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May 13, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, May 13, 2005

Festival offers fresh air, fresh food, fresh ideas Festival offers fresh air, fresh food, fresh ideas (May 13, 2005)

Chef demonstrations provide tips (and samples) to chew on

Can't think of what to serve at your Memorial Day party? You'll find plenty of fresh cooking inspiration when A La Carte & Art comes to downtown Mountain View May 21-22. Chefs from several of the city's most popular restaurants will reveal the secrets of some of their signature dishes, while growers from the Mountain View Certified Farmers' Market will sell just-picked produce.

The corner of Mercy and Castro streets will become one big exhibition kitchen from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. both days of the festival. Adjacent to the chefs will be a large-scale production of each of the demonstrated recipes so everyone can sample them.

Chef Nathan Gillespie of Zucca Ristorante will present a trio of Mediterranean dishes. For starters, his meze platter will include a fluffy tabbouleh of parsley, bulghur wheat and tomato, and an Italian albacore tuna and cannellini bean salad. His entrée will be a vegetarian version of the traditional Turkish meatball, kofte, a blend of garbanzos, parsley and scallions, deep-fried and served with a refreshing yet spunky paprika-garlic yogurt.

Brothers Enzo and Tullio Rosano of Pasta? restaurant will prepare a favorite family recipe, cannelloni della mama. They stuff housemade pasta with ricotta cheese, baby spinach and nutmeg and serve it with a "pink" sauce - a happy medium between a cream sauce and a tomato sauce.

Another Italian comfort food will come from chef Metin Demirci of Vaso Azzurro. For his aromatic dish called pollo mafioso (maybe he'll tell the story behind this name), the chef sautées chicken in butter, white wine and garlic.

Brandon Paige, new executive chef at The Cantankerous Fish, plans to whip up crab cakes with a kick. The richness of Dungeness crab gets a spicy contrast from poblano chiles, both inside the cakes and in a zesty poblano aioli that adorns them.

Chef/co-owner Kathy Dacanay of the newly opened Asia Fusion Café will share her recipe for crispy chicken salad. It could easily be called "noisy chicken salad," with every element exhibiting some serious crunch: deep-fried chicken strips and rice noodles, crunchy mixed greens and bean sprouts, all presented atop an open rice wrap fried to the perfect crispness.

Every year Doug Hayden, president of the California Farmers' Markets Association, invites a few growers to showcase some of their farm-fresh produce at the festival. Direct from the sun-drenched Central Valley, Cipponeri Family Farms will deliver the first taste of summer stone fruit - luscious apricots and cherries. Super-sweet organic strawberries will come from Rob Rodriguez Farms of Watsonville. And as a perfect accompaniment to the fruit, almonds and walnuts grown at Escalon's Teixeira Farms will be offered straight from the shell and in a variety of flavors.

Hayden will show how to take advantage of some of this summery bounty with his heavenly warm berry sundae. He cooks four types of berries together, adds a dash of triple sec, and spoons the warm, sweet-tangy sauce over rich vanilla ice cream.

He will also be ready with tips on how to select produce and incorporate it into every meal of the day. "Try topping your morning toast with peanut butter and thick slices of farm-fresh strawberries," suggests Hayden. "And why not head to the barbeque with those apricots? Just halve them and remove the pits, baste with melted butter and cinnamon, and grill on the cut side for a few minutes. They'll taste just like apricot cobbler, and with no sugar added."

By the end of your day at A La Carte & Art, you'll be ready to take on that Memorial Day party, and eager to start planning for the Fourth of July.

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