We visited with Chef David Kamen, avid grill cook and teaching professor in culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y., to get his personal and professional perspective on grilling trends in America as the cookout season starts to heat up.
What do you see going on in the world of grilling that you find exciting right now?
Everyone’s talking about â€˜eating localâ€™ today. They’re talking about local, about being â€˜greenâ€™ and about sustainability. That’s on everyone’s mind as the summer grilling season approaches. I suspect we’re going to see a lot more farmers markets popping up everywhere, and more people taking advantage of these markets and the availability of fresh, locally-grown produce.
How do you see that affecting grilling?
People are going to be trying to figure out what to do with all those fresh fruits and vegetables. As the weather heats up folks are going to want to get out of the kitchen and away from the oven and stove. Grilling offers such a great avenue for cooking fresh vegetables. Many people are familiar with grilling things like corn on the cob and eggplant and some other things, but there are so many more vegetables that are wonderful grilled. We have a recipe in our new Culinary Institute of America Grilling Cookbook called Mixed Grill of Garden Vegetables that includes potatoes, artichokes, fennel, carrots, mushroomsâ€”all those things are great on the grill! You can put them in a roasting pan on top of the grill, or brush a little olive oil on them and cook the vegetables directly on the grill. With the price of gas going crazy and the increases in food prices, cooking â€˜localâ€™ is going to be huge this summer, and more people than ever are going to be grilling their produce.
You mentioned â€˜green.â€™ How do you see the green trend impacting grilling?
Well, the word green is certainly on everybody’s lips these days, and it’s an interesting question. Charcoal grilling has a definite carbon emission aspect to it. Propane gas grilling may appear to have a lesser carbon footprint. But does it really? I’m not sure which is greener. I’m kind of waiting to see which direction it goes. We may start to see local hardwood charcoal being sold, and things that burn cleaner. We’ll have to see what happens this summer.
How do you feel about the terms â€˜barbecueâ€™ and â€˜grillingâ€™? Are they synonymous?
Here in the Northeast they pretty much are. You throw some chicken breasts or steaks on the grill around here and they call it â€˜barbecuing.â€™ But down south, barbecue has a whole different meaning. In places like Memphis or Texas and what I call the Barbecue Belt, barbecue refers to a slow, low, long grilling process. They’re barbecuing tougher cuts of meat usually, which respond better to a slow-cook process. But it’s not just in the South. Quite a few people are doing more of the slow smoke type barbecuing. You see more manufacturers coming out with grills that are equipped to do that type of cookingâ€”hybrid grills that have both a smoke chamber and a cook chamber…that kind of thing is starting to happen.
How do you feel about some of these â€˜monster grillsâ€™ that have come out in recent years, that have all kinds of side burners and lots of bells and whistles?
Well, to me it’s kind of emblematic of the period of indulgence we’ve been going through. People buy more car than they need, they buy more house than they need, and they buy more grill than they need. Naturally the manufacturers have responded by building bigger and bigger grills. Now, for the true grill enthusiasts, the extremists that will grill on the coldest winter days, the guy that’s out there in the middle of a rainstorm, okay, why not. But for most of us, we don’t need an $8,000 grill.
I have to ask, which grilling method do you prefer, charcoal or gas?
Personally, I prefer charcoal grilling for a true, authentic smoky flavor. Whether it’s with real hardwoods or standard commercial briquets, I think you get a little better flavor. Now, it’s more work, of course, and it takes longer waiting for the coals to heat up and there’s the ashes to clean up and so on. But many people enjoy the ritual of charcoal grilling. They like to relax with a beer or glass of ice tea as the fire burns down. But many folks barely have time to go out to eat these days, much less take that kind of time preparing dinner. So the convenience of the gas grill has a lot of appeal.
What’s your very favorite thing to cook on the grill?
I’d have to say skirt steak. I like to marinate it in soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and a little olive oil for an hour or two, grill it to medium rare, slice it across the grain and enjoy. Skirt steak is just so full of great flavor.
p(left caption). Grilled pound cake!
But I like also to fix grilled dishes that people don’t expect. There are lots of desserts, for example, that are delicious prepared on the grill. Our CIA Grilling cookbook (Grilling: Exciting International Flavors from the World’s Premier Culinary College) has a recipe for a grilled banana split. And one of my favorites is a Grilled Pound Cake. This is an amazing dessert that my mom actually cooked on the grill when I was a kid…and we put that recipe in the cookbook, too. Another great recipe that’s in the book is one for Grilled Swordfish Sicilian Style.
Photos: Culinary Institute of America/Keith Ferris