An Interview with Chuck Hughes of “Chuck’s Eat the Street”

Gourmet Girl - August 28, 2013

"Montreal superstar chef talks about his visit to Santa Fe, his love for chile and his passion for food."

Montreal chef Chuck Hughes, star of the Cooking Channel's “Chuck's Day Off,” "Chuck's Week Off"  and “Chuck's Eat the Street,” has had some great adventures in his search for amazing food. He's gone diving for clams in the waters of Mexico, lobster diving in Puerto Rico and salmon fishing in Alaska.

The youngest Canadian chef to win a Food Network Iron Man competition, Hughes recently journeyed to Santa Fe to film a segment of “Chuck's Eat the Street,” a series that follows him across the country as he explores the food, history and traditions along iconic American streets. He stopped at Coyote Cafe to sample chef Eric DiStefano's elk tenderloin marinated in hoison and beer, then hit Rooftop Pizzeria to try chef Russell Thornton's Southwest pizza with a signature blue corn crust and green chile. He also visited The Chile Shop to learn about New Mexico's most famous food and answer the official state question, "red or green." With Katharine Kagel, the founder of Cafe Pasqual's, he trekked to the La Madera studio of Jicarilla Apache potter Felipe Ortega, who showed him how to make micaceous clay cooking pots. The trio then made a roasted turkey with trimmings, all cooked in an horno.

I spoke with Hughes this week by phone from Montreal, where he has two acclaimed restaurants, about the "Chuck's Eat the Street" segment, “Santa Fe Spice Up,” which airs Thursday, August 29 at 8 p.m. MT.

“I'd never been to Santa Fe before,” Hughes said. "Obviously I knew a bit about it. The use of the chile was really elevated. Usually, chile is used for flavoring—you add a little here and there. But in Santa Fe, the array of different flavors you get from different peppers, and the subtlety of flavors—smoky, sweet, spicy or mild—it's something you don't really see in the rest of the world. They're so versatile and so ingrained in the culture. Felipe said he wasn't adding any salt  to what we made because the salt of the earth is in there. And it's 100 percent chile-based. You can have 100 different sauces that are all chile-based, and they'd all be different. That's what I love about the culture there.”

In addition to the chile, Hughes was impressed by the region's landscape, as well as the weather, as he and Kagel made the hour drive to La Madera in a Jeep with the top down, “In ten minutes, it went from sunny to rain and then a hailstorm—I think Jesus came down for 10 minutes,” he said, laughing.  “The scenery is unique, one of a kind. And how many airports do you have where someone is baking fresh cookies right there like they were in the Santa Fe airport? I truly enjoyed it.”

Hughes was born in St. Saveur, a town in Canada's Laurentian Mountains about 40 miles north of Montreal, and when he was 10, his family moved to Montreal. He grew up cooking with his mother, who instilled a love of food in him. “My mom owned a restaurant for a year and a half,” he said. “It had always been her dream, but it didn't work out. For me, cooking was kinda like a hobby. I never thought I'd do it for a living. Every time I went into a restaurant all the guys in the kitchen looked miserable.”

But when he was 16, he started working in a restaurant and never looked back. After working in some of Montreal's most lauded kitchens, Hughes and his two best friends opened Garde Manger in 2006, a den-like restaurant in the heart of Old Montreal famous for its chalkboard menu featuring seafood platters, jerked crab, decadent lobster poutine and other dishes. Last summer Hughes and his team opened Le Bremner, named after Alex Bremner, a mid-20th century construction baron in Old Montreal. Le Bremner's innovative menu includes snow crab kimchee, halibut gravlax, lamb neck, mascarpone and mint agnolotti and a fried quail bucket.

Hughes is one of Canada's best-known chefs, having been the youngest Canadian to walk into The Food Network's Kitchen Stadium and defeat Bobby Flay in the Iron Chef competition. The secret ingredient? Canadian lobster. But he's also known for his body art—tattoos of his favorite foods, including lobster, bacon, arugula and lemon meringue pie.

His show “Chuck's Day Off” hit the airwaves in May 2010,  offering a look inside the Garde Manger kitchen as he cooked for friends, family and suppliers on the day his restaurant was closed. Hughes is having a blast with his newest show, “Chuck's Eat the Street." 

