In the visual fantasia of the West Side Market’s fruit and vegetable arcade, I’d never notice the bumpy, twisted root the color of larva. But Ritz-Carlton executive sous chef Shawn Brozic goes right to it, picking it out of its bin at Samuel’s Produce and running one recently burned thumb over its waxy flesh.
Samuel can even surprise chefs with the unusual items he stocks, which may be why his produce, including this galanga root, often finds its way into the dishes of local restaurants.
If you like to shop where the chefs shop, it’s a fascinating bit of insider West Side Market knowledge. And it’s the kind of thing you can only learn if you’re close to a select number of Cleveland food professionals or if you take advantage of the new Fresh Market Package being offered by the Ritz-Carlton through Oct. 31.
The package starts with a Friday-night stay at the Ritz, complete with a bottle of Ohio wine and a plate of West Side Market cheese and crackers. This is your guilt-free transition to luxury mode. If you’re like me, and you don’t normally sip Chambourcin in a fluffy white bathrobe while taking in a 14th-floor view of the city, you’ll need it, because the next day feels even more indulgent. Brozic, a 28-year-old Cleveland native who is handsome in the same unshaven way as Rocco DiSpirito without the mama’s boy attitude, will take you shopping for lunch at the market (after a limo ride from the hotel), then he’ll cook you whatever you like — in a three-course meal complete with wine and dessert. And wait until you see what he can do with a galanga root.
1) Chef Shawn Brozic meets us for a continental breakfast at 8 a.m. Saturday. Over muffins and coffee, we discuss how he discovered his passion for cooking: About 12 years ago, a chef showed him the proper way to shuck an oyster, and he was hooked. For our lunch, he’ll serve something with a Thai flair, since it appeals to us and is his favorite food to cook and to eat.
2) Although Brozic had never seen a galanga root before, he had some idea how to cook it. “It’s probably like cooking ginger,” he says. “You peel it with a spoon.” In his other hand, he holds a yucca root, which is very starchy and good when steamed, baked or fried, he says.
3) After pulling back the film-thin peel, Brozic smells one of Samuel’s dew-fresh tomatillos, a key ingredient of salsa verde.
4) Stone fruits are in season. Brozic seems to spot perfectly ripe peaches everywhere.
5) Brozic isn’t afraid of challenges. He will make something with a prickly pear in it for today’s lunch.
6) This happens a lot: Someone asks “What’s that?” and Brozic explains.
7) The market experience isn’t all about the food. “I try to find vendors who are personable,” Brozic says. That may be why he spends the most time at Judy’s Oasis. Judy offers us mint tea and generous goodie bags of her Middle Eastern treats. She also introduces Brozic to leban, a strong yogurt. Besides the galanga root, it’s the second thing at the market that he’d never seen before.
8) At Century at The Ritz-Carlton, the amuse-bouche is a kind of Japanese fruit salad with a Thai flair. Brozic gently tosses the peaches, plums and prickly pear from the market in sake, then serves them with tapioca pearls soaked in cream. He substitutes cucamelons for the white cherries, because their green color looks nicer on the blue plate, he says.
9) The first course is a young heirloom squash stuffed with a poached-scallop mousse made with a sauce consisting of cauliflower juice, the galanga root and saffron. The squash rests on raw ahi tuna with pistachio wasabi, lemon zest and olive and sesame oils. Turns out the homely galanga packs an earthy, gingery flavor. A single amaranth leaf gives a pepper kick to this otherwise sweet, mild dish, served with Harpersfield’s St. Vincent Chardonnay, 2001.
10) The main course is hearty but not heavy — English-cut short ribs braised in a veal-based liquid with vegetable dices, chervil and thyme. It is served on sour cream drop biscuits topped with leban and a single chip from the yucca root. With this dish, we drink Ohio’s St. Joseph Vineyard Pinot Noir, Limited, 2002.
11) It took two men to put this dessert together. Brozic and pastry chef Elliott Callahan assembled the locally grown strawberries and blueberries in this puff pastry. Callahan creates the pastry and the cream filling from scratch. He also makes all of Century’s ice cream — we enjoy that, too, in a small scoop of vanilla on the side.
Reluctantly, I leave the table more than two hours after I first sat down at it. I return to my room to pack up. (A late checkout has been arranged for us.) Just outside the doors, with my own selections from the market properly wrapped and placed in my very own Ritz-Carlton tote, all of Prospect Avenue looks a little Ritz-ier.
The Fresh Market Package at the Ritz-Carlton will be offered Friday nights through Oct. 31. The package starts at $350 for a deluxe room and $430 for an upgrade to the club level on the 14th floor, which comes with its own concierge, lounge and even more delicious food presented five times daily. Guests may stay an additional night for $199. Call (216) 623-1300 for reservations.