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Chef adds flair (and danger) to delightful dessert.

Byline: THE $10 GOURMET By Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

Ask many home cooks what they find most difficult about putting a meal on the table and a frequent answer will be, "Getting everything done at the same time and to the table still hot."

That's definitely a factor in the hands-on, gourmet meal-on-a-budget offered by Tom Kelsey, executive chef at Jake's Place at 605 W. 19th Ave.

Of course, with the confidence of nearly 25 years of cookery under his belt, Kelsey makes it look easy, even though he pretty much has to mash potatoes at the same time he's sauteing vegetables, while also keeping a close eye on his two-cheese Mornay sauce.

Piece of cake, he might say, except that Kelsey tops off his meal with something quite a bit more exotic - Bananas Foster, a traditional New Orleans dessert, sauteed in a butter and brown sugar syrup, flamboyantly flambeed in rum, then served over vanilla ice cream.

But back to the beginning. For the entree, that means getting chicken breasts with wings still attached, which gives the pan-seared roasted chicken a special look that Kelsey says may mean having a chat with someone in the meat department.

"You don't see the breasts with the wings still attached too often," he said. "It might be necessary to ask someone to cut it that way."

Other than that, there's nothing tricky about his chicken dish, which he sears first at high heat to brown quickly and seal in the juices, before roasting. It's the accompaniments and the way he presents them on the plate - layered over each other and covered with his own version of cream-and-cheese Mornay sauce - that set this menu apart.

Kelsey, 39, came to cookery the old-fashioned way, working his way from the bottom up, albeit quickly. He said he started as a dishwasher and did stints as line cook and kitchen manager on the way to achieving the rank of executive chef and running the entire kitchen operation.

"Most of my experience was in Colorado," Kelsey says. "I've been in Oregon eight years, and I've been at Jake's Place for two."

Owned by Marty and Theresa Tremaine, Jake's offers a kind of cuisine - Kelsey describes it simply as "American" - that he enjoys cooking, in a casually cozy atmosphere reminiscent of the traditional American diner. The restaurant has a long counter with nine chrome stools with red vinyl tops, a few booths and a handful of tables with red Formica tops and chrome chairs.

In addition to entrees such as his roasted chicken, which appears on the menu at least once a week and already has gained a following, thanks in part to his own version of a classic Mornay sauce, Kelsey says Jake's Place offers a "really good clam chowder," made with generous amounts of potatoes, celery, onions and bacon.

But nothing he does exceeds his Bananas Foster for flair and history. He got the recipe from a book titled "oncooking," one of his favorite references.

It says that Bananas Foster originated in 1951 in New Orleans, the invention of chef Paul Blange of Brennan's Restaurant. The dessert came about as a way to promote New Orleans as a port of entry for bananas and other fruit coming into the country from Central and South America.

Blange bestowed the name "Foster" on his dish in honor of Richard Foster, chairman of the New Orleans Crime Commission, a civic group formed to clean up the notoriously wild French Quarter.

But a note of caution to those who attempt the recipe - take every possible safety precaution to avoid injury or accident when adding the rum to the skillet, because flames will shoot high out of the pan until the alcohol has burned away.

Pan-seared Roasted

Chicken Breast

2 chicken breast halves, wings attached and skin on

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash chicken pieces and pat dry. Mix salt, pepper and thyme; sprinkle over chicken pieces.

Heat oil in skillet over high heat; sear both sides of the chicken parts until well browned. Remove chicken to baking dish. Roast uncovered 40 minutes.

To assemble the entree, place a dollop of mashed potatoes in the center of a dinner plate, and place the chicken on top, wing side up. Arrange the vegetables around the potatoes and chicken, and pour the Mornay sauce over all (recipes follow).

Mashed Potatoes

3 medium to large russet potatoes

2 tablespoons butter (at room temperature)

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Dash of garlic powder or flakes

Peel the potatoes and cut into quarters. Put in saucepan with water to cover; simmer until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain and let sit 10 minutes.

Mash potatoes or press through a ricer; stir in butter, cream and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sauteed Mixed Vegetables

1 medium carrot

1 medium zucchini squash

1/2 cup snow peas

1/2 to 1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Peel the carrot; cut into julienne strips the size of matchsticks. Cut the ends off the zucchini; cut it in half lengthwise, then slice the halves diagonally into thin disks.

Wash the snow peas; cut off stem ends.

Saute the cut-up carrots in olive oil over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the zucchini pieces and snow peas. Continue to cook until tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Chef Tom's Mornay Sauce

1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped fine

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

White pepper to taste

1 ounce Gruyere cheese (about 3 tablespoons), grated

1 ounce Asiago cheese (about 3 tablespoons), grated

Saute chopped onion in vegetable oil over low heat until tender and golden. Add broth and milk; continue to cook.

Make a roux (pronounced roo) to thicken the sauce by melting the butter over low heat in a small saucepan. Stir in the flour until smooth.

Bring the onion mixture to a low boil; add roux, continuing to cook until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and pour through a strainer to remove onion bits.

Add the grated cheeses; return to low heat, stirring until cheese melts.

Green Salad

With Red Wine Vinaigrette

1 small head red-leaf lettuce

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon minced onion

Wash lettuce leaves; drain or pat dry. Tear into bite-sized pieces.

Combine mustard, vinegar, olive oil and minced onion. Shake or whisk until well blended.

Bananas Foster

1 large banana

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup dark rum

1 cup vanilla ice cream, divided in two

Mixture of 1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and granulated sugar

Peel banana and slice in 1/4 -inch rounds. Combine butter, brown sugar and vanilla in small pan over high heat; add banana slices and saute until butter sugar mixture bubbles and bananas begin to brown.

Warning: The next step is to add the rum, which will flare up in open flame until the alcohol evaporates. Use extreme caution, keeping all flammable items away from the stove area.

Spoon ice cream into dessert dishes. Pour banana sauce over the ice cream and sprinkle with the cinnamon-and-sugar mixture.

SETTLING THE BILL

The $10 Gourmet challenges professional chefs to design a menu home cooks can use to prepare a meal for two, without exceeding the $10 limit. The cost does not have to include small amounts of staple ingredients found in most kitchen cupboards and refrigerators.

Chicken pieces: $1.65

Potatoes: 95 cents

Carrot: 17 cents

Snow peas: 52 cents

Zucchini: 36 cents

Onion: 15 cents

Milk: 50 cents

Cream: 25 cents

Broth: 50 cents

Butter: 47 cents

Gruyere cheese: 53 cents

Asiago cheese: 38 cents

Lettuce: 65 cents

Banana: 75 cents

Ice cream: 49 cents

Rum: $1.50

Total: $9.82

CAPTION(S):

Chef Tom Kelsey watches the rum flare up in his Bananas Foster dessert. Dishes include roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, sauteed vegetables, a green salad and Bananas Foster (at left).
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Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 23, 2005
Words:1363
Previous Article:ENTREE NOTES.
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