It was so long ago that I can scarcely remember it happening. The 80s, that is. It was kind of a surreal time.
Freshly out of the classroom (teaching culinary arts at a local college), I found myself in Downtown Detroit, standing in a gleaming, new, multi-level kitchen awaiting the arrival of Opus One’s first paying customers. What was I thinking? I’d just traded in a well-paying, low-stress, 5-day-a-week teaching gig for a high-stress, seemingly 24/7, knock-yourself-out, always-on-your-feet, always-pounding-meat chef position at one of Detroit’s most-anticipated restaurant openings in years.
I do that to myself every so often. Shake things up, that is. I think I got tired of hearing my chef friends tease me with the old adage “those who can do, those who can’t teach.” I’d show them… It wasn’t long before Opus One was on the map, and it won Detroit’s Restaurant of the Year and one of the Inaugural DiRoNa® Awards (Distinguished Restaurants of North America).
During the 8 years I was at the helm of Opus One’s kitchen, my team and I created a number of great dishes. We were proud of the fact that it was a scratch kitchen, meaning we made nearly everything from its raw primary ingredients.
All of our breads (including those used for all of our sandwiches) were made each morning. Of course, we made all of our soups and sauces from stocks and their reductions; butchered our own meats; and made all of our own pastries, ice creams, salad dressings… Well, you get the idea.
When everything is in your own hands, the opportunity for personal creativity is nearly unlimited, and one thing I must say I’m good at is being creative.
Opus One was a blank piece of paper, and I had a new box of crayons. Looking back, it was a very fertile environment, a great kitchen, a great staff and a very appreciative audience. I still use some of the hundreds of recipes I created at Opus One. Of course, I’ve tweaked some of them over the years. Actually, come to think of it, some are on Nino’s website.
Here are some examples:
This Bailey’s White Chocolate Mousse recipe won a National Award sponsored by the good folks at Bailey’s Liquor, and it’s a wonderful dessert this time of the year. If you’d rather not make it yourself, you can order one from us! Another great holiday recipe, this one is for a Smoked Whitefish Spread (the French might call this a Rillette). This recipe for Black Bean Soup with Smoked Ham was tweaked to use Nino’s Amish Maple Bacon, which only improved it.
I think I lived on soup and bread at Opus One. It was my on-the-fly meal for after the lunch rush. This recipe was one of my favorites. If you love carrot cake, my Zucchini & Carrot Loaf Cake will be one of your NEW favorites. It’s great for breakfast or a between-meal snack. I personally LOVE seafood. I created this recipe for a winter menu in early 1990. Almost 25 years later, I still love this dish. Warning! With Bearnaise, it IS addictive!
Asian-inspired dishes occasionally made it onto the Opus One menu, usually the lunch menu. My Cantonese Sweet & Sour Sauce is a recipe you can make and keep in your fridge for months. It goes with any meat, poultry, fish or seafood. And in keeping with my passion for Asian-inspired dishes, here’s one of my favorite Opus One recipes that’s not on Nino’s website. It’s a Thai Salad Dressing that pairs well with any type of greens tossed with Asian vegetables and a protein of your choice. Enjoy!
Thai Inspired Vinaigrette (Makes about 1 cup)
- ½ Cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
- 3 TBSP Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
- 3 TBSP Fish Sauce (Nam Pla)
- 1 Stalk Fresh Lemon Grass (Minced)
- 2 TBSP Fresh Mint, Chopped
- 1 TBSP Honey
- 1 tsp Serrano Chili, Minced
- 3 TBSP Fresh Garlic, Minced
Whisk all ingredients together and allow to marinate for 4 to 6 hours before using.