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What's Up Magazine

Chefs’ Challenge

Mar 01, 2011 12:26AM ● Published by Anonymous

You bet!

While most individuals, couples, and families are stretching $30 into multiple meals, you’d be hard-pressed to find a four star cuisine that fits this benchmark bill and satisfactorily feeds a couple. If you’re preparing a for date night at home, take tips from two local chefs who’ve risen to the first annual Chef’s Challenge.

We present our Best of Annapolis 2009 “Best Chef” winner Olivier Senoussaoui, executive chef at Breeze restaurant in Loews Annapolis Hotel, and Best of Eastern Shore 2009 “Best Chef” winner Brendan Keegan, executive chef at 208 Talbot in Easton.

Each chef has prepared a multi course meal that not only comes in at under $30 (cost of all ingredients), but also must incorporate two items near and dear to our Maryland hearts: fresh, local sweet corn and plump heirloom tomatoes. The resulting dishes are delicious and as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate; and our chefs show you how to make each step-by-step.

On the Western Shore: Chef Olivier Senoussaoui


Chef Olivier Senoussaoui’s culinary background is rooted in Southern French cuisine. Born in Périgueux, France in 1969, Senoussaoui credits his grandparents as his first influence in the kitchen. As a child, he would spend time tugging at his grandmother’s apron as he impatiently waited to eat the fresh meals that smelled temptingly good as she prepared them. As a young adult attending Catholic school, he found work as a dishwasher at a local bistro, before working his way up to an informal sous chef position. Senoussaoui’s formal training began shortly thereafter at the Chamber of Commerce Culinary School, also in Périgueux, a four-year program in which he studied French classic and French pastry. From culinary school to kitchens far and wide, Senoussaoui enjoyed cooking in the French Army for one year, moved to Cumbria, England for several years, then London (cooking at the Michelin star-rated La Bastide), followed by stints in Brittany, France; Montreux, Switzerland; Lyon, France; and finally for a cruise line based out of Austria before moving to the United States, specifically Orlando, Florida.

In Orlando, Senoussaoui joined the Loews family of hotels in 1999 as head of banquet service at the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando. In the fall of 2008, he was promoted to executive chef of Loews Annapolis Hotel, where he continues to impress diners today.

On the Eastern Shore: Chef Brendan Keegan


Chef Keegan’s cooking, as he says, “is based off of food memories.” Those memories are as likely to derive from the southern traditions he learned from his Georgia-raised grandmother as from experiences that “pop into my head from when I was traveling through Ireland or Italy.” Raised in Glen Echo, Md., Keegan began cooking out of necessity, helping out at home while his Mom was at work. He later took a part-time job at a local fish shop before graduating high school and heading to Gettysburg College. Wondering what he’d do with his history degree, he decided to attend L’Academie De Cuisine in Bethesda (and Gaithersburg). He went through stints at acclaimed restaurants Kinkead’s in Washington, D.C., then considered one of the country’s best restaurants, and 1789 in Georgetown, where he worked with nationally popular chef Ris Lacoste. His wife was then accepted to graduate school at Columbia University, prompting a move to New York City, where he worked at Prune with another notorious chef, Gabrielle Hamilton, whom he considers his most significant mentor. 

Keegan wanted to plant roots in Maryland, so he and his wife relocated to Annapolis, where he took a job at O’Leary’s seafood, quickly ascending to executive chef. Eager to work for himself, Keegan (and business partner/brother-in-law Brian Fox) actively pursued the right opportunity whenever he wasn’t in the kitchen. The right opportunity turned out to be at 208 Talbot, which they heard had been quietly put up for sale, where Keegan’s only restrictions for his seasonal menus are his memories.


Southern French Influence

Senoussaoui describes his culinary style as, “Very southern French. We do not use butter as often as in the States. I prefer natural fats such as goose fat, duck fat, and olive oil. In the countryside [of France] we also use a lot of pheasant, venison, trout, and fresh produce. Simple foundation. Simple seasoning. Local produce.”


