The HerKentucky Interview with Taste of Derby Chef Jennifer Jasinski

One of the things I love most about Louisville at Derby Time is that there is always something fun to do. As Cristina told us earlier this week, there truly is something for everyone on every budget. You can watch the fireworks for free, or you can head out to the track in style. You don't even have to like racing to enjoy the steamboats and balloons, or to stop by the Chow Wagon or Taste of Derby.
I was recently contacted by the folks at Skuna Bay Salmon about  spreading the word Thursday's Taste of Derby event to HerKentucky readers. Now in its fourth year, Taste of Derby is a tasting event that brings some of Louisville's top chefs together with award-winning chefs from across the country. Skuna, an environmentally-conscious brand of Vancouver Island craft-raised salmon (and the "Salmon of Choice" for the Kentucky Derby), is showcasing chefs Jennifer Jasinski and Stephanie Izard at this event. 

Jennifer, a California native, runs three restaurants in Denver, CO -- RiojaBistro Vendôme, and Euclid Hall Bar and Kitchen -- along with her business partner Beth Gruitch. She was a James Beard Award finalist in 2012 and 2013, and is the author of the cookbook The Perfect Bite. I had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer about food, business and inspiration this week.


HerKentucky: When did you know you wanted to become a chef?
Jennifer: Growing up in California, I loved cooking for my family. I just always knew that I wanted to be a chef.


HK: What flavors/ types of cuisine are your main inspiration?

JJ: Our flagship restaurant, Rioja, is inspired by Mediterranean flavors. Bistro Vendome is a fusion of French, Spanish and Italian influences. It's really "California cuisine", but I don't really call it that in Denver. Euclid Hall is a craft beer hall that serves food. It's so much more than a gastropub -- we make our own sausage, we serve poutine. I'd say that the first two restaurants are more "girl" menus, and Euclid Hall is a "boy" menu.

HK: What advice do you have for women who want to become chefs?
JJ: It's really the same advice I'd give anyone: Love the Business. Love working when others aren't. Get allies, because it's hard to do on your own. 

HK: Tell us a little more about what you'll be doing in Louisville this week.
JJ: We'll be cooking Skuna Bay Salmon, which is delicious. Stephanie and I will be mentoring a couple of other chefs. And I'll be attending the Derby on Saturday. I'm really excited; I love horses and I have my hat and a pretty dress! 

HK: What wine pairings do you suggest for Skuna Bay Salmon?
JJ: I'd suggest a non-oaked chardonnay, preferably French.

Jennifer was also kind enough to provide us with a salmon recipe to try at home.

Roasted Skuna Bay Salmon, Romesco, Pine Nut Butter serves 8*

The romesco sauce always piques our guests’ interest; some are not familiar while others want to taste our take on the Spanish classic. The quality of the sweet smoked paprika is key. We source our spices from a Denver spice vendor, Savory Spice Shop.

Romesco Sauce
(yields 1 quart)

1 red bell pepper, halved, seeds and stems removed
1 yellow bell pepper, halved, seeds and stems removed
2 Fresno chile peppers
7 Roma tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup peeled garlic cloves
1/2 cup quartered red onion
1/4 cup pure olive oil
1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons smoked paprika

Pine Nut Butter
1/2 pound softened butter
1 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Assembly and Plating
Canola oil, as needed
8 Skuna Bay salmon fillet portions (about 6 ounces each)
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 cup speck ham (preferred) or prosciutto cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
2 cups marinated artichoke hearts, cut into quarters
3 cups asparagus batons cut on a bias (1-2 inches long), blanched
Zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

*This recipe yields 8 entrée portions. If you are serving the dish as part of a tasting menu, cut the ingredient amounts in half.

Romesco Sauce:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a roasting pan, toss the first 6 ingredients (peppers, chiles, tomatoes, garlic, onion) with the pure olive oil and place in the 350-degree oven. Roast until tender and slightly charred. Use the garlic as a gauge for how the roasting is going. When it is golden brown, pull the veggies out of the oven.

Put the roasted vegetables and almonds through a meat grinder or pulse in a food processor (you want it chunky) and then stir in the other ingredients (extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika), seasoning to taste. Hold the sauce at room temperature if you are serving it soon; refrigerate if not.

PINE NUT BUTTER:
Blend the butter and 1/2 cup of the pine nuts in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Fold in the remaining 1/2 cup pine nuts.

ASSEMBLY AND PLATING:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat 2 large oven-safe sauté pans and 1 large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Place 2 tablespoons canola oil into each of the pans. Season both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper and place 4 pieces into each of the oven-safe sauté pans. Cook on high heat for 3 minutes or until a golden crust forms before flipping and placing them in the 400-degree oven to roast. They may only take 2-5 minutes to finish cooking. Test doneness by pressing gently; if the fish gives slightly, it’s done. Do not overcook.

Meanwhile, add the speck strips to the third pan and cook until crispy, stirring often (2-3 minutes).

Add the artichoke hearts and asparagus to the speck. When all of the ingredients are hot, add the lemon zest and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove from heat.

While the salmon is roasting, place 1/4 cup of the romesco sauce in the bottom of each of 8 entrée-sized bowls. Drizzle each portion with extra-virgin olive oil. Place equal portions of the artichoke/asparagus/speck mixture on top of the romesco.

When the salmon is done roasting, place in the center of the bowl. Garnish each portion with a 1/2 tablespoon of the soft pine nut butter and serve.

Chef’s Notes: The romesco sauce and pine nut butter can be made a day in advance. 

Thanks so much to Skuna Bay Salmon and Chef Jennifer Jasinski for taking time to talk to us. Check back tomorrow for an interview with Chef Stephanie Izard!

{No member of the HerKentucky writing staff was compensated in any way for this post.}