white chef's coat, red apron and black pants, he looked cool as a cucumber.
Since June 26, he's been doing a series of lunchtime demos in the park called Cook It! From 12:15 to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays, he's made simple, healthful recipes using some bounty from the Museum Garden -- recipes that also show up in the museum's cafe on those days.
He and the museum's marketing and programming staff worked out the kinks over the first few weeks, said program manager Angela Seals, and, "We're building a following," among not just museum-goers but also workers and residents at Allegheny Center.
As she checked the microphone, and another staffer checked the camera clipped to the blue folding canopy that projects the tabletop onto a video screen, it looked as if Chef Galioto would be performing for unoccupied folding chairs and tables.
But as showtime neared, an audience gathered -- moms with babies and toddlers, office worker friends, a man who lives in the apartments at park's edge. More than 30 people were sitting and standing around when, with a flourish of sharpening his big knife on a steel, Chef Galioto announced, "I'm ready!"
And he was off, telling everyone that he was going to make a pasta salad -- "easy to make in the summertime when it's so hot" -- and some bruschetta.
He introduced himself as having worked at the museum for two years, after a stint as a food instructor at the nearby "state pen" -- State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh. "I think this is easier," he said, going on to explain how he's worked at many restaurants, including the Palm Beach Country Club and his own restaurants in Florida before he returned to Pittsburgh. He grew up in the Strip District, where his Italian immigrant father was a produce huckster.
So his performing ability does come naturally.
"Beautiful day!" he interjected at one point. "I actually feel a breeze there!"
After warming them up with some safety tips and a pep talk about how it's OK to customize recipes to your taste, he made the pasta salad, which quickly came together from the ingredients that already were mostly already cooked and chopped -- mise en place.
Before long, he was spooning out generous tastes to a line of people, along with patter: "How are you doing, young kid?" "Do you like pasta?"
And right on into the bruschetta, for which he had prepared several lovely toppings -- spinach, roasted bean, fresh tomatoes -- to go on still-warm, golden toasted, olive-oiled and garlic-rubbed breads from the museum kitchen.
The audience gobbled that up, too.
"You kids are eating good. You can eat peanut butter and jelly anytime," announced Chef Galioto, who got into a deep conversation with one woman about their shared Italian heritage.
He even stopped several times on his walk back to the museum to prepare bruschetta for and chat with park workers.
He started doing demos when he worked at Giant Eagle and loved doing them at the Citiparks North Side farmers market last season. But you don't have to hear him say "I love it" to know he does. That's the first part of a simple equation:
"Free food: People love it."
The Cook It! series is to continue at least through August, and Chef Galioto says he'll do more actual cooking but not until the weather cools a little. On Friday, July 27, he plans to make Cucumber Salad and Guacamole, and on Tuesday, July 31, Macaroni Cheddar Salad Bowl, and Waldorf Salad.
Everyone in the audience can take home a paper copy of the recipes, which all are to be posted on the museum's website, pittsburghkids.org, and/or will be compiled at the end of the series into a booklet.
People also can take home copies of the recipe cards handed out at the series of demos at the 13 farm stands run in neighborhoods in and around the city by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and its community partners.
Cooking demos are held regularly at the different stands, staffed by chefs and others from Farm Stand Project sponsor Eat'n Park Hospitality Group.
Last Thursday, it was only in the low 80s as Chef John Frick, with one hand, cracked eggs and flipped Spanish Omelets that he was cooking over a portable butane burner on a tiny table in a strip of shade in front of the Hill District's Hill House.
With only a box of other gear and a foam cooler for the eggs, the set-up was a long way from the state-of-the-art kitchen at Eat'n Park's Homestead headquarters, where he usually works creating and testing recipes as executive chef for menu development. When he does demos there, as he was doing this week, his audience consists of other Eat'n Park employees in stadium-style seating.
But he looked quite comfortable at his bustling little farm stand, at least as long as his shade and butane lasted. The butane didn't, but, mid-omelet, he calmly reached into his box for his backup can, loaded it, fired it up and kept on cooking.
The omelet came out beautifully browned, and he and his assistant Amy Jones paper-plated wedges for people to sample.
"When you do things like this, you have to be MacGyver to make everything work," he said. "I think that's one reason why some people might be reluctant to get out of the kitchen."
Vicki Lish, the food bank's farm stand specialist, says that Eat'n Park has been helping with the live demos for three seasons. Food bank nutritionist Jesse Sharrard regularly does demos, too (he's at Clairton Aug. 2), but having sometimes a "celebrity" chef is "icing on the cake," she says. "It's been a great hit with everybody."
Chef Frick enjoys doing the occasional farm stand demo, even when, as he was peppering his dish, he was being peppered with questions and comments from the people :
"What are you cooking?"
"Oh, I'm tired of eggs."
"Did you put salt in it?"
"Are you cooking to order?"
"So is this on the menu at Eat'n Park?"
"I want one to go."
That last woman circled back for seconds, and Chef Frick got off a quip of his own: "We're going to have to charge her."
One farm stand regular, Barbara Strothers, who is a Hill House security officer, didn't even taste the fragrant omelet before heading over to the produce tables to buy most of its ingredients: potatoes, kale, onions and green pepper.
"I'm going home to make it!"
That's the point of the demos, which she says she loves; the self-described "cooking show queen" has made several recipes she's picked up here.
Her friends teased her about whether she really can flip an omelet as deftly as Chef Frick, but she insisted she could.
She even had a tip for him.
"You should put some cheese in this," she said as she finally tried a wedge. "Then it'll be da bomb f'real!"
As Chef Angelo Galioto advises, if you don't like an ingredient, leave it out or substitute something else (he added cooked Great Northern beans, too). "Use your imagination!"
- 1 pound dry pasta (he used fusilli, but you could use penne, shells, bow ties or other small, spoon-sized pasta)
- 1 zucchini, julienned
- 1 yellow squash, julienned
- 1 red or green bell pepper, julienned
- 1/2 cup frozen peas
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- Fresh basil, chopped
- Fresh parsley, chopped
Cook pasta until soft, then shock in cold water and drain. Blanch the zucchini, squash, peppers, peas and onions and shock in cold water; drain.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the pasta, vegetables and tomatoes. Add oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, basil and parsley and mix well. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours before serving.
-- Angelo Galioto, Children's Museum of Pittsburgh
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 3 cups potatoes (about 3 small) cut in half and then sliced 1/8-inch thin
- 1/2 cup sliced onion (about 1 small)
- 1/2 tablespoon salt, divided
- 3/4 cup diced bell pepper (about 1/2 pepper)
- Leaves from 6 stems of kale, chopped finely
- 5 large eggs
- Black pepper to taste
Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add oil and let it get hot.
Add potatoes, onions and half the salt. Cover and cook until potatoes are soft, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add bell pepper and kale, stirring frequently until kale softens (it will still be bright green). Lower heat slightly before adding eggs.
Whisk eggs, remaining salt, and pepper together. Pour over vegetables, stir to combine, and cook until eggs are mostly set, about 5 minutes.
Slide omelet onto a plate. Carefully cover plate with the pan and flip over so that what had been the top is now the bottom. Cook another 3 to 5 minutes or until the egg is cooked through.
Serves 6 to 8.
-- Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank's online Recipe Rainbow database, www.pittsburghfoodbank.org/recipedatabase
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1930. First Published July 26, 2012 4:00 AM