Today, Senoussaoui is seeing much more of the “localvore” movement taking hold in the U.S. and Maryland. He is encouraged by the growing awareness among restaurants and consumers of farmers’ markets, locally raised proteins, and home vegetable gardens. “It’s a great thing [sustaining local markets],” he says. “For example, in Europe it is very common to have fresh cheese from the farm available at the town market. Maybe 10 years ago, America started coming along. More and more people understand the benefits of eating healthy, non-chemical, local foods. The movement is wonderful.”


The two dishes prepared by Senoussaoui, tomato bruschetta and grilled rockfish over corn broth risotto, evoke summer with light but flavorful ingredients. “In summer I love corn and tomatoes. They are local and inexpensive,” he says. “The bruschetta is perfect for a little reception before dinner with a rose wine. I make a corn broth for the risotto, which I love, and the rockfish pairs well with a chardonnay from California.”

Modern American Approach

Like a good musician, Keegan is hesitant to define his style. “It’s probably modern American, simply because I try to cover as many bases as I can,” he says. “I design a menu by asking ‘What would Brendan like to eat at this time of year.’ There’s plenty of southern influence in my food, but also plenty of European flavors. Our current menu has Thai and Vietnamese influences, too. I’m not going to limit myself to one style. The catch all for that is modern American.”


Right now, he says, everyone is stressing the use of local ingredients. “I try to take part in it to, but not just do it, but to promote it, and support it,” he says. At 208 Talbot, he incorporates many local ingredients, but adds “if I was to only use local ingredients, that would be very limiting, and difficult, when serving 150 people a night with a full menu.” At home, however, Keegan says his family eats very local, supporting local farmers’ and Amish markets and taking advantage of their large vegetable garden.


Keegan’s dishes—a katafi crusted Chesapeake soft crab with silver-corn flan, applewood bacon lardon and smoked hardwood farms tomato vinaigrette; and a pan seared Maryland crab cake with homestead farms fried green tomato, corn cream, and a grape-tomato jamon serano salad—define what’s great about Maryland in the summertime. “August in MD: hotter than heck, but great tomatoes,” he says. “This time of year, the crabs are big and fat and pulled right from the Chesapeake, and along with tomato and corn are perfect summertime combinations. This time of year, these are the ingredients I use.”

The Recipes

By Executive Chef Olivier Senoussaoui
Breeze, Loews Annapolis Hotel

First Course

Bruschetta Topped with Local Tomatoes

(Cost: about $9)



4 pieces of sliced Italian bread 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1/2 tablespoon chopped basil 
To taste, salt and pepper 

Method: Brush sliced bread with olive oil and garlic. Sprinkle with basil. Grill to golden brown.

Local Tomato Topping

2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced 
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic 
2 teaspoons small diced red onion 
1 teaspoon minced capers 
1 tablespoon of chopped basil 
1 tablespoon aged balsamic 
1 tablespoon good red wine vinegar 
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil 
To taste, sea salt and cracked black pepper 

Method: Toss all ingredients in stainless or wood bowl and serve at room temperature 

Top grilled bread with tomatoes.

Grilled Rockfish and Corn Broth Risotto

(Cost: about $19)


Two 6–7 ounce filets of Chesapeake Bay Rockfish
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil 
Sea salt and black pepper 

Method: Season the rockfish with salt and pepper. Brush the grill with olive oil and cook the fish over medium heat, turning once until done, 3–5 minutes per side.





2 1/2 cups of corn broth (see recipe below)

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup of Arborio rice

1/2 cup of white wine

1 cup of fresh corn kernels (about two ears)

1 1/2 cups of fresh peas, (shelled from pod)

1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

To taste, sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon of fresh chopped basil


Method: Heat olive oil in medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.


Add onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is transparent. Add rice and cook, stir for 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stir constantly, until absorbed about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the hot corn broth and cook, stir until absorbed. Continue to add the remaining broth, and cook the rice, stirring constantly, until al dente, about 20 minutes. Add the peas and corn until tender about 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and finish with parmesan



Corn Broth Recipe



1 quart cold water

1cup of fresh corn kernels

1 small onion chopped

1 herb sprig (thyme or rosemary)

Method: Simmer altogether for 20 minutes, and then strain the broth.

Assembly: Place risotto on a dish. When fish is cooked, place on top of risotto. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.


