At Inspired Occasions we are constantly searching for new and innovative dishes to wow and amaze our client's and their guests.
This website is designed to take you on a journey by bringing you into our kitchens to observe our culinary creative process from conception to final presentation.
As we create each new dish we will define our inspiration, discuss challenges, present our solutions and post some great pictures along the way.
So join us in the Inspired Occasions Research and Development Test Kitchen for some amazing new dishes! I guarantee an amazing journey!

Friday, August 12, 2016

An Argentinian Spectacle

Chefs are constantly presented with challenges.  Be it creating a new concept, wowing a potential client with a spectacular dish, or in this particular case, pulling off a full scale Argentinian BBQ.
Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired (CCVI) has hosted several food competitions over the years as part of their culinary fundraising events where all proceeds go toward critical programming at the Center.  This year they wanted to do something no one else in the city had done before.  Something that was sure to keep people talking all year long. 
After months of preparation, venders, purveyors, and chefs were all geared up and ready to cook.  We arrived on site, a small youth outreach farm, at 10:00 am on the day of the event.  A chord of hickory had been delivered the previous night along with a 12 foot high “bird cage” that would be used to suspend, support, and hold all of the meat, fruits, vegetables, fish, and poultry for the evenings dinner.  We needed to get to work. 

The chefs divided into teams and set to prepare.  One team started to build a large fire in the main fire pit followed by another in the custom built smoke box, and finally one inside the bird cage.  The rest of us set to work on the proteins.  Eight whole bone-in ribeyes, two spring lambs and 24 whole chickens were prepped and sent to the fires by noon.  One lamb was secured to an iron cross purpose built for the whole animal, while the other was quartered and strung up above the fire in the bird cage.  The ribeyes were heavily seasoned with salt, hooked on either side, and hung around the outside of the fire.  The chickens were previously brined, skewered on custom built swords, trussed, and then arranged around the cage with pineapples on either end to support the birds. 

As the day wore on the fires got bigger and hotter, more meats, vegetables, and were added.  White onions were laid around the outside of the fire in the smoldering coals, potatoes were buried deep under the ash in the big fire pit, cabbages were stuffed into the fire box for the smoker, turnips were placed in a pan under a dripping breast of lamb slowly roasting over the open coals, and pineapples were pushed right into the smoldering embers.  50 pounds of coiled Brazilian linguica sausage and chorizo made their way to the smoke house followed by twelve filets of rum and brown sugar cured salmon.  Two whole mortadellas were skewered and surrounded by pineapple then hung over the flames.  Meat was cooking, fires were raging, and the aromas were hypnotic.  

Next I started working on the guacamole by grilling two cases of avocados then slow smoking them for an hour, followed by adding in a mixture of chopped red peppers, salsa verde, and salt.  The guacamole was arranged on the buffet with an assortment of lemons, limes, and oranges, and house made hot sauces.  The hors d’oeuvre buffet was completed with a grilled tomato gazpacho and sliced sausages. 
After the appetizers it was time to build the buffet. Right before we started cooking 30 pounds of black cod was grilled over wooden planks set in the middle of the fire.  It was topped with a bonito and black pepper aioli as the final touch to the protein offerings.  The meats were sliced and arranged on a large butcher block counter top with bowls of salsa verde, romesco, and tzatziki sauce.  The vegetables were pulled from the fire, char stripped from their outsides, then sliced and mixed with a powerful oil concoction. The oil was equal parts garlic, anchovies, and sun dried tomatoes, mixed with double the amount of oil and slow simmered for five hours before being pureed.  It was heavenly over the smoky cabbage and supple potatoes.  The turnips, which had been soaking the delicious lamb juices, were topped with chunks of tellegio and browned with blowtorches. 

The meal was set, people were devouring the food, and we carved and sliced as fast as possible to keep up with the demand.  The aroma of smoke, meat, and herbs enveloped the cooking area.  But as we were winding down our set up, the pastry chefs swung into action.  With roaring fires under 36-inch paella pans they sautéed blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries with sugar, mint, and vanilla.  They smoked peaches and nectarines, sliced them, and with a quick sauté a beautiful combination was born.  All of this was just a topping for an amazing stone fruit focaccia bread, gently warmed over the dying coals of the fire.

At the end of the day the event was a success, 12 hours after beginning the process we all sat back for a few well-earned beers.

Challenges are what keep all of us on our toes; they keep us innovating and moving forward.  Challenges, and being pushed to do something you have never done before, are the lifeblood of our world.  So when someone asks you if you can pull off a concept you have never done before, ask around, do some research, and then happily reply, “Of course!”

