Chef Leonard Gentieu has pretty much done it all during his 50-year career in the restaurant industry.
A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, he’s cooked for U.S. Army generals, worked at five-star establishments, owned his own restaurants, taught culinary classes and at one point even held the Guinness world record for the world’s longest sandwich — measuring 464 feet.
Today, Gentieu and his wife, Midge, own and operate Onboard Nautical Events (ONE) from the Papagallo II, a 72-foot luxury motor yacht berthed in Morro Bay. ONE can be booked for dinner cruises and special events aboard the yacht or for offsite catering as well. Via its website, onboardnauticalevents.com.
Gentieu recently published a memoir about his career, “Chasing the Heat: 50 Years and A Million Meals.”
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What is your favorite local, seasonal ingredient that you’re currently using in your menu?
How are you currently using it?
I use it in a very simple preparation for many of our wine pairing dinners and cruises, and even prepared it once for Dave Matthews and his band. He said it was one of the best things he had ever eaten!
Just dip the pounded abalone steaks in beaten eggs, then place them in crushed saltine crackers to coat both sides. Melt some clarified butter in a large pan and bring it to temperature, sauté the abalone until golden brown — only about 40 seconds per side, don’t overcook it or it will toughen up — and at the last minute remove from heat and squeeze a fresh lemon over them. Put the abalone steaks right onto the serving plates, spoon a bit of the now browned butter over them and serve immediately.
How does this particular dish represent your culinary style, background and philosophy?
I like the simplicity of this dish. Abalone has a very delicate flavor, so I don’t want to overpower that with a sauce. There’s no need to dress it up. I like to get things fresh and cook them at the last minute before serving, and you absolutely have to do that with abalone.
How would home cooks approach this ingredient in their own kitchens?
The same way. It’s definitely a high end product, which makes it perfect for a special occasion appetizer, when you really want to make an impression right out of the gate. The keys are to have everything ready when you begin cooking and don’t overcook the abalone. The beauty of making this at home is that everyone can be gathered around with a glass of wine and you can make abalone in “a la minute!”
What is your favorite dish to cook at home?
I don’t do a lot of cooking at home at all. Though it may sound odd given my training, I actually really love a good hot dog, so I like to do those at home — spiral cut them, grill them and serve them with a good mustard.
What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
One of my favorites is actually abalone with a good crisp chardonnay or viognier. Not an overly oaky chardonnay or a wine with a lot of fruit on it — you want that crispness to offset the abalone.