The Recipes


By Executive Chef Brendan Keegan

208 Talbot Restaurant & Wine Bar, St. Michaels


Pan Roasted Maryland Crab Cake, “Homestead Farms” Fried Green Tomato, Corn Crema and a Grape Tomato with Jamon Serrano Salad

(Cost: about $27)





Crab Cake



1 lb. Maryland Lump Crab Meat

1 cup Mayonnaise

1 Tbs Mustard

4 Whole Eggs

Lemon Juice

Old Bay Seasoning


Worchestshire Sauce

Chopped Chives

1 Cup Bread Crumbs


Method: Thoroughly mix all ingredients except panko and crab. Gently fold crab and panko into mayonnaise mix. Refrigerate and let rest for an hour. Portion into three oz. cakes. Heat 2 oz of oil in a large sauté pan. Place crab cakes in oil and begin to sauté. When golden brown on one side, flip the cake and put in a 400 degree oven for four minutes.


Fried Green Tomato



Fried Green Tomato

Ground Panko Bread Crumb



Oil for frying


Slice tomatoes .5 inch thick. Dust in flour. Dredge in buttermilk. Coat in Panko. Fry until golden brown at 350 degrees.


Corn Crema



6 ears

1 qt. Cream


White Pepper

1 tbs Sugar

Pinch of Tumeric (for color if desired)


Method: Cut corn off cob. In a pot, cook corn and cream together until corn is tender. Add sugar, salt and white pepper. Puree in blender until smooth. Pass through sieve. Hold warm.


Grape Tomato-Jamon Serrano Salad



1 pt. Halved Red Grape Tomato

1 pt. Halved Yellow Grape Tomato

2 oz. Jamon Serrano, julienned (prosciutto can be substituted)

Chopped Scallions

Minced Jalapeno

Chopped Parsley

Red Wine Vinegar

Olive Oil

Dijon Mustard


Method: Make a vinaigrette with red wine vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard. Add both types of tomatoes, Jamon Serrano, minced jalapenos, chopped parsley, and toss with the vinaigrette.


Assembly: Ladle two ounces of warm corn crema onto the center of a warmed dinner plate. Place a hot fried green tomato in the center of plate on top of the crema. Put hot crab cake on top of fried green tomato and top with the salad, allowing the salad to fall where it may.


Crispy Chesapeake Soft Crab, White Corn Flan, Applewood Bacon Lardon, and Smoked “Homestead Farms” Tomato Vinaigrette

(Cost: about $15)




Soft Crab

Maryland Soft Crabs, cleaned
Katafi, toasted and shredded
Oil for deep fry 

Method: Clean crabs, making sure to remove brain sack and lungs. Dust in flour, dump in buttermilk and dredge in katafi. Deep fry at 375 degrees until crabs float in the oil and are golden brown and crispy. 

Corn Flan

3 ears local white corn, cut from cob
2/3 Cup Heavy Cream
3 yolks
Disposable 3 oz plastic ramekins
Water for water bath.

Method: Cook corn, sugar, salt and white pepper in cream until tender. Puree until smooth. Pass through a sieve. Temper yolks with the warm corn cream mixture, making sure not to cook the yolks. Pour 3 oz. of corn custard into each of the plastic ramekins. Put ramekins into a double boil. Cover with aluminum foil and cook at 300 degree for 40 minutes. Flan should be firm in the center. 

Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette

3 Tomatoes
Wood Chips
½ cup Sherry vinegar
1 cup Olive Oil
1 tbs Smoked Paprika

Method: Start a small fire in barbeque. When coals are ashy, add soaked wood chips. Hot smoke halved tomatoes for 30 minutes. Blend tomatoes smooth and pass through sieve. Mix olive oil, sherry vinegar, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. 

Bacon Lardon

Method: Dice slab bacon in .25 inch pieces. Cook on sheet tray for about ten minutes at 350. Make sure not to overcook. 

Assembly: Unmold flan and plate in center of the plate. Ladle 2 oz. smoked tomato vinaigrette around flan. Place two crabs on top of flan and scatter bacon lardon around the perimeter of plate.

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