Article posted December 18, 2016 on communitytable.parade.com
Welcome to “Chat & Chew,” an inviting, travel-inspired interview series in which accomplished chefs from around the world answer fun, feisty, fantasy questions. Plus, there is a favorite recipe at the end for you to try!
My new kitchen talk spotlights Daniel Traimas, executive chef of the Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa on a pristine, laid-back, off-the-beaten stretch of Florida’s East Coast. Hailing from Illinois, Chef Traimas was groomed for a culinary career early on, creating perfect spring rolls by age seven and working at his family’s Thai restaurant in Addison (a village near Chicago) by age 17. With a culinary arts degree specializing in French technique from Kendall College, he followed his shooting-star skills to touchdown at restaurant and catering jobs in the Midwest and has now happily landed at this resort’s two restaurants, Cobalt and Heaton’s Reef, where he and his team create menus exuberant with American dishes and an emphasis on fresh seafood. Warm up reading this cool Q&A with Chef Traimas. Then, please click the LAUNCH GALLERY button (above or below) — and easily click again through all nine Vero Beach photos. Here is what we dished about:
What gives you the most pleasure living in Vero Beach?
Seeing the ocean every day.
Looking back, what career advice do you wish you could have heard as an 18-year-old?
If you stay true to what you love to do, then everything else will fall into place.
What has been your happiest food experience elsewhere?
In Thailand at my cousin’s farm. The meal I ate there was true farm to table. The fish were caught that morning in a nearby lake. The steamed rice came from their farm, which harvests rice every 160 days. And the spicy sauces were made from fresh-picked chilies and herbs there as well. It all sparked culinary inspiration for me! The memory keeps me humble. I was surrounded by family and our love for food.
What do you remember about your first food experience?
When I was seven years old, my parents had a hot pot party and invited their friends. We all sat on the floor with a boiling pot of broth in which marinated meats, seafood, veggies, and noodles were dropped. My mother added a spicy sauce to it and gave bowls to my sister and me. It was so spicy that we each had a big glass of water. Even though we had burning red lips, we just kept eating because it was so delicious. It was an interactive experience, which is my favorite way to eat to this day.
What is your favorite food?
Caramel Cone Häagen-Dazs ice cream.
With whom would you like to dine once? (A fantasy question!)
Anthony Bourdain. And my late grandmother.
For whom would you most like to cook? (Another fantasy question.)
Fat Bastard from Austin Powers.
What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
I was a monk when I was 17 years old in Thailand over summer vacation. My grandfather asked me to do it before he passed away. It is the norm in Thai culture. I was always a spontaneous kid so I said: Yes. The experience enlightened me for years to come.
You’re stranded alone on a deserted island for a month. Which three foods would be there (magically!) for you?
Chile relleno tacos with lettuce, tomato, salsa verde, and corn tortillas. Lou Malnati’s Chicago deep dish pizza topped with ricotta, spinach, and mushrooms. And Rum Raisin Häagen-Dazs ice cream.
What has been the biggest surprise about your career as a chef?
That my passion for cooking continues to grow stronger every day.
Which one thing do you wish home cooks knew how to make well?
Chicken. Many people are so afraid to undercook chicken that they overcook it.
Chocolate or vanilla?
What would you like to be your last meal?
Kobe bone-in ribeye steak 16 ounces smothered in sea urchin butter, a roasted mix of foraged wild mushrooms, and a bottle of Stella Artois beer.
What is your personal motto?
Follow your gut instinct.
Which five words best describe you?
Passionate, driven, nerdy, jolly, and observant.
What is the best thing that you have ever done to make yourself happy?
Took a road trip with friends across the country.
What is the most under-rated food?
Organ meats, skewered and grilled with spices. Every country has its own version of this street food.
What is the most over-rated food?
What has been your most important culinary training lesson?
Just answer with “Oui, chef.”
Which four ingredients are always in your home refrigerator?
Ice cream, Gatorade, beer, and cheese.
What is the most popular dish at restaurant Cobalt?
Pan-seared grouper, seasonal vegetable hash (sweet potatoes, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts), crispy kale, toasted pumpkin seeds, and miso butter sauce.
What do you appreciate most working at the Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa?
My chef team that I have worked hard to build.
Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese:
By DANIEL TRAIMAS
1 lb cavatappi pasta, cooked
1 qt milk, heated
4 oz Gruyère cheese, shredded
4 oz Cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz Gouda cheese, shredded
1 lb lobster meat, cooked and cut into chucks
5 oz butter, melted
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp nutmeg
2 cups Panko bread crumbs
1 tsp garlic powder
1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (set aside 1 tsp)
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F.
On stovetop, cook the cavatappi pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Heat the milk in a pot on stove top. While milk is heating, create a roux: Melt 4 oz of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Then sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly, until it begins to bubble. Turn heat down, continuing to stir, and it will develop into a rough-paste texture, about 4 minutes. You can tell when the flour is finished cooking as it starts to smell like sugar cookies; it’s also ready when it begins to get darker — but not brown.
Once the roux is made, add it to the hot milk. Whisk constantly on high heat to avoid lumps. When it thickens, add the cheeses.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked lobster meat, cavatappi pasta, and cheese mixture. Add the nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible), salt, and pepper to taste.
Transfer the mixture into a greased baking pan.
In a large bowl, mix the Panko bread crumbs with the remaining 1 oz melted butter, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Then spread the bread crumbs on top of the pasta-cheese mixture in the baking pan.
Bake in the pre-heated oven until the crust is golden brown, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
Finish with the remaining grated Parmesan cheese.
Written by, Laura Manske
A Frequent globetrotter that loves to explore the world, unearthing travel joy, beauty, adventure, and humor through her camera lens and articles. Based in NYC, she has been an on-staff editor at many magazines, as well as a freelance journalist. Her book, “Family Travel: The Farther You Go, The Closer You Get,” is an anthology of passionate and lively stories about how travel can restore, revitalize, and reconnect loved ones of all ages. She has often been interviewed on radio and TV. Manske has visited most U.S. states, explored 80+ countries, and cruised 70+ ships.