After the Texas Book Festival in the fall of 2001, I wrote a piece about a Westlake High senior and aspiring chef named Alex Kahn who'd had a thrilling experience during that festival weekend. Young Kahn had the opportunity to work as an apprentice in the Jeffrey's kitchen helping to prepare the signature appetizers that festival headliner Charlie Trotter served at the Bon Appetite, Y'all! party. During the party, Kahn had a chance to meet and chat with Trotter, one of his culinary idols. Trotter extended an invitation to the young Austinite to visit his famous Chicago restaurant and spend some time working in the kitchen there, which Kahn subsequently did. Kahn went on to graduate from Westlake High and has just completed his first year at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. I caught up with him in the new sushi bar at Suzi's China Grill (7858 Shoal Creek Blvd., 302-4600) recently and found out what he's up to now. Kahn and his fellow AM students get up at 5:30, have an early breakfast, and spend the day from 7:30am until about 2pm in lectures, demonstrations, and cooking classes. Courses such as butchering, knife skills, food safety and sanitation, AM cooking, and different world cuisines are arranged in intensive blocks so that when one block is completed, students move on to the next course. The majority of students in Kahn's class are somewhat older than he is, with the average age of CIA students in their late 20s. Alex reports that he and his morning classmates like to take the hour-plus train ride from the scenic but very isolated Hyde Park campus down to New York City to scout affordable ethnic dining spots anytime they get the chance. Their current favorite is a Cuban joint that also serves sushi! When Alex returns north later this summer, he'll complete a three-month externship at the ultrahot New York seafood restaurant Oceana, where chef Cornelius Gallagher has just been named one of Food & Wine magazine's top new chefs for 2003. Then Alex will return to Hyde Park to finish his second and final year of culinary school. It will be interesting to see where he goes from there.
Without a doubt, my new favorite thing has to be the $6 happy-hour menu offerings at the Roaring Fork (Seventh & Congress, 583-0000). Some friends gathered there last week, and bypassing the tall, uncomfortable bar chairs, we were ensconced on a couple of beautiful, comfy leather couches around a rustic table. While waiting for our food and drinks, we wiped out bowl after bowl of the remarkable house beef jerky. Chef Robert McGrath's kitchen uses trimmed certified Angus top round for this specialty. First they freeze the meat so it can be sliced whisper thin; then they marinate the slices in brown sugar, soy sauce, red-pepper flakes, and other spices before putting it in a food dehydrator overnight. What emerges is a uniquely crisp and flavorful meat product, described by one of my friends as "beef potato chips." The addictive jerky alone is worth a trip, but the happy-hour menu can't be beat for bargains or great flavors. Be sure to try the 12-ounce "Big Ass" cheeseburger, which comes cooked to your specification with peppered bacon, melted cheddar cheese, roasted green peppers, grilled onions, and a big slab of garden tomato with chipotle mayo on the side and a huge order of crispy fries dusted with the house spice mixture. After all the burgers we ate this spring, I didn't expect to be hungry for a burger again this soon, but I can't wait to get back to the Roaring Fork to have another one. The pork ribs and fish tacos, made with lightly battered bits of halibut, were extra good, as well. This $6 happy-hour deal in the Roaring Fork bar goes on all summer. Make it a habit.
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