How Philly Became the Dynamic Culinary Destination it is Today

How Philly Became the Dynamic Culinary Destination it is Today

The City of Brotherly Love is no longer just a food stop-over town sandwiched between DC and New York. Beard Foundation award winners, trendsetters, and serious cooks are making Philly more than just a town known for its cheesesteaks.

“The Philly restaurant scene has vastly improved since I started cooking back in 2001. It has quickly become one of the most dynamic food cities in the country,” said Ben Puchowitz, co-owner, and chef of Cheu Noodle Bar, Cheu Fishtown, Bing Bing Dim Sum, and Nunu. Cheu lands at the top of the list for ‘Must Eats’ in Philly. With a unique approach to menu and interior design, Cheu’s lessons in delivering memorable food experiences make him one of the operators driving the restaurant scene in Philly out of larger cities’ shadows.

Rebellious, Ironic, Different

Crab fries that don’t have crab (just ask Chicky and Pete’s, a Brotherly Loved icon) are only the start. Food anomalies are as easy to find in Philadelphia as rabid sports fans.

What is happening in this old city that is full of new thinking?

Less Fish, More Hip

Philly’s Fishtown neighborhood has morphed into a hipster haven, and proudly so. Suraya, Kensington Quarters, Cheu, Wm. Mulherin’s Sons, and Stock all call the renaissance neighborhood of Fishtown home. You know the type; old warehouses, formerly run-down storefronts, a narrow maze of streets with nearly impossible parking opportunities. Inject cash, reclaimed wood, Edison lights, and a keen sense for what Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers want for dinner, and there is little guesswork.

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Join Chef Sylva Senat at C-CAP's Swap Meat

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“I actually came to America when I was about 8 years old and one of the reasons was my mom passed away, but when I was really young, you know, I used to go to the market with my mom. So... I think I was always gravitated to ending up in the kitchen,” said Haitian-born Sylva Senat, chef and partner of Philadelphia restaurant Maison 208.

Chef Sylva Senat

“At this point in my life, as a chef, I want to start giving back.”

It has been a long journey for Chef Senat. With over 18 years of experience, he has made a name for himself by working at high-profile restaurants like The Sign of the Dove, Aquavit, Jean-Georges and Buddakan, while learning from culinary masters like Chef Andrew D’Amico and Chef Vongerichten. Later, he went on to participate in Bravo’s hit show Top Chef, where he became the last rookie standing, making it into the top five spot before getting eliminated in Episode 10 of Season 14.

In Senat’s exit interview for the show, the Top Chef contestant said “I have been chasing this dream since I was 18 and I am not going to stop...”

Well, “stop” he has not.

Today, not only does he spearhead a Philadelphia-based restaurant group, but he runs a full restaurant operation as Maison 208’s head chef while mentoring the next generation of culinary professionals via Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP.)

Chef Senat’s journey can be traced all the way back to his time as a student at C-CAP, an organization that gives underprivileged kids the opportunity to follow their culinary dreams. Now, he serves as a proud alumni board member and a mentor to recent graduates.

This is how Chef Senat met his C-CAP mentee— Dominique Akers.

Chef Sylva Senat and Dominique Akers

“In 11th grade, I was introduced to C-CAP and my eyes were just blown straight open. They have job opportunities and scholarship opportunities, everything I dreamed of was there,” said Akers, a Swenson High School graduate. “I’ll be starting my first semester at the Culinary Institute of America in January. I got my scholarship… my parents almost cried. It was probably one of the highlights of my life.”

In this episode of Food As A Lifestyle, Foodable got a glimpse into the lives of this culinary duo as they prepared to conduct a “Swap Meat” demo at the Community College of Philadelphia for a C-CAP Chef Conference.

Chef Senat believes that when you take a fish and you treat it like a meat there’s really unlimited possibilities to what someone can actually create. This is the whole premise to the “Swap Meat” demo where the chefs participating in the conference got a chance to see how to prepare and taste two delicious and sustainably sourced fishes from Alaska: the Pollock and Rockfish.

Chef Senat and Akers personally went to pick up the fish from their local fishery, Samuels and Sons Seafood, because Senat thought it would be a good experience for his mentee to learn from the guys who butcher the fish by hand.

