Robins' stimulating menu for the Biltmore Room has earned him a three-star review from the New York Times. He showcases his love of fresh ingredients, unfamiliar spices and beautiful, unusual items. So, we asked him to take our Chef on a Shoestring challenge and create a meal for four for $30 or less.
For nearly a decade, Robins' work has won him critical attention in the United States, Asia and Europe. With no formal culinary education, he began his career in his early 20s under the tutelage of renowned chef Alfred Portale, at the Gotham Bar and Grill.
After two years, Robins left to expand his repertoire and his horizon, working under Mark Miller at Red Sag, and Didier Oudill in France. Upon returning to the States, he went back to work for his mentor Portale, helping to open One Fifth Avenue. His contributions to the menu received high praise. From there, Robins went on to develop and open the highly acclaimed Aja restaurant in the Flatiron district in New York City. Following Aja, Robins helped bring a new taste to Match Uptown. Also, in the summer of 200, Robins helped reinvent the menu at Mi Restaurant.
Outside the kitchen, Robins uses his artistic abilities as a food stylist and film consultant, having worked on motion pictures such as "Autumn in New York" and "Kate & Leopold."
Robins' menu as our Chef on a Shoestring: an appetizer of Watercress and Orange Salad; an entrée of Crisp Turkey Tonkatsu with Artichokes and Spring Onions; and for dessert, Meyer Lemon Cake.
Tonkatsu: The term "tonkatsu" comes from the Japanese word "katsu," meaning cutlet. "Tonkatsu" means breaded and fried cutlet. Traditionally, tonkatsu is made with pork, but the method can be used for other meats and seafood.
Baby Artichokes: Robins cooks baby artichokes to serve with the tonkatsu. The tasty little artichokes are mature and are completely edible after just a little trimming, because they haven't yet formed the fuzzy inner choke. Babies grow on the same plant as larger artichokes. They stay small because they grow closer to the ground in the shelter of the large leaves of the plant. Baby artichokes cook in less time than their larger relatives and are perfect for quick sautes or to steam or simmer for appetizers, salads and main dishes. The smallest of the baby chokes are great sliced thin and enjoyed raw.
How to Prepare Baby Artichokes:
- Rinse artichokes under running water or in a sink of cold water. Set out a large bowl of cold water and add about 3 tablespoons lemon juice (juice of 1 large lemon), or vinegar. (Water with lemon or vinegar is often used in cooking; it's usually referred to as acidulated water). Cut off the base of each artichoke where the stem comes out of the leaves. Drop the cut artichokes into the acidulated water as you work to keep them from discoloring. (Discoloring doesn't affect flavor or appearance after the artichokes are cooked.)
- Remove the leaves all around the base of the artichoke by peeling back and snapping off until you reach leaves that are yellow at the bottom. Again, add the cut artichokes to the acidulated water as you work.
Meyer Lemons: Robins uses Meyer lemons for the dessert. Meyer lemons are believed to be a cross between an orange and a lemon. The Meyer lemon is particularly sweet compared with its tart cousins, the Eureka and Lisbon lemons (the varieties most commonly found in supermarkets). They're sometimes smaller than a regular lemon, rounder in shape, with a thin, soft and smooth rind, which ranges from greenish when slightly immature to a rich yellow-orange when fully ripe. The rind lacks the typical lemon peel oil aroma and the pulp is darker yellow and less acidic than a regular lemon.
The complex flavor and aroma hints of sweet lime, lemon and mandarin. The Meyer also differs from other lemons in that it can be used in its entirety: The peel and pulp can be cooked or added raw to a salad. The Meyer can substitute for other lemon varieties in sweet or savory recipes. Because they are delicate, wrap them tightly in plastic and store in the refrigerator for no more than a few days after purchase. The Meyer lemon tree was brought to the United States from China in 1908 by Frank Meyer, an employee of the U.S. Agriculture Department. It was used primarily as an ornamental tree until the early 1980s, when a few California chefs, like Lindsey Shere, the former pastry chef at Chez Panisse, became interested in the fruit. Today, thanks to a small, but growing commercial industry, you can now find Meyer lemons in specialty food stores from November through March.
Watercress and Orange Salad
1 large Haas avocado
1 navel orange
1 bunch watercress, rinsed, trimmed
1 head Boston lettuce, rinsed, dried and torn into bite size pieces
2 ounces cashews, coarsely chopped
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
5 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon honey (substitute 1 teaspoon sugar if you don't have honey on hand)
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
Place the Boston lettuce leaves and watercress into a medium mixing bowl followed by the red onion and cashews.
Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit and peel. Cut each half lengthwise into eighths, and place in a mixing bowl along with the lettuces.
Peel the orange and section the fruit from the pith. Add the orange sections to the bowl. Add the red onion slices and the nuts.
In a separate bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette and drizzle over the salad. Season salad with salt and pepper and toss well. Serve immediately.
2 pounds turkey tenders, in 4 8-ounces pieces
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
Place the turkey tenders between two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper. Tenderize the meat by pounding lightly with either a meat flattener or the blade of a heavy knife. You want the meat to be between 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick.
Remove the plastic wrap and season the turkey with salt and pepper.
Prepare to bread the turkey by setting up a dredging station with three mixing bowls. In the first mixing bowl, whisk together the flour with the curry powder. For the second bowl, whisk together the eggs and water.
Place the breadcrumbs in the third bowl and season lightly with salt. Place a piece of turkey in the flour and coat on both sides. Remove from the flour, shaking off any excess and dip into the egg followed by the breadcrumbs. Place on a plate and repeat with the remaining pieces.
Warm oil in a non-stick saute pan over moderate heat and place in the turkey. Cook until golden brown on one side, flip over and cook until almost golden brown on the second side, add the butter and finish cooking.
Remove from the pan, place on paper towels to absorb any excess oil and season lightly with salt.
Serve one piece per person accompanied by artichokes and spring onions.
Artichokes and Spring Onions
1 pound baby artichokes, peeled and cut in half
1/2 pound spring onions (scallions), cleaned and trimmed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
4 tablespoons olive oil
Cut the spring onions into quarters lengthwise. Place the artichokes, spring onions and garlic in a 2-quart saucepan and cover with white wine.
Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring wine to a boil. Add the dried herbs, water, salt and olive and return to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook until artichokes are tender, about 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and reserve.
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 teaspoon lemon juice
Strain half of the liquid from the artichokes and return to a boil. Add the garlic and the lemon juice and then whisk in the butter followed by the parsley. Adjust seasoning and serve over the turkey tonkatsu.
Meyer Lemon Cake
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ounces unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs, yolk and white separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon Meyer lemon zest
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice (juice of 2 lemons)
1 6-inch bundt pan
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the butter and 1/2-cup of sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer. Beat until light and fluffy.
While the mixer is on medium speed, add the eggs yolks one at a time to the creamed butter, followed by the lemon zest, vanilla extract and lemon juice. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour with the baking powder and salt. While the mixer is on medium speed, stir into the creamed butter. Make sure the batter is thoroughly incorporated.
In a separate bowl, beat the whites until a soft peak is reached. Gradually sift in the remaining tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
Stir half of the whites into the cake batter and then fold in the remainder. Prepare cake pan by greasing it with butter, then coating the inside well with flour, shaking out the excess. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake in a 350 degrees F oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before serving.
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon Meyer lemon zest
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
Whisk all ingredients together and adjust seasoning to taste.
Serve cake warm with a drizzle of the icing.