Christopher Heath holds cooking demo at NCC
Do you know what one of the most expensive and flavorful salts in the world is? Students, faculty, staff and visitors leaned in to hear what makes Paxos Restaurants Chef Christopher Heath’s dishes so delicious during the Chef-In-Residence cooking demonstration on October 31 in Lipkin Theatre on Bethlehem Campus.
The journey to culinary mastery and knowledge of the world’s finest ingredients began when Heath started working in restaurants at the age of 14.
“I worked in so many different kitchens for free just to get experience. I’d knock on back doors to restaurants asking what I could do to help so I could get my feet wet,” Heath said, sharing one of his secrets of success.
Today, when he’s looking to hire someone for one of his five restaurants, he looks at how long an aspiring chef spends at a restaurant to soak up all the knowledge they can. “Get into a restaurant no matter how scary it is. Go to people who are willing to share recipes because that's how you learn. Get in as soon as possible.”
Heath’s line-up of restaurants include Melt, Top Cut, Torre, Fire Point Grill, and Blue, all under the Paxos umbrella, with each offering a uniquely different flavor experience. Growing up Filipino, his favorite dishes to make have always included things like Filipino spring rolls.
“Filipino dishes are fatty, acidic and fully flavored,” he shared. Studying and cooking in places like Thailand, the Caribbean, Italy, and more, brought even more influences into his cooking as well. “Firenze has the best farmer's markets. Anything I wanted there, I could get. When I lived on an island, I had a hydroponic garden, and fishermen came to my back door to drop off fresh fish when I needed it. It was amazing.”
Throughout his career in culinary, Heath lives by three rules and shared them with the culinary students present from NCC, Philadelphia’s Mastbaum Jules E Area Vocational-Technical School, Career Institute of Technology and Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School: “First, steal with your eyes. I've gone into kitchens where I couldn't understand the language, and I had to simply watch to learn. Secondly, no hesitation. Go for it no matter what. Lastly, you're not worthy yet. Keep learning, and keep perfecting your craft.”
As those three rules sank in with the audience, Heath brought out a sample of his cucumber lime-aide. “Cucumber goes well with many dishes. You can use agave or honey to sweeten the drink, or even substitute pineapple to sweeten with less additives.”
The audience was treated to the slightly tart yet very refreshing drink before they tasted the chef’s first food creation.
The first dish was an autumn squash risotto with onion, squash, and white wine. Heath chose pinot grigio because of its dryness with fruity notes that stood out in contrast to this dish.
“A little tip I learned from a nonna in Italy was that your onion should be no bigger than a grain of rice. That onion doesn't get cooked enough if it's too big. Your rice should also be cooked to al dente or else the risotto comes out starchy and gummy.”
Chef Heath also took something decadent from Italy and incorporated it into this dish. As the samples came out, the audience could see an amaretti cookie crumbled on top of the risotto, a surprising but deliciously sweet touch that gave the dish something special.
“Balance in any dish is extremely important, flavor profiles and mouth feel. The crunch of a seed or cookie crumble was important here. I could've put all squash puree in the risotto, but I put some diced cubes for a variety in mouth feel.”
Heath stressed that you can’t leave out parts of the culinary business when you’re learning. “I remember thinking I don't need to know financials, and then, I was asked to price out my dish a year later and had no idea how to do that. So, I learned that, and I learned pastry, along with everything else.”
He showed the audience how to make his pistachio angel food cake with a balsamic caramel drizzle, which tasted as good as it looked. Whipping the egg whites in a mixer, he added sugar slowly. “If you add it all at once, it will give a grainy feel. The sugar won’t incorporate and dissolve well.” The airy and moist consistency of this dessert was like nothing the audience had ever tasted.
As the last bites were taken of dessert, the chef added one more word of wisdom. “Technique is your foundation. Then, there's no telling where you can go from there.''
And Fleur De Sel is the most expensive sea salt found floating to the top of salt beds where it’s collected, bottled, and eventually makes its way to Chef Heath’s acclaimed dishes.