My husband, Kevin, and I were just finishing a memorable meal at mar’sel, the signature eatery at Terranea Resort and Spa in Ranchos Palos Verdes, Calif., when Chef Michael Fiorelli approached our table. He had been making rounds, checking in with guests savoring the fruits of his labor in the comfortable fireplaced dining room overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
It was one of those perfect meals where everything clicked. The setting on a cool December evening was cozy and warm. The food, from start (celery root soup) to finish (pear crisp), was totally in sync with the season. And despite the full dining room, the staff made us feel as if we were the only couple in the place.
Upon learning I was a writer, Chef Fiorelli unexpectedly declared, “I always wanted to write,” and went on to explain the connection between his love of the written word and his passion for cooking: cookbooks.
The Long Island-born chef’s mentors include James Beard Award winners Susanna Foo, Mark Militello and Patrick O’Connell; European Master Chef Peter Timmons; and celebrity chef Kerry Simon. Throughout his culinary journey, Fiorelli embraced a farm-to-table philosophy: “If I can just bring these great flavors to the table without altering the integrity of the ingredients, then I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”
In response to his declaration, I confessed that I’m a writer who dreams of being a chef. I don’t think we could switch places, though. Based on my dining experience, I’m convinced he made the right choice.
Farmers’ market salad (Serves 1)
½ persimmon, thinly sliced ½ apple, thinly sliced 1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds ¼ watermelon radish, thinly sliced ½ romaine heart (3–4 leaves) Parsley leaves, to taste Fresh lemon juice and olive oil, mixed to taste Salt, to taste Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
Toss persimmon slices, apple slices, pomegranate seeds, watermelon radish slices and parsley leaves in a bowl. Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. Toss with salt and fresh cracked black pepper.
PRESENTATION: Place the romaine lettuce leaves on a plate and top with mixed salad.
Celery root soup (Serves 4)
1 tablespoon olive oil 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced 1 celery root, washed and peeled 1 fennel bulb, fronds removed 3 cups heavy cream 2 cups water Salt, to taste
In a large pot over medium heat combine the olive oil, garlic and shallots. Add a pinch of salt. Sweat the mixture until the shallots are almost clear. Cut the celery root and fennel bulb into small pieces. Add the celery root, fennel, cream and water to the pot and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are fully cooked. Transfer the mixture to a standard blender and process until smooth. Season to taste.
Pear Crisp Serves 6–8
For the crust: 2 cups all-purpose flour 2 tablespoons sugar 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed ¼ teaspoon kosher salt 1 egg, beaten
In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, butter and salt. Pulse just long enough to combine the ingredients (about 20 seconds). Add the egg and pulse again until the mixture holds together. Lightly dust a cutting board and roll the dough to about 1/4-inch thick. Line an 8-inch round pan with the dough and set the pan in the refrigerator until filling is ready.
For the filling: ½ cup unsalted butter 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour ¼ cup water ½ cup white sugar ½ cup packed brown sugar 8 pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
Melt the butter in a saucepan until it just begins to brown. Stir in the flour to form a paste. Add the water, white sugar and brown sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the temperature and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add the sliced pears and toss to coat. Pour the filling into the dough-lined pan.
For the topping: ½ cup whole wheat flour ½ cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon baking powder ½ teaspoon kosher salt 1 cup brown sugar 1 cup whole oats 5 ounces cold unsalted butter, cubed
Combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the butter cubes and pinch them into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Layer the topping generously on top of the pears and pat it down until the fruit is fully covered. Bake in a pre-heated 350-degree oven until the topping is golden brown (about 30–35 minutes). The crisp is done when there is no “jiggle” in the middle. If necessary, cover with foil and continue to bake for another 10–15 minutes.
PRESENTATION: Serve warm or at room temperature. May be topped with whipped cream, ice cream and/or a sauce of your choice.
mar’sel at Terranea Resort
100 Terranea Way
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275
tel 310 265 2836
I had just taken off my sandals, stepping onto the white-sand beach for a late-morning walk to a secluded spot I heard about from a front desk clerk, when I glanced down and saw the time on my phone. It had just turned 11 a.m., which meant it was only 7 am back home, the perfect time to call and say good morning to by husband before he left for work. Not quite ready to head back to my room, I decided I’d test the WiFi signal and made the call as I continued walking toward the shoreline.
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