Since winning Season 11 of the popular cooking competition show Top Chef, Nicholas Elmi has been keeping quite busy. Based in Philadelphia, he’s opened two critically acclaimed restaurants, Laurel and ITV, in the city’s East Passyunk neighborhood, and is slated to open a bar with a duo of other local restaurateurs later this year. Elmi, the father to two children, is also currently partnering with Dietz & Watson for their Choose The Table campaign, which is focused on bringing families together for shared meals.
With family gatherings and Father’s Day in mind, we chatted with Chef Elmi about his own experiences cooking for his parents and his children, as well as strategies for making time for each other in the middle the hecticness of every day modern life.
Do you have specific memories of cooking with or for your own dad? Did he have “dad food” specialties?
My father rarely cooks, but he would every year for Christmas Eve. Instead of doing a drawn out “Seven Fishes” dinner, he would make a large pot of tomato sauce and strategically drop different seafood at different times so they were all cooked properly. Pretty magnificent.
Have you cooked for your parents much? If so, do they have a reoccurring request or favorite?
Not as often as I’d like, as my parents live in New Hampshire. When I do get the opportunity, my parents requests are usually pretty simple. Marinated steak tips and Caesar salad are always good requests. But my mom makes the Caesar Salad with whole cloves of garlic in it…I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s too much garlic.
Now that you’re a father, how do you most enjoy spending Father’s Day?
We try to make it to the beach each year. We’re content just being around each other playing and swimming and, God willing, taking a nap.
Are there specific cooking skills or philosophies that you are hellbent on passing on to your kids?
Understanding sourcing. We try to get them out to the farms and explain where all of the things we eat come from; how a tomato is planted and cared for, and who picks them and packs them up, who ships them and drives them to where the veggies go to market. My son is on a seven month stint of being a vegetarian because we were discussing where bacon and chicken actually comes from. He couldn’t believe that he was taking an animal’s life so he could eat.
It can be so hard for modern families to make time to gather around the table each day, or even each week. What are some ways you think families can make it happen?
Designate a least one day to sit down as a family and have dinner. No T.V., no phones, just honest conversation and connecting with your loved ones. Start there, and I guarantee you’ll want to do it more often.
It can be extra tricky for families where one or both parents are working in the service industry, as dinnertime is often spent cooking for others. What are some creative ways you’ve found of making togetherness happen even with a non-traditional schedule?
I never work Sunday. I refuse to. I need at least one day a week to recharge and relax with my wife and kids. There are two thing I’ve found helpful, so I’m not stuck behind the stove all day cooking for a large family. The first is one pot meals, like short ribs or lamb shanks: start them in the morning and let them ride all day. I like to wake up early and get it on before anyone wakes up, then I can focus on other things for the rest of the day.
The other thing is to just grill. Some of the most memorable meals we’ve had have been sitting outside grilling veggies, potatoes and some protein, and relaxing. Don’t overthink it. As a chef, it’s hard for me to admit, but there are times in life when the most important thing at the table isn’t what you’re eating.
Recipe by Chef Nicholas Elmi
- 6 oz. ground Dietz & Watson kielbasa
- 6 oz. ground pork
- 12 oz. pork loin
- caul fat (optional)
FOR MUSTARD & BACON BRAISED KALE
- 6 oz. Dietz & Watson bacon, diced
- 3 tbsp. garlic, minced
- 3 tbsp. shallots, minced
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 4 bunches black kale, chopped
- sherry vinegar, to taste
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 1 tbsp. grain mustard
For pork: Mix the ground pork and Dietz & Watson kielbasa together. Lay flat on a piece of plastic wrap and smooth out until one even layer. Split the pork loin lengthwise and lay on top of the ground pork mixture. Roll together the plastic wrap and tie off each end. Lay out a layer of rinsed caul fat. Unwrap the pork loin from the plastic and place in the caul fat. Wrap tight into a single layer cutting off and discarding what is not needed. Reserve in the fridge.
For mustard & bacon braised kale: Sweat the Dietz & Watson bacon in a pot until very crisp. Add the garlic and shallot and sweat for 30 seconds. Add the kale and stock and turn the heat to medium high and let cook for 7 minutes. Mix in the sherry vinegar, butter and grain mustard. Reserve and keep warm.
To finish: Heat blended oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and sauté the pork loins until golden on all sides.
Roast in a 300°F degree oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 135°F. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice and serve over warm kale greens.