Monday, June 20, 2016

Brunch of the future

Brunch has always been my favorite meal.  It doesn't matter if it's a full spread with omelet bars and carved roast beef, or as simple as breakfast tacos, I love brunch.  Brunch is the most casual meal of the week and it can last as long as a cup of coffee or until its time to find a spot for dinner.  But what about hosting brunch at home?  Sometimes the complexity of executing the perfect brunch can become overwhelming, and that is where science can lend a hand!

When I develop a brunch menu for guests at my house I want to keep things simple, but still have a wow factor.  Maybe start with some fruit salad, home made granola and yogurt, slide right over to a creme brulee french toast casserole and load up your plate.  But I like something that sets the experience apart from every other brunch my guests have ever had.  This is where technology comes in handy.

Lets take a look at the sous vide Eggs Benedict bar!  Perfectly poached eggs cooked in their shell using immersion circulators, english muffin croutons, fresh tomatoes and crispy bacon, all topped off with a spoonful of velvety hollandaise sauce.  Guests walk up and choose their own eggs, like a lobster tank, crack them open and slide out a perfectly poached egg with a yolk that runs like thick custard.

You can amend this for your own parties at home; use halved toasted english muffins, whole grain bread, or even some local hearth breads, add protein with grilled salmon, canadian bacon, crispy bacon, even sliced steak, a few extra add ons like sliced heirloom tomatoes, sauteed spinach and avocados, then finish the buffet with the sous vide eggs and a warm bowl of hollandaise sauce.  Its a visually appealing station and it will keep your guests talking!

With warm summer weather, and more beautiful days ahead, why not call your friends and host a brunch.  There is nothing better than relaxing on a beautiful day with a tall bloody mary, or mimosa, in your hand, and a perfectly poached egg on an toast.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Peas, mint and pasta

Tis the season!  Summer is in full force and gardeners everywhere are finally harvesting the fruits of their labors.  One of my favorite gems of the season are the bright green sweet peas.  Hot or cold fresh sweet peas just say “summer is here, enjoy it!”

The pairing of peas and mint is a classic on par with red wines and chocolate.  We wanted to extract those flavors in an inventive and delicious new way.  Our direction led us to pasta, fresh made, rolled thin and cut wide.  The end result of all this testing was a perfect summation of the season, light, vibrantly colored, and full of the sweet flavors of summer.

To backtrack, making pasta is one of my favorite activities.  A full sensory immersion, from the sound of the rollers to the touch of the dough as it is stretched and thinned; it’s my form of meditation only with a tasty end result. 

Our summertime pea pasta starts off with a puree of sweet peas, mint, garlic, lemon zest, black pepper and olive oil.  The color looked almost counterfeit it was so bright green and the flavor was incredibly intense.  Mixed with flour and an egg the dough was created, waiting for its time to be rolled and cut.  This pasta was a bright green, with an incredible texture and aroma, it would be perfect as is, or finished with a little lemon oil and fresh grated Parmesan 

Turning this pasta in a main course dish, we tossed the hot pasta right out of the pot with a little grated Parmesan for a slightly cheesy bite.  We paired this with poached salmon filed cooked in seasoned water with lemons, green onions and garlic.  Topped with a toasted pistachio, cracked black pepper and lemon olive oil and a dollop of crème fraiche this dish hits every note flawlessly.  The intensity of the mint and sweetness of the pea is not lost during cooking, while the light coating of Parmesan adds a body and substance to the delicate pasta.  The pistachios and black pepper provide a perfect foil for the smooth textures of the salmon and pasta with the crème fraiche creating a soft sauce for it all. 

Now this is not the end of this recipes tale, not by far.  Take the same pea and mint base and add some parmesan and toss that with hot penne and top with grilled chicken and the pepper/pistachio oil for a perfect lunchtime buffet.

In the height of the summer pasta may not seem like the best “course”, but using the flavors of the summer at their best you can make a truly memorable and extraordinary dish.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

One note, edless possibilities

One note, how many ways can you really express one note and make something beautiful?  One note expertly played, especially in the culinary medium, can take you on an incredible journey.  Highlighting one ingredient to build an entire culinary experience around has become a new trend and showcases a chef’s versatility and creativity.  We stretched our culinary muscles recently and created a menu centered around the Midwest’s most famous crop, corn.  So sit back and enjoy the story of our Amazing Maize Menu.

