I remember Greg Baxtrom’s Kale Crab Rangoon and thought about the time he came over for the evening to showcase his dinner at Saveur Supper. The time was Summer of 2017, as a matter of fact, and I was Saveur‘s test kitchen intern, which was the last requirement for me to complete culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education. The way I picture that evening as I write it from memory is like this: the Olmsted team came busting out of the elevators, heading straight for the kitchen. Working swiftly, they began to unload the boxes, bags, and bins they came in with. Incomprehensible chatter swirled around me. Directions to and from the test kitchen staff were shot at all angles. I looked over at the two ladies I worked closely with in the test kitchen that day. Both sat quietly at their desks, typing away, seemingly used to and comfortable with the organized chaos that surrounded them. Eventually, they slipped out quietly one after the other, making sure I had everything I needed before their work day was finished. I thought the best thing I could do for the Olmsted crew was to jump right in to help. And I did.
There was no time wasted in small talk. The front-of-house staff began setting up the 2 large farm tables, pushing them together to create one large mecca of a dining center. They were by the windows, laughing, poking fun at each other as they polished stemmed wine glasses, when my attention was drawn to Chef Greg and Chef Jenny. I watched as they immediately placed cold items in the refrigerator, crouching down to bin level, removing items with purpose, asking me which of the burners would be the most conducive for grilling scallops. Questions continued to come at me. I felt useful and competent.
I drew in a long, deep breath as they very carefully unloaded pristine ceramic pieces that caused that thin line between admiration and jealousy in me to spike in both directions. I later learned the plates are from a Turkish ceramic company called Santimetre. Heart thumping, I wanted to declare how I’ve dabbled on and off with pottery since 2009, but thought wisely not to engage at that moment. My thoughts in the beauty and novelty of handmade plates were not of importance when thin sheets of dehydrated crawfish and lobster had to be puffed in the portable deep fryer, then plated, and brought out to the guests that were at the moment beginning to trickle in.
Chef de Cuisine, Jenny Treantafilos, directed my attention to a reused fish container, a white shallow, rectangular bin commonly reused in professional kitchens, and asked me without batting an eye to fry up the contents in them. She quickly showed me how to use their portable deep-fryer. If you know me, then you know I was stoked to be given a specific cooking job. It was up to ME to not burn the rangoons! Yay! I was visibly excited. I noticed the bin was filled with rows of prepared rangoons. They were perfectly pinched and not one stood out from the other in appearance. One thing I took note of and immediately filed away in my inner mind’s folder labeled “education” was their efficiency in stowing an amount of rangoons that did not overly exceed the number of guests that would be enjoying them. I made a comment to Chef Jenny of how excited I am to try their food. She told me there might not be extra food available to try, that I should come in to dine at the restaurant if I wanted to taste any of their food. I stored that important lesson in my mental cabinet and categorized it as waste and money.
I finished frying the rangoons to a nice golden hue. Chef Jenny and Chef Greg grabbed them up as soon I put them down on the rack and placed them inside Chinese takeout boxes. I think Chef Jenny could feel my excitement because to my surprise she handed me one rangoon to taste. I smiled, thanked her, then put it aside on the stainless steel counter because from experience I know never to bite into food fresh out of the fryer. I went to deal with another task, and when I came back, I bit into the rangoon, still hot, and, as is usual for me, the ideas began to germinate in my brain.
I did my best incarnation of “research” on rangoons by googling the preparation of the filling and the shaping of the wonton wrappers. I wasn’t too sure if a filling different from the popular crab and cream cheese filling would be something purists would frown upon. If that thought proved to be true, it didn’t matter because forth I went and created something different anyway.
Rangoons aren’t so uncommon. We find them in many Asian restaurants and can be easily prepared at home. They are popularly filled with shredded crab, aromatics, and cream cheese, then put inside a wonton wrapper, which is pinched into a cross/star-like shape. They are fried and then eaten immediately with a dipping sauce.
Chefs do it right. They know you’re hungry, so they feed you with a crisp appetizer filled with savory goodness, stimulating the appetite, leaving you wanting more. I like to think we all inspire each other. When I witness other chefs doing great things, I do great things, and vice versa. I’d like to thank Chef Jenny and Chef Greg Baxtrom for the lessons they didn’t realize they were teaching me that one unassuming night at the Saveur test kitchen. Here’s my culinary creation inspired by the chefs at Olmsted.
Crispy Rangoon with Pork Belly Filling
- 2 slabs of pork belly
- 1 lbs pork shoulder, bone in
- 1 habanero pepper
- 1 cherry pepper
- 150 grams of medium diced carrots
- 150 grams of medium diced celery
- 300 grams of medium diced yellow onion
- 1 cup of apple juice
- 1 cup of water
- 1 container of egg roll wrapper
Oven preheated to 350 degrees, place the pork shoulder and the pork belly on top of the mirepoix, pour in the apple juice and water, cover with aluminum foil and braise for an hour, or until tender. Let cool. Chop pork belly into half inch pieces and remove bone from pork shoulder and place into a food processor. Ladle the contents of the braising liquid with mirepoix and pulse and process into a smooth texture.
Sweet & Spicy Pineapple Dipping Sauce
- avocado oil
- lime juice
- minced pineapple, stays floating in the sauce
- cooked down pineapple (cooked in water and a little sugar then mashed with a fork)
- salt and pepper to taste