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Issue Date: May 2009


Silver Spoons: The Opening Act


Beth Stallings
Ahi tuna, spring rolls and bruschetta may sound like your typical fine-dining appetizers, but if they’ve been crafted by chef Shawn Monday, expect a few surprises. Monday is the culinary mastermind behind Downtown 140’s constantly changing menu, which features a mix of nearly 20 smallest plates (or bite-sized delights) and small plates (appetizers) fitted to each season. He approaches the lengthy creation of each dish in one of three ways: with a flavor, a seasonal ingredient or a popular dish he’d like to reinvent. “I can’t just sit down and bang out a new menu in a day or a few hours,” he says. “I started thinking about the spring menu in January. Now the spring menu is finished, and I’m already thinking of what we can do for the summer.” We asked Monday to take us through his process for creating three of the starters on his spring menu.

[ The Idea ]

A New Take on a Standard
Monday wanted to incorporate a raw dish on the menu, so he started with a classic ahi tuna tartar and gave it a fresh look.

Find a like element:
“We liked it served Asian-style,” he explains. To keep in line with the ethnic bent, he paired the raw tuna with a crispy wonton.

Pair with flavors you know work:
From his experience, he knew tuna and wonton would taste great with wasabi guacamole and lime. “Either you’ve already had it before and you know it tastes good, or you know it works because it’s traditional,” he says.

Change up the look: To make the traditional stand out is sometimes all in the presentation. “You want to do your own thing with it to make it interesting or have an interesting play on it.

It’s a taco. It’s Mexican. But it’s not.”

Create a catchy name: “We sell a ton of these things because when you say it to yourself, people go, ‘What is this?’ ”

[ The result ]
Ahi Tuna Tartar Taco with wasabi guacamole, lime and sesame
(below)
[ The Idea ]

A Dish Based on a Single Flavor
Monday wanted to capture a Middle Eastern/Greek flavor concentrated in a yogurt sauce full of cilantro and cumin.

Find a contrasting flavor:
Monday knew if he wanted cool yogurt sauce to figure prominently in his creation, he’d need a dipping partner with some kick. So he took chicken, ground it up and turned up the heat with flavorful spices including tamarin, coriander, cumin, onion and local organic Thai chili.

Consider how it will be eaten:
To make it easy for dipping, Monday stuffed the ground chicken mixture into a spring roll. Why? He has no idea. “It just kind of happened. Sometimes I can’t explain the natural progression. I love spring rolls, and it seemed like a good fit,” he says.

[ The result ]
Crispy Chicken Spring Roll with cilantro and yogurt dipping sauce

[ The Idea ]

A Seasonal Ingredient
Heading into spring, Monday knew English peas would make an appearance somewhere on his menu.
 
Work backward: The seasonal ingredient doesn’t have to be the inspiration. On the contrary — Monday often thinks of a typical dish he wants to twist, then works in seasonal accompaniments.
“I started this dish wanting to do a bruschetta,” he says. “We had never done one on the menu before.”

Start at the base:
To make it bruschetta, Monday began with a slice of baguette. With tomatoes not in season, the staple topper was out. So Monday decided to puree three seasonal veggies: morel mushrooms, fava beans and English peas. “They just bring this brightness to the whole dish.”

Top it off:
Monday added a truffle oil drizzle and Brie as a finishing touch.

[ The result ]
Bruschetta with Brie, fava beans, peas, mushrooms and truffle oil

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