Spring is in the air, and so is the aroma of Parmesan and garlic. Or it will be as soon as you make Chef Justin Gottselig’s Charred Spring Onion Pizza, one of several of his Italian-inspired seasonal crowd- pleasers that will soon be a staple in your house.
We came across the talented Gottselig at a chef demonstration during a food and wine festival. Like all live action events, part of the charm were the inevitable snafus. Foremost among them, the chefs were not mic’d up and the stage allowed for only one chef to be in the spotlight—even though two were to be cooking simultaneously. The fellow with the primo center stage spot was quite a clever chef who made a schnitzel dish. Meanwhile, the guy relegated to the sidelines was a seemingly shy, attention-deflecting chef (yes, though a rarity, they do exist). On the edge of stage left, he quietly worked, interrupted by the occasional microphone angled under his nose, at which points he offered solid nuggets of advice (white balsamic vinegar can be a refreshing, lighter substitution for regular balsamic, home conventional oven pizza success is all about getting the stone as hot as can be).
Their mission for this particular demonstration was to reinterpret a dish from a 1960s Presbyterian church cookbook. The dish in question was “Chicken Divan,” a concoction made from chicken breasts, frozen boxes of broccoli, cans of mushroom soup, processed cheese, and mayonnaise. It was a quintessential casserole dish-dump that defined the era.
Chef number one, center stage, did a bang-up job reimagining Chicken Divan into a schnitzel with a grated broccoli and Parmesan pesto-ish topping. But, over on the side, something magical seemed to be unfolding. The aromas wafting over the first two rows of people elicited such vigorous nodding, smiling, and whispering that the remainder of the audience grew consumed with jealousy over what they were missing. People actually got up and moved to the other side of the room, cramming in for a whiff.
Gottselig was cooking chicken confit-style in duck fat. He was sautéing broccoli and garlic in oil. He had a pan sauce going for his homemade agnolotti, which released the smells of Parmesan as it warmed through. It was not a complicated dish, but it hit every right note: creamy, salty, rich, heady. The squeeze of lemon he used to finish was perhaps the golden ticket takeaway for the day (“finish every dish with acid” should be your new kitchen mantra).
As Gottselig’s rendition of Chicken Divan was being passed around, the crowd tripled in size. People were on their phones, calling friends to meet them. It was that good.
Justin may be comfortable being the shy guy on the side, but we’re moving him to center stage with this menu of spring bounty show-offs. And no need to cram in for a whiff either.