Chef Marc McDowell Wows with Lobster Demo

May 22, 2012, 11:34 AM HST · Updated May 22, 12:02 PM
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By Susan Halas

splitting vanilla bean

Chef Marc McDowell demonstrated how to split a vanilla bean. Susan Halas photo.

Marc McDowell, executive chef at the Makena Beach & Golf Resort, was the latest culinary talent to demonstrate an original creation using fresh local ingredients.

He appeared May 21 in the most recent installment of popular celebrity chef series held at Whole Foods Market. The free events are designed to pair the skills of high profile Maui cooks with the best of local produce and products.

McDowell demonstrated a dish that could be used as an entrée or an appetizer depending on the portion size and plating. It showcased morsels of lobster tail wrapped in strands of Molokai sweet potato, deep fried and served on a bed of mixed local fruits, vegetables and flowers. The colorful creation was dressed with citrus vinaigrette.

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The recipe had easily 20 steps; at least few of them had to be done simultaneously. Chef McDowell made it look easy.

Though the home kitchen might not contain all the paraphernalia needed to bring this particular recipe off, the audience picked up a lot of pointers watching him demonstrate how to slit a vanilla bean, suspend a morsel of lobster and sweet potato in sizzling hot oil and find the correct temperatures of his various liquids with a remote control digital thermometer.

The chef also came equipped with special knives, scissors, colanders, and an arsenal of  specialty kitchen tools.

Lots of Nifty Tools and Gadgets

sweet potato into long strands

One of the chef's most interesting gadgets was a device which turned the sweet potato into long noodle-like strands. Susan Halas photo.

Of all the gadgets on display the one which fascinated the crowd was a gizmo that was similar to the old-fashioned hand-operated apple peeler. In this variation the chef attached the Molokai sweet potato to one end, turned the crank, and out came long thin curly purple strands. They plopped directly into a bowl of cold water which firmed them and removed the excess starch.

McDowell then pulled generous portions of the noodle-like threads out and used them to wrap the morsels of lobster. He transferred the wrapped portions onto long handled wire frames and suspended them in the fryer.

The recipe itself contained some unlikely combos. The fresh ingredients for the salad base include hulled edame, mache lettuce, blueberries, chunks of avocado and multicolored cocktail tomatoes halved. The shredded petals of fresh edible nasturtium flowers were used as garnishes.

McDowell stressed that fresh uncooked chopped sweet Maui onion would be just the right sweet-but-tangy note to dress up the colorful ingredients. “Raw is the right way to use the Maui onion,” he said.

Making It Look Easy

The citrus vinaigrette was also a crowd-pleaser.

Most home cooks might not have the time or patience to squeeze grapefruits, lemons, oranges, add the vanilla bean, heat, reduce, cool and emulsify the combo. And they also might not have the high-end blender and the steady hand it took to produce the optimum results. Those who observed the presentation were intrigued and appreciative as they watched it all come together guided by the chef’s assured hand and steady patter.

As he spoke his knives flew, the blender whirled, citrus bubbled on one burner, while the oil sizzled on the other.

“In my kitchen,”  he pointed out, “I have people to help me do all this.”

A good thing too, as it was easy to see that the chopping juicing, boiling frying, noodling, wrapping, blending and plating might be a bit of a stretch for most.

making the dressing

After reducing the vanilla infused citrus mix he blended it with vinegar and oil. Susan Halas photo.

It was, however, inspiring and educational to see a pro in action and the results were beautiful, tasty and justified the effort.

The sweet potato strands crisped nicely in the fryer (it was too bad a lot of the lovely purple color tuned to brown as it cooked). The vanilla infused citrus  was a delightful accent to the seafood, greens and other fresh edibles.

As for the audience, McDowell held their attention from start to finish. The finished product was pronounced “delicious” by Mary Plant of Kihei. She was just one of many who enjoyed the samples, which disappeared in record time.

Those who attended went home to wonder if they really shouldn’t get some of those jazzy tools.

sampling the finished product

Mary Plaunt of Kihei was one of many who sampled the finished dish and pronounced it "delicious." Susan Halas photo.

A colorful lobster salad incorporated seafood with a variety of fresh local ingredients. Susan Halas photo.

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