When planning a menu around one central ingredient diversity is key, in textures, presentation, and flavor combinations.  Corn was a perfect medium to work in because of the versatility already built into the ingredient.  Each succulent corn kernel is bursting with the sweet and savory flavors of summer.  Corn meal on the other hand is a perfect combination of sweet flavor and course texture. 

To start our corny experience we needed a flavor bomb in a very small package.  We needed something to capture the dinner’s attention and get them ready for the journey to come.  A quick, spicy and smooth soup shooter is the perfect way to excite the taste buds.  A spicy roasted corn soup, enhanced with jalapeno, sautéed onions, carrots and cream, pureed till velvety smooth then topped with a drizzle of spicy and smoky ancho chili cream.  Sweetness and smoke dance on your tongue while the spice tingles your mouth and throat demanding more!  

Playing off the smoke and sweetness in the amuse we delighted our guests tongues with a fresh and crisp salad straight from the south west.  Lightly smoked corn kernels were layered with julienned chayote squash, fresh arugula, and dressed with a simple sun dried tomato vinaigrette.  We made this dish so much more than a simple salad by passing to each table charmoula grilled prawns and charmoula grilled and flaked salmon.  Add on some savory goat cheese and scallion corn muffins and you have just experienced a trio of corn preparations and we are not through yet!

For the entrée we had to allow the corn to shine without being too overshadowed by the main proteins on the plate.  Since we are pulling from a southwest influence why not create a savory corn pancake with diced bell peppers, red and green onions seared to a golden perfection.  This was our base for the “main event”, 8 oz. salt and pepper encrusted filets, roasted to a perfect medium rare paired with a chipotle and apricot glazed sea bass, a fire charred sweet pepper medley, and grilled spring asparagus.  The corn popped as you bit throughout the pancake, which soaked up all the rich juices from the filet.  The sweet and smoky heat of the chipotle glaze complimented the intense flavor of the sea bass.  

Working with all the intensity of the grill in many of our dishes meant that we needed something to pull back and showcase the sweet side of corn, while still providing a bridge between the previous course and dessert.  We paired rich and sweet chipotle chocolate cake with some sweet and salty caramel corn ice cream, all finished with a prickly pear sauce.  The slight smoke and heat in the chocolate made the cake seem richer and more decadent.  But the ice cream was the star, a perfect mixture of sweet corn, dark caramel and coarse salt evoking memories of childhood, crunching on bags of sweet and salty caramel corn.  

This dinner was about proving a point, that you can take one ingredient and showcase all the various forms and flavor profiles it can take on.  From savory to sweet, smoky to salty, corn was the perfect ingredient to create an “A-maize-ing” evening.  What will be your ingredient? 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Charleston Final Days

Our last and final days in Charleston were packed with adventure, education and some delicious southern delights. 

We went “Back to School” at the Culinary Center for the Top Sommelier wine and food pairing session.  The lecture hall was packed full of people, wine glasses, bottles of water to cleanse your palate, and the anticipation of what was to come.  Four of the top Sommeliers in Charleston gathered to share their knowledge of food, wine and hurl insults at each other over some of the finest wines around. 

They brought us in gently with several white wines; some creamy and smooth while others were crisp, fruity and dry.  The chef, who had a very difficult task ahead of him, paired these whites against an open faced bahn mi sandwich with spicy meat and pickled vegetables. 

After the introduction was over our wine guides ramped things up with some bold and aggressive reds from distant corners and local hills.  While each explained his reasoning behind his wine choice his peers would hurl playful insults and colorful jabs.  These people not only loved their wines, they wanted to teach all of us in that room just a little bit more.  The chef paired these reds with a beautiful pork mole on a crispy and slightly sweet arepa.

But enough wine, time for a taste of what Charleston is famous for; Oysters!!!  At the Pluff mud oyster feast we donned our protective gloves, selected our weapon of choice (a small wood handled oyster knife), and dove right into never ending piles of hot and steamy oysters.  Not content to be labeled a one trick event, chefs from all around Charleston were present showcasing their take on classic oyster pairings and fare.  A beautiful spring day, some great local beer, and some sweet southern blue grass echoing off the concrete floor of the barn and into our souls, what more could anyone ask?

\Charleston has a natural beauty all its own.  The history, the cuisine, and the people all exude pride in what they (and their ancestors have built).  Each old cobblestone tells a story, and no matter where you are, you could find someone to tell you that story over some great drinks and fantastic food.  Till next time Charleston!