The Dish: Chef Zack Bruell

Chef Zack Bruell helped pioneer the development of "California cuisine" then brought it thousands of miles east to his hometown. Born and raised in Cleveland, he seemed destined to join the family business but became a chef instead. He made his first mark at the influential Michael's in Santa Monica. He thought the blend of simple cooking techniques and the freshest ingredients would be a hit back home. His first venue, Z Contemporary Cuisine, transformed the local dining scene and led to his current collection of eight Cleveland-area restaurants. 

Here are some of Bruell's signature recipes: 

Zack Bruell's cassoulet 

Ingredients

1 pound pork belly
1 cup kosher salt
2 pounds dried white beans (such as cannellini or Great Northern)
2 bay leaves
10 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 cup melted duck fat or butter
2 cups diced Spanish onion
2 large carrots, diced
6 celery stalks, diced
6 cloves garlic, diced
2 cups diced canned tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato paste
8 cups rich chicken or pork stock
8 garlic sausages (steamed and browned)
8 smoked pork sausages (steamed and browned)
8 confit duck legs, seared crisp (See accompanying recipe)
1 cup panko bread crumbs and 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, mixed together
1/4 cup fennel gastrique (optional, see accompanying recipe) 

Directions

1. Plan on at least three days to make this dish if you are making your own duck confit (if you're not, allow two days). You also can make the confit a week or two ahead of time, because it keeps well. Many stores only sell fresh or frozen duck by advance order; call ahead to check availability. Confit is also sold frozen or in a can, but homemade is preferred.

2. Get pork belly from your butcher or from a better supermarket. It is similar to a cut of raw, un-smoked bacon. Vary the dish by using lamb, pork or chicken confit. Or omit additional meat.

3. You will need a large, ovenproof casserole dish or roaster with a cover and some cheesecloth. Make the duck confit. Start at least two days ahead of serving and up to two weeks. Use the accompanying recipe for Slow-cooker Duck Confit or your own favorite.

4. Two days before making the cassoulet, place the pork belly on a baker's rack and rub with kosher salt. Place this rack on a sheet pan and cure in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Next, remove pork belly from refrigerator, rinse and pat dry. Cut into 8 to 10 pieces.

5. Soak beans for 8 hours in water in a large bowl in refrigerator. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

6. Drain beans in a colander. Tie bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and black peppercorns in a square of cheesecloth, using kitchen string to tie. Or use a tea infuser large enough to fit herbs. Set aside. 

7. In large, ovenproof casserole, heat the duck fat or butter and slowly cook the onion, carrots, celery and garlic until soft. Add the beans, tomatoes, pork belly and tomato paste. Stir until well mixed.

8. Cover with the stock and bring to a boil. Remove any scum from the top and lower heat to a low simmer. Add the parcel of seasonings. Cover casserole with lid, place in preheated oven and cook for 11/2 hours. Check for tenderness. May require 2 to 21/2 hours total cooking time until the beans are tender. Do not overcook.

9. To finish the cassoulet: Sprinkle bread crumbs on top and brown under broiler.

Slow-cooker duck confit

Ingredients

8 whole duck legs
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried)
1/4 cup packed parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 or more cups of melted duck fat to cover the legs (or chicken fat or pomace olive oil)  

Directions

1. Allow at least 24 hours, and preferably 48 hours, for the duck legs to cure in the refrigerator. Many stores only sell fresh or frozen duck by advance order; call ahead to check availability.

2.  In a food processor, pulse together the kosher salt, herbs and peppercorns until well combined and bright green.

3. Cure the duck legs: Trim off any excess fat or skin, then rinse and pat dry. Rub with green salt, using about 1 tablespoon per leg. Place duck in a baking dish in one layer, flesh side up. Cover and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours to cure.

4. Slow cook the duck legs: Rinse duck and pat dry. Place legs in a slow cooker to fit. Cover with melted fat and set the cooker to high for 1 hour before turning it down to low for 9 more hours. You could also do this in an oven with an ovenproof pot with lid at 190 degrees for 10 hours. In either case, do not let the heat go over 200 degrees or your confit will be stringy. Use an instant-read thermometer to check. 

5. The duck is done when it is very tender and the meat pulls away from the bone. The fat should be clear, meaning that the meat is no longer releasing any juices.

6. Cool and use or chill duck: Take out insert from the slow cooker or remove the pot from the oven, and cool the duck slowly to room temperature. When the duck has cooled, gently lift the legs out of the fat. If you're not using them immediately, transfer to a container, skin side down. Cover the duck completely with fat and store in the fridge for up to three weeks.

7. Crisp the duck: Bring to room temperature if refrigerated. Pull from fat and scrape off any excess, without removing skin. Heat a nonstick or cast- iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the duck, skin side down, and cook until the skin is golden brown and crisp, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add to a cassoulet or transfer to a baking pan, skin side up, and bake for an additional 8 minutes at 375 degrees to heat them through.

Fennel gastrique

Topping ingredients

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
3 large onions (about 1 1/2 pounds), sliced 1/8 inch thick Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
1/4 pound thick-sliced smoked bacon, cut into 1/4-inch-wide lardons
4 ounces fresh ricotta
1/2 cup crème fraîche
A splash of milk if needed

Directions

1. Use this infused, brightly flavored accent to sprinkle on a rich cassoulet. Refrigerate any remaining gastrique to spritz or drizzle over any rich entree.

2. In a dry frying pan set on medium-high heat, stir fennel seeds until they start to give off their aroma. Remove from heat. Crush until almost powdered, preferably with a mortar and pestle.

3. Put crushed seeds into saute pan with vinegar and sugar, and bring to a simmer, letting the sugar dissolve. Remove from the heat and let steep until cool. Strain through a clean cloth and use.

Butternut squash salad with Thai lemon vinaigrette

Salad ingredients

1 small butternut squash(peeled, seeded and finely julienned)
¼ red bell pepper(cut into fine brunoise)
4 julienned Thai basil leaves
1 shallot sliced into rings 

Thai lemon vinaigrette ingredients

¼ cup Meyer lemon juice
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp.finely diced jalapeno pepper(deseeded)
¼ tsp. diced shallot
Thai fish sauce to taste (used instead of salt)

Directions

1. To make the vinaigrette, whisk together ingredients in mixing bowl and pour over dry ingredients. Toss and plate.

2. Mix all the salad ingredients together and place in mixing bowl. Toss and plate.

Lemon polenta cake with lemon gelato and lemoncello

Ingredients

8 oz. unsalted butter
8 oz. sugar
3 whole eggs
2 zested lemons
1 lb. almond flour
6 oz. polenta
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
Lemoncello
Lemon gelato

Directions

1. Beat butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time and then lemon zest.Scrape mixer and then add dry ingredients. Bake in greased spring form pan at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

2. Cut slice, drizzle with lemoncello, dust with powdered sugar and top with scoop of lemon gelato.

'Alley Cat' stuffed oysters 

Ingredients

16 each Blue Point Oysters, scrubbed, shucked and left on the half shell and placed on baking pan
4 cloves minced garlic
1 shallot minced
1 tbs. butter
½ cup heavy cream
3 oz. fontina cheese grated
2 oz. cream cheese
12 oz. watercress, chopped
12 oz. spinach, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Breadcrumbs
Lemon wedges

Directions

1. Saute garlic and shallots in butter. Add cream and reduce by 1/3. Add both cheese and whisk to incorporate. Remove from heat and fold in watercress and spinach. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool before stuffing oysters.

2. Divide stuffing among oysters and top with breadcrumbs. Bake in 450 degree oven until bubbly and browned on top. Serve with lemon wedge.