Grandma’s Spices Meet Haute Cuisine
by Nicolás Medina Mora Pérez | Jul 16, 2012 12:23 pm
Posted to: Food, The Hill, Chef Of The Week
Steven Ross rolled a piece of salmon on a mixture of spices he inherited from his grandmother. He then placed the fish on a red-hot skillet filled with molten butter and sizzling vegetable oil.
The smell of the South filled his Congress Avenue kitchen. The end result wouldn’t have been out of place in a high-end downtown restaurant, including the one where he got his chops.
Ross (pictured), who’s 33, owns and operates Cast Iron Soul, an unassuming joint across the street from John C. Daniels School. The smell of fried chicken and the sound of Dizzy Gillespie’s solos filter to the street, attracting a loyal base of customers from the neighborhood.
“Hey man, what’s up!” Ross greeted a young customer. “The usual?”
“Yeah, man,” replied the regular. “And give me a side of mac and cheese.”
Ross was getting ready to cook one of his specialties—a mixed salad topped with blackened salmon and drizzled with chipotle alioli. He learned his skills from his grandmother, who used to cook a huge meal every Sunday after church.
“I learned by watching and eating her food,” he said as he preheated a cast-iron skillet. “She taught me how to season food correctly, and how to pay attention to food while it’s cooking. You need to respect food. Otherwise it burns.”
Ross made sure that the salmon was completely covered in the mixture of paprika, chili powder, and white, black, and cayenne pepper. He then coated the smoking skillet with butter and placed the fillet on the burning surface. (Click on the play arrow to watch him cook the dish.)
Ross opened Cast Iron Soul two years ago with the help of Shayla Crawford, his wife and pastry chef. Before that, he worked a stint at Zinc, downtown’s nouvelle cuisine institution. There, Ross was impressed by the restaurant’s imaginative menu, which breaks traditional rules to create unexpected flavors.
“Zinc taught me a lot about technique and opened my mind to the possibilities of food,” Ross recounted as he assembled a plate of fresh mesclun greens to serve as a fresh, crunchy counterpart to the rich and spicy fish.
At his former workplace, Ross was also struck by the professional way in which Chef Denise Appel ran her kitchen—leaning on her sous-chef for support and devising checklists to delineate the tasks assigned to the staff. When he moved on to his own place, Ross hired Erik Little as his right-hand man. He relied on him and on his wife to bounce new ideas.
The results were palpable the other day when Ross placed his oven-finished pan-fried salmon on a pile of fresh fruit, cheese, and vegetables—and then sprinkled it with a dressing inspired in equal parts by Latin American and Mediterranean cuisines.
It was Haute Soul—a truly virtuosic assemblage of flavors and textures. Beneath a delicious crust of spices, the fish was moist and tender. Meanwhile, the sweet-and-spicy aioli brought the mesclun greens alive, while the vinegar-soaked carrots and the fresh orange slices added a slight acidic bite to the whole plate. Homemade croutons and grated cheddar finished off the adventure—making the otherwise light dish hearty and filling.
Ross is proud of his work, but he resists the temptation of pretentiousness. When the bill came, it added up to $12—less than half of what a comparable dish would have cost downtown.
Post a Comment
Sounds delicious. Would be nice if the author would include information like the restaurant’s address, contact information and website in the article (pretty common stuff in a restaurant review…).
[Address: 550 Congress Ave. Phone: 203-495-8400 ]
Great food, Mr. Ross, my family loves it! I hope success leads you to a larger space, preferably in westville! :)
That place is awesome. Don’t expect fancy decor, it’s a dive and proud of it. The food is amazing.
That’s MESCLUN, please, not mesculin or mesculine. It’s not mescaline, folks. Geez.
Sounds like a fabulous place.
I will be there! I still saying NHI please keep “exploring” those little places that make US a multicultural New Haven.
Having watched the video: point of information—doesn’t the Department of Public Health prohibit the bare-handed handling of food? I’d hate to see Ross get in trouble; I think he should be wearing gloves.
Great guy and fabulous biscuits. I don’t mind the classic clean hands of a great chef!