Alaska Pollock

While at Samuels and Sons, they meet the Vice President of New Product Development, Joe Lasprogata, who teaches them a little more about the types of fish they will be featuring in the demo.

For example, the Alaska Rockfish is low in saturated fat and very high in selenium, phosphorous, and vitamin B12, and it is known for its delicate, mild flavor, pearly-white color, and tender yet meaty texture. On the other hand, the Alaska Pollock is low in fat, calories and an excellent source of protein. It offers wide appeal with its snow-white, tender fillet with a mild flavor and beautiful flake. Additionally, the Pollock is the largest sustainable fishery in the world and accounts for 30 percent of all U.S. seafood landings by weight.

“Sustainability has always been important for the Alaskan people. The concept of sustainability is built into their constitution to make sure they take care of these natural resources, so they’ll be around for years to come,” said Lasprogata.

To get an idea of the yields from the Alaska Rockfish, a fish Samuels and Sons is experimenting with, Chef Senat is advised to get 60 pounds of the whole fish for a yield of 20 pounds of fish meat.

C-CAP “Swap Meat” Chef Demo

To get ready for the following day’s demo, Chef Senat and Akers have to prepare about 90 portions of each fish.

For the first dish, Chef Senat decided to swap the meat of a Dewey burger he has in his Maison 208 menu with the Alaska Pollock by shrinking it with baby buns to make sliders.

Chef Davis Denick, Samuels and Sons’ seafood executive chef was a big help when portioning the fish filets.

They cooked the fish with a little cayenne and salt and used fresh brioche buns with butter lettuce and a tomato slice in each slider.

For the second dish, Chef Senat decided to serve seared Alaska Rockfish plated over a corn mash alongside cherry tomatoes with a shallot dressing finished off with fresh basil.

The demo end up being a huge success, where all the chefs participating in the conference alongside the C-CAP student volunteers were introduced to two sustainable fish products that could be easily swapped for dishes that typically use meat like chicken, pork or beef.

Chef Senat not only was able to give back to the organization that propelled him to success but was also able to educate his peers about creative ways to incorporate sustainable fish in their menus.

“I want to show them that it’s not just a piece of fish anymore, the creativity and the limitless of what you can do with it can truly be inspiring," said Chef Senat.  

Watch the episode above for more tips for swapping sustainable seafood for meat!

a.kitchen's Mike Fry Makes the Most of Summer Bounty in Philly

Video Produced by Vanessa C. Rodriguez

As the food scene in Philly continues to boom, we decided to make our way to the City of Brotherly Love to visit one of Philadelphia’s Top 25 Restaurants. a.kitchen, located at AKA Rittenhouse Square, boasts an impressive wine program along with its Modern American cuisine.

Mike Fry, sous chef at the High Street Hospitality Group restaurant, talks to us about how a.kitchen makes the most out of its summer bounty.

“We try to make use of preservations techniques, which is another staple of the Pennsylvania Dutch, taking the bounty of the summer, stretching it out throughout the seasons, which is something that has been going on forever in every culture, but Pennsylvania Dutch are especially good at it, as far as canning, preserving, drying, using that to stretch your produce throughout the year,” said Fry.

The menu is constantly changing in accordance with the seasons, however.

“If in December we know that we can not longer get [a] really high-quality tomato or squash, then we take it off the menu and replace it with something that we can get locally that is going to be good in the winter. For instance, root vegetables or something dry or preserved,” Fry added.

In this Table 42 Vignette, Sous Chef Mike Fry demonstrated for us a.kitchen’s signature dish: a seared Long Island duck breast with mushroom ragu, baby summer squash, and a mushroom exodus sauce.

He begins by rendering the duck breast on a pan to achieve a crispy skin with a medium rare center. Then, he seasoned wild mushrooms with olive oil and salt and simply grilled them. Baby summer squash is later sautéed in a pan for a short period of time because it does not require much cooking time. Finally, he creates a ginger and chilies sauce hydrated with duck stock to add depth to the dish before plating it to perfection.

What to Expect on Philly's Summer Menus

What to Expect on Philly's Summer Menus

It wouldn’t be Philly if cheesesteaks weren’t on the menu, and — although cheese will be a focus on Philly’s summer menus — that’s just a slice of what’s brewing in the City of Brotherly Love (think food and beer-garden popups, and farm-to-table).

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