Charlie Palmer’s tips for a flavor-filled Father’s Day cookout
Award-winning chef and restaurateur Charlie Palmer of Healdsburg grew up in upstate New York, where his father worked as a plumber, electrician and part-time farmer, but enjoyed cooking for his family whenever he found a spare moment.
“My dad was always grilling and making breakfast, “ Palmer said. “He was the hardest working man I’ve ever known.”
Now the father of four boys himself, Palmer has worked hard to feed his own family over the years, drawing upon recipes that he grew up eating while borrowing flavors from the high-end food he serves at the 14 restaurants across the country that he owns and oversees.
If you live and shop in and around Healdsburg, you’ve probably bumped into Palmer at the grocery store, shopping for dinner to prepare for his wife, Lisa and his four “guys.”
“There’s always ancillary friends, and it’s not just them,” Palmer said. “It’s fun. The boys always have their interesting ideas. They all have different tastes.”
Along the way, Palmer has passed on the chef’s knife to his son Reed, a Cardinal Newman High School senior, who now works at Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg as much as he can, in between SATs and athletic games.
“Some of my best memories are in the kitchen next to my dad,” Reed said. “I like just learning from him and spending as much time with him as I can.”
This Father’s Day, if all goes well, Reed and his twin brother, Eric, plus older brothers Courtland, a senior at UC Berkeley, and Randolph, a junior at New York University, will be turning the tables and cooking a family dinner for their dad.
Chances are, they will serve up some of the familiar comfort foods Palmer has collected in his new cookbook, “Charlie Palmer’s American Fare: Everyday Recipes from My Kitchens to Yours” (Hachette Book Group, 2015).
For a Father’s Day feast, Palmer suggests a backyard grilled dinner that would include a Balsamic-Soy Grilled Tri-Tip Steak with classic sides such as Grilled Romaine with Jack Cheese and Double-Stuffed Potatoes.
“Somehow steak on the grill is a perfect Father’s Day menu,” Palmer said. “And I think that grilled romaine is really cool. If you have the grill going, it makes sense to finish some romaine, which takes a minute and a half on the grill. Then you add a vinaigrette and a cheese crumble.”
The Double Stuffed Potatoes, a favorite with the four “guys” in Palmer’s family, can be labor-intensive, but if you prep them in advance - baking them for an hour, mashing the pulp and blending it with cheese, sour cream, butter and bacon bits - they can be easily finished off at the last minute.
“Charlie Palmer’s American Fare” cookbook grew out of an earlier book, “Charlie Palmer’s Casual Cooking,” which the chef wrote in 2000, when his sons were still small enough to ride on his shoulders.
Palmer aimed that book, like the new one, squarely at the home cook, because he was disappointed that people were not cooking out of the coffee table books he had written, such as “The Art of Aureole,” which celebrates his flagship restaurant in New York.
“American Fare” started out as a simple update of “Casual Cooking,” then grew into a much bigger project, with a lot of new recipes that eliminate the fuss and muss without sacrificing flavor.
“The challenge is to bring out the flavors and the tastes of some of the dishes we do in the restaurant,” he said. “But in a practical way, in the way that I cook at home, when you don’t have three sous chefs and a dishwasher.”
The cookbook includes a chapter entitled “Family Favorites and Backyard Dinners,” along with Palmer’s personal reflections on food and family, and the inspiration he derives from both his kids and his young chefs.
“I feel pretty lucky to continue to be inspired both by the diverse team of young chefs who work in my restaurants and by the inquiring minds of my sons,” he wrote in the introduction. “My own creativity is sparked by the integrity, intensity and joy of their young palates.”
Recipes in the “Family Favorites” chapter include Breakfast Crepes, both savory and sweet, which can come together within minutes.
“We do these savory crepes a lot, because it all happens in the kitchen and we’re usually watching Sports Center and brewing a pot of coffee,” Palmer said. “People take turns making the crepes.”
There’s also a recipe for Reed’s Bruschetta, an appetizer that grew out of the fact that his son does not like raw tomatoes.
“It’s one of the only things he doesn’t eat,” Palmer said. “Taking tomatoes, fresh and ripe, and cooking them slightly, that satisfies it for him.”
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