Judd Grisanti was hard to get a hold of. The chef-cum-restaurateur is in the process of opening four new Italian eateries, including his signature restaurant, Spindini, on South Main. He's also renovating his own kitchen, so finding a place to cook was a bit of a pickle. The night before Judd and I met up, we agreed on a time, with the location to be determined. The next day, I got a call with directions to a house on McVay -- no address, just directions. But I need not have worried: Judd not only convinced his friends Frank and Teresa Stone to lend him their kitchen (a beautiful country kitchen with stainless-steel appliances, a six-burner stove, and marble countertops), but also arranged an impromptu dinner party that lasted into the night.
Judd comes from a long line of Italian restaurateurs, starting with his grandfather Elfo, who came to the United States from the Tuscan town of Lucca in 1903. But, while Italian runs in his blood, Judd's obsession is with all things Asian. He loves his Asian knives, from the Japanese Shun knife made from Damascus steel to the Chinese cleaver; his gadgets, including a rice cooker, deep fryer, and mandoline; and the bold flavors that typify Asian food. Judd's kids -- Isabella, 9, and Will, 13 -- have been eating sushi since they were only 2 (or so Judd claims), as well as what Judd likes to call Asian-flair food: Five-spice roasted duck and tuna tartare, duck spring rolls and edamame, ginger salad, and teriyaki steak.
Judd made all these dishes in just under three hours (with a little help from his sous-chef, Patrick). It was an impressive meal and one that Judd was clearly enthusiastic about. He eagerly talked me through the various flavors -- sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, and red chili peppers for heat. He put me to work in the kitchen, showing me how to cook vermicelli noodles in a wok until al dente, how to pick the meat off the bones of the duck, how to use the mandoline to shred carrots and cabbage (with only a small casualty to my thumb). He taught me the difference between an egg roll and a spring roll (egg rolls have egg in the dough, while spring rolls are made from rice) and that a rice cooker can keep rice warm for hours while you prepare the rest of the meal.
Although I didn't get to see Judd's kitchen, I'm told that his is a colossal commercial-style affair, kitted out with state-of-the-art appliances -- no surprise if you spend any amount of time with this Grisanti. When he makes dinner at home, everyone congregates in the kitchen -- and sometimes lends a hand. Even with his hectic schedule, Judd is rarely too busy to cook for his family and friends.
Judd Grisanti's Roast Duck and Spring Rolls
Judd makes his roast duck, duck sauce, and dipping sauce from scratch. If you're short for time, you can buy duck sauce (also known as plum sauce), dipping sauce, and even roast duck from the grocery store. Your best bet is Fresh Market or an Asian market.
For the duck:
1 whole duck
Salt and pepper
For the spring rolls:
1/2 package vermicelli noodles
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded cabbage
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
1/2 cup sesame oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 package of square rice papers
1 egg, well beaten
Season the duck with Chinese five-spice powder, salt, and pepper. Cooking time depends on the temperature: Judd suggests 350° for two and a half hours.
The duck breasts should be served as a main dish, over rice with some hot duck sauce and chopped green onions. The rest of the duck -- legs, thighs, and everything else -- should be picked off the bones and coarsely chopped for the spring rolls.
Cook the vermicelli (thin, rice noodles) until al dente, drain and rinse, and cut into 3- to 4-inch pieces. Add the noodles to the chopped duck.
The carrots and cabbage should be julienned -- Judd uses a device called a mandoline to get everything paper thin -- or bought pre-shredded. The green onions should be cut on the bias (or on an angle). Add the carrots, cabbage, and green onions to the duck and vermicelli mixture. Add sesame oil, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and a pinch of kosher salt. Mix well.
To make the rolls, arrange the rice paper squares like a diamond. Brush a bit of egg along the four edges. Place some filling in the center, fold the bottom corner up, the sides in tightly, and then roll. In order to fry the spring rolls, you can use some kind of frying device or just fill a deep frying pan with canola oil (a couple inches deep) and place over high heat. Drop the rolls in and cook until golden brown. Remove with tongs and serve with a dipping sauce of your choice.