You can see the evolution of the food throughout the different terrains,” he said. “All around the U.S., it doesn't matter where you are, what I've discovered is that we''re always looking elsewhere for authentic, amazing real stuff. Meanwhile it's happening in our own backyard. It's a food and travel show where you get a little bit of an adventure and people get to live these adventures through my eyes. I'm kind of lucky. Im actually living more than my dream. I never dreamt this big. If you had asked me 10 years ago what I'd be doing, I would never have believed it.”

It's pretty clear that luck has little to do with this chef's success. He's an affable, likeable, good-looking young guy with tons of energy who is clearly passionate about everything he does. Don't miss "Santa Fe Spice Up" this Thursday on the Cooking Channel at 8 p.m.! I'll be watching...

For more info about Hughes, click here

(Recipes and Photos Courtesy of the Cooking Channel)

Eric DiStefano's Elk Tenderloin with Mushroom Sauce (Serves 2)

Elk Marinade:
12 ounces dark Mexican beer, such as Negra Modelo or Dos Equis Dar
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1 tablespoon very finely diced shallots
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Four 8-ounce trimmed pieces elk tenderloin

Mushroom Sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces trimmed and halved chanterelle mushrooms, washed and gently brushed clean
8 ounces steamed and sliced crimini mushrooms
8 ounces fresh morel mushrooms, soaked and rinsed thoroughly (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 shallots, minced

For the marinade: Combine the beer, hoisin, soy, shallots, garlic and rosemary in a small bowl and whisk together. Arrange the tenderloins in a glass or ceramic bowl, and then pour over the marinade to thoroughly coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
Preheat a grill to medium heat.

For the mushroom sauce: Place a saucepan over medium-high heat and melt the butter. Add the mushrooms, salt, pepper and shallots and saute, stirring frequently until beginning to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Pour in the wine to deglaze and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, 4 minutes. Add the demi-glace, stock, cream and thyme leaves, and simmer until thickened just enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Meanwhile, remove the meat from the marinade. Coat with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill until medium rare, 2 to 3 minutes. Let rest before slicing and serving with the mushroom sauce.

Corn Torte with Red and Green Chile Sauce (Serves 6)

Corn Torte:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
1/2 cup granulated sugar
7 to 8 cups corn kernels (from about 9 ears)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole milk
5 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rice flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Green Chile Sauce:
2 ounces dried green chiles, rehydrated for 30 minutes in 4 cups boiling water, peeled, sliced into 1/4-inch strips and roughly chopped, water reserved
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano or marjoram leaves, crumbled
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced
1/2 white onion, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Red Chile Sauce:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
16 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
8 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
4 chiles de arbol, stemmed
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

For the torte: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a round 9-inch cake pan, line with waxed paper and then butter the waxed paper. (Spray vegetable oil can be substituted for greasing.) Beat the butter in a bowl until creamy using an electric mixer, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Set aside.

Scald the milk and heavy cream together in a small saucepan. Place the milk and cream mixture and corn kernels in the container of a blender and puree. Set aside and let cool.

Beat the egg yolks thoroughly with a whisk in a bowl. Mix the corn puree into the butter and sugar mixture in batches, alternating with the egg yolks. Sift together the flours, baking powder and salt in a bowl, and then mix into the corn batter by hand. Transfer the batter to a large mixing bowl.

Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks, and then gently fold into the batter with a rubber spatula. Spoon into the prepared pan and bake until golden brown, 45 minutes.

For the green chile sauce: Combine the rehydrated chopped chiles and their rehydrating liquid, the oregano, salt, garlic and onions in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes. Heat the oil in a small saucepan for 1 minute, and then add the flour and stir with a wire balloon whisk until the roux becomes light golden and gives off a nut-like aroma. Add 1/2 cup of the green chile mixture and stir vigorously to incorporate.

Stir the roux mixture back into the chile mixture and barely simmer for a few minutes. Add more salt to taste.

For the red chile sauce: Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the salt, vinegar, oregano, chiles, garlic and onions. Return to a boil and cook, covered, over high heat for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Transfer to a blender and whirl until smooth. Strain through a large wire mesh strainer; discard the seeds. Add salt to taste and refrigerate until ready to use.

Serve the corn torte with the red and green chile sauces.