Last week I visited Chef Michael Carrino, owner and chef of Restaurant Passionne, 77 Walnut Street, Montclair.
Chef Carrino prepared two outstanding seasonal selections. The Chef began with an Andouille Sausage & Oyster Dressing/Stuffing. The stuffing was moist and bright, the oysters were tender, and combined brilliantly with the smoky, yet subtle, Andouille Sausage. It was spot-hitting good!
Next, Carrino whipped together his own seductive, dark rum and Tahitian Vanilla laced Drunkin’ Punkin’ Pots de Crème. Carrino topped the Pots de Crème with a Chantilly Creme made with Saigon Cinnamon and Grand Marnier. The final product was nothing short of a hedonistic gastrome’s autumnal fantasy. With a bit of embarrassment I admit that I could have sat down with a long straw and the pitcher of the uncooked custard and been thoroughly satisfied.
Watch the video for a glimpse inside the Passionne kitchen:
I anticipated a conversation about his experience on Food Network’s Chopped, or any one of his numerous television appearances; Carrino has been on the Today Show, Good Day New York, CBS 2 Saturday Morning, Today in New York, LX New York, and News 12 New Jersey, in addition to having been featured in The New York Times, Bon Appétit, New Jersey Monthly, The Star-Ledger, and New York Post, to name a few.
But our conversation soon turned to something not nearly as glossy and superficial as television appearances. It soon became apparent that the soul-patched Chef Carrino, drinking coffee from a skull embellished mug, is the genuine article; a man with an undeniable sense of self, mission, and dedication.
Carrino attended the Culinary Institute of America, graduated at the top of his class, and was the commencement speaker. He mentions off-handedly that he cooked twice for the members of the James Beard Foundation, and I later learned he was inducted into the very prestigious Chaîne des Rotisseurs at the age of 28.
But for all this, Carrino doesn’t carry an ounce of pretention; it’s my feeling that he is simply too full of passion to bother with pretensions. He doesn’t admire celebrity cooks, but concedes that for inspiration he looks to Marco Pierre White, who Carrino calls, “the fabric of society[.]”
Carrino has his opinions, but puts his money where his mouth is. He owns Passionne outright, with no partners, and without even a manager. He takes responsibility for, and pride in every facet of his restaurant. Carrino does not believe in organic; he also believes (with a smile) that Ted Nugent is “rad.” Most importantly, Carrino believes that people have lost their “connection” to food. He believes in “natural” and in supporting his local economy. In keeping with his beliefs, he procures all his meat and cheese from local farms and dairies, such as Pittenger Farm in Andover. He is an active member of “Buy Fresh, Buy Local,” and is a supporter of the New Jersey Food Shed Alliance and “Jersey Fresh.”
Chef Carrino was kind enough to share his recipes with us. Here they are:
Oyster and Sausage Stuffing
4 cups stale bread cut into small pieces, or stuffing croutons
2 Tbls vegetable oil
¼ cup Andouille sausage cut small
½ cup chopped oysters
¼ cup carrot small dice
½ cup white onion cut small
6 cups turkey stock
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 Tbls fresh herbs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium sauce pan bring the stock to a simmer. In a medium sauté pan, sweat the sausage in oil. Season the oysters with salt and pepper then add to the sausage. Add carrots and onions and sauté until veggies are tender. Add fresh herbs then the bread. Pour hot stock over the mixture and allow to sit for two minutes. Transfer to a casserole and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes
Drunkin Punkin Pots de Crème
Requires 6 ceramic 6 ounce ramekins
2 cups heavy cream
6 ounces milk
½ vanilla bean (1tsp vanilla extract if vanilla bean is not available)
5 ounces dark brown sugar
3 ounces Dark Rum
10 egg yolks
8 ounces of canned Pumpkin puree
Pinch of salt
½ tsp fresh lemon juice
Bring cream, milk, vanilla, sugar and rum to a boil in a medium sauce pot on medium heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, pumpkin puree, salt and lemon juice. Slowly combine the hot cream mixture into the egg yolk mixture.
Strain the mixture through a fine strainer and divide evenly in 6 ramekins. Bake at 330 for approximately 30-35 minutes in a water bath covered with foil. To tell when they are done, tap the side of the ramekin and if the custard jiggles back and forth only one or twice they are ready to come out. Allow to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Place in refrigerator. Chill for two hours, (this will help to stop the pots de crème from cracking similar to a cheese cake). Serve with whipped cream or powdered sugar or eggnog or a holiday rum coffee-drink.
Chef Carrino is as committed to local volunteer efforts as he is to the local products he uses. From Wednesday, November 17th through Sunday, November 21, Restaurant Passionne will be featuring a three course Chef’s Tasting Prix Fixe Menu (with choices) for $39. For each Prix Fixe meal sold, Chef Carrino will donate a meal to the Salvation Army to be served on Thanksgiving Day. On the prix fixe menu will be Chef Carrino’s interpretation of Turducken, cooked sous-vide, then seared in goose fat. Also on the menu, the outrageously decadent Drunkin’ Punkin’. Last year, Passionne donated 300 meals, this year Carrino is aiming for 350. Give Passionne a call and make a reservation. Remember, BYOB.
If you would like to see the entire interview with Michael Carrino, click here or tune into Hot From The Kettle on Montclair Channel 34 next week.