Chef David Fhima Charms at Cooking with the Stars Fundraiser
Chef David Fhima demonstrates the correct way to eat a crayfish at Perspectives, a nonprofit that helps at-risk women and children.
“I’m the anti-boil chef,” the charismatic David Fhima told the hungry donors gathered in Perspectives’ Kids Café’s kitchen Monday night (June 27) to watch and learn as he prepared a Spanish seafood/rice dish. He’s also anti-olive oil for sautéing and anti-frozen peeled shrimp (the machines used to de-shell them tend to scrape off a layer of flavor) and also anti-salting food, at least prematurely.
So what does he like? Rice Bran oil, for one, and simplicity—and quality ingredients. “Really, really good food is really, really good for you,” he said. Which may sound intuitive, unless you remember your mother pleading with you to eat mushy vegetables or pinkless pork when you were a child. And while he advocates knowing the techniques, he wanted participants to understand that even if they follow the same roadmap each time they make a dish, it will turn out differently depending on the state of the ingredients.
Fhima, who was accompanied by his wife and daughters, was part of Perspectives’ celebrity chef series, Cooking with the Stars, an auction item at the nonprofit’s annual gala earlier in the year. Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable and Bellecour kicked off the series June 11, followed a week later by Todd MacDonald of Red Rabbit.
In addition to overseeing the food operation for the Timberwolves, et al at Target Center, Fhima’s latest restaurant endeavor will open in the old Forum Cafeteria space at City Center in August.
There were lots of questions but there was also a spirited dissertation on cooking as Fhima and his helpers deveined shrimp and sautéed garlic and onions (another tip: “If you have garlic breathe, you didn’t cook it right.”). When he added strands of saffron to the stock and rice, he asked, “How many flowers does it take to make an ounce of saffron?” Two free dinners at his new restaurant was the prize, but after waiting a beat, he quickly answered his own question: “It takes 10,000 flower to make an ounce of saffron.” Although no one won the free dinner, Perspectives announced there would be an opportunity to buy tickets to one of the previews of the restaurant at the end of August, with proceeds going to Perspectives. CEO Jeannie Seeley-Smith proclaimed earlier that Fhima had been one of their supporters from the very beginning.
As I got hungrier and hungrier waiting for the truffled tomatoes to meld with the shrimp to be wedded with the Arborio rice that was busy soaking up eight-times its weight in stock, I asked Fhima’s wife, Lori, if the family always had to wait so long for dinner. She rolled her eyes, and said, “I cook at home. It’s quicker, but not as flavorful.”
The lovely plated dish, garnished with a shrimp head and twist of lime was worth the wait.
The finale of the evening was an omelet challenge with Jeremiah Lanes, a chef who regularly volunteers at Kids Café and the dinner series. Fhima had mentioned earlier that his way of interviewing chefs is to have them make an omelet. If a chef uses a Teflon pan, that’s strike one; using salt is strike two; and flavoring the egg in any way is strike three.
While Lanes grabbed a Teflon pan, Fhima beat two eggs together and poured them into a pan with a generous coating of hot rice bran oil. When he flipped the egg onto the plate, he showed that the oil still remained in the pan. The omelet was fluffy and flavorful, without any help from salt or pepper—in the mixture, it's OK to salt it afterwards, Fhima relented. Lanes' omelet was equally good, but Fhima good-naturedly declared himself the winner, because he used the uncoated pan and nothing stuck.
And when you’re cooking with the stars, you have to be a good sport—even when you’re the one with Teflon.
The Spanish paella-style dish skipped the sausage, and added more fish.
David and Lori Fhima with their daughters. Mimi, left, and Racquel.