Local chef turns simple vegetables into fine dining experience

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- A local chef is taking a new approach to making veggies your main meal by creating unique fine dining combinations.

What's the veggie that top chefs say is their secret weapon?

"I love beets and they're good for you and they clean your liver," said Craig Strong, executive chef of Studio at The Montage in Laguna beach.

It's true! Nature gives beets that beautiful red-purple color that is a blood purifier, plus it's loaded with vitamins and minerals like B6, iron, magnesium and plenty of fiber.

Most put them in a salad or juice them, but Strong gets fancy. He has created beet, not beef, tartare.

"They mimic other foods maybe like beef. We take a roasted beet like this, a red beet, put it on a bed of salt and some herbs, and you just put it in the oven and bake it," said Strong.

One hour at 350 degrees will make beets soft and easy to peel. Chop finely, then take a portion to make a puree of olive oil, balsamic and salt, which binds the chopped beet to hold and mold into a meaty looking meal.

To give it his signature high-end touch, Strong puts it in a small mold, flavors it with shallots and chives, then decorates with horseradish creme frache.

"And this is a golden beet that we've turned into the texture of egg yolk," Strong explains, as he places a yolk-like sphere on top of his beet tartare.

Strong garnishes the dish with herbs and edible flowers. He says this makes a nice appetizer, which he pairs with what he calls, "Celerini Alfredo."

"Instead of using pasta, we're going to cut celery root and cut it into the shape of fettuccine noodles," stated Strong.

In lieu of cream sauce, Strong uses a pureed cashew sauce.

"And it mimics the taste and texture of a classic Alfredo sauce but a lot healthier and better for you," said Strong.

Celery root and beets are actually around all year, so Strong says these are perfect for making at home if you can. Your dishes may not be as fancy, but they're great because there's no gluten, there's no animal protein and they're great for people who are really looking into their health.

Cashew cream, brown butter crumble, black truffles
Serves 4

2 large celery roots, peeled, cut into fettuccini ribbons and blanched
Cashew sauce (recipe below)
Brown butter crumble (recipe below)
Black truffles
Snowflake celery (may substitute Italian parsley)
Borage flowers

Cashew Alfredo Sauce
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cups water
1 cup raw cashews
1 tsp sea salt
Sauté garlic in olive oil for 30 seconds. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes. Puree in a blender and strain through chinois.

Brown Butter Crumble
2 tbsp butter
1 cup dry milk
Brown the butter, add dry milk and stir until lightly toasted.

Plating Procedure
Toss celery root noodles in sauce. Place in bowl and sprinkle 1 tbsp brown butter crumble on top of each portion. Shave truffles and garnish with flowers and snowflake celery.

Recipe courtesy of Craig Strong, executive chef of Studio at Montage Laguna Beach
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