Event - Chef Chris Tzorin's Cooking Demo at Essex Skyline

If there is one thing you take away from an interaction with Chef Chris Tzorin (Executive Chef at Savannah Chop House), it's that the guy is a tornado of energy. Whirling around behind any kitchen set-up or even among guests, Chef Chris is a gregarious personality with great passion for his cooking and certainly not one to hide his accomplishments. We met him first at the Golden Foodie Awards last year and were immediately impressed by how actively he talked about Savannah Chop House. Every time we interacted thereafter, it was hard not to smile at his enthusiasm and hard not to indulge in his delicious creations. His booth's sample was our favorite pick during the OC Restaurant Week Launch Party, and our restaurant experience at Savannah Chop House had me swooning over the bruleed scallops. So when he told me that he would be doing a cooking demo at the Essex Skyline Apartments, I was there to make sure I got a behind-the-scenes peek at how a young, promising chef makes his dishes.

The venue itself for the cooking demo was the Lounge/Wine Room of the Essex Skyline Apartments, a sky-kissing two-tower complex on the confusing corner of MacArthur and MacArthur in Santa Ana that boasts a community of residents especially interested in lifestyles of fine dining, etc. The cooking demo programming for the year is the brainchild of Anne Vallone, Activities Director, who has tapped into a niche of residents that enjoy these educational courses. The likes of Chefs Deb Schneider (Sol Cocina), Angela (Inka Mama’s) ,Lindsay Smith (Nirvana Grill), Adam Starchman (Seasons 52), Jenny Ross (118 Degrees), and Doug Stratton (Spiced Bamboo) have graced the showroom with their dishes already. On deck are Chef Roy Hendrickson from Zimzala for 10/28 and Chef Marco Zapien from Melissa’s produce for 11/6. In regards to the room set-up, there were well-curated furniture, plenty of space for a group of 20-25, and even a monitor-camera set-up for easy viewing of the cooking action.

After telling us a bit about himself and his career so far as a chef (including appearing on soon-to-air episodes of shows on the Food Network such as Cutthroat Kitchen), Chef Chris started up a simple Caesar salad for everyone. It was mixed with just enough of the creamy, signature Caesar salad dressing to allow for even distribution among the roughly chopped lettuce without oversaturation. I could easily have more of these but the next steps were up for the next dish already as we were crunching on greens. For libations, water, white wine, and a special margarita were available (made of boiled lemon juice, pineapple juice, water, sugar, agave, and Tres Sietes tequila).

One of the great things about the cooking demo aside from Chef Chris' energy was his insistence on showing everyone the tips and tricks of kitchen prep. The demo was not just about showing a dish from ingredient to plate but also how to be efficient with your time in the kitchen and how to safely use kitchen tools (and improvise!). The course after the salad starter was his Pistachio Milanese (with whipped potatoes and chocolate mole) - a competition-winning dish that is actually offered at Savannah Chop House on Tuesdays for just $5 a plate. Without a meat pounder to use on his steaks as he was wont to do, Chef Chris instead showed the crowd how butterflying cuts of steak will also produce a similar effect (making sure to press down on the fold to flatten the cut a little bit, of course). Dipped in flour, an egg wash, and crushed pistachios, the steak was then seared quickly in olive oil before placed into a pre-heated oven of 400°F to finish. He advised using Yukon gold potatoes for whipped potatoes (done in a stand mixer) and to never boil them but rather to steam them; boiling apparently holds too much water and changes the texture. With chocolate mole spread on a plate and topped with a bounteous scoop of potatoes, the dish was finished with slabs of the pistachio-crusted steak. Yum. That mole really brought it over the edge.

The next course was a Seafood Ceviche (scallops, shrimp, and crab in a cucumber cup with avocado slaw), a version using poached seafood instead of just chopped up. He began by explaining how to make pico de gallo, what he referred to as a kind of modern mother sauce. The slaw was a combination of red and green cabbage with avocado and lime juice which all topped the gorgeous ceviche nestling in a petite cucumber cup. Simple enough to make, this looked the perfect appetizer bite to bring to gatherings as long as you have patience for the precision of the cups. I had watched sous chef Eric carve out the innards of each cucumber piece when I first came in; it definitely takes patience.

His third course was a hefty bite of Achiote Salmon with Mango Pico de Gallo and Asparagus. Rubbed and seared with annatto and cooked to medium, the salmon was pampered into tastiness and sat atop lightly salted and crunchy thin asparagus spears. A tangy mango pico de gallo garnished the rest, and the plates were decorated by his own sauce mix of olive oil, cilantro, and spinach. The fish flaked away underneath the pressure of my fork, showing its perfected doneness, and the asparagus snapped with each bite. It was a beautifully presented dish but also a beautifully delicious one.

It seemed a shame to end the meal already after listening to all of his helpful tips and tricks. However, the next course of dessert certainly wowed the guests and showed the level of creativity that Chef Chris takes. Fresh strawberries were tossed in Tres Sietes Reposado tequila and confectionery sugar to create a sweet, alcoholic glaze before becoming subject to an injection of more tequila. If that seems over the top, the sugar really helped balance everything out (natural and added) as well as the dark chocolate to swirl the berries in on each plate. How does one go wrong with pumping fruit with alcohol anyway?

Interspersed between courses were raffles for the guests including pepper grinders, bottles of tequila, and a gift certificate to the restaurant. It looked like everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves during the demo which was easily attributed to the informative and boisterous host of the evening - Chef Chris Tzorin. Combine that passion with the freshness of ingredients from Melissa's Produce and the fun of Tres Sietes tequila, and you have yourself a winner of an event.

Photography by Minerva Thai. More photos are available on Facebook here.