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Former Waldorf chef shows that a high-class meal doesnt have to be complicated
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Tropical Shrimp, Avocado and Mango with Carrot Emulsion prepared by Luiz Souza, a former Waldorf Astoria chef turned Gainesville resident. - photo by Tom Reed

When it comes to creating elegant dishes, simpler is better.

"It doesn’t take a lot of ingredients," said Luiz Souza, a former Waldorf Astoria chef turned Gainesville resident.

For instance, take Souza’s Tropical Shrimp, Avocado and Mango with Carrot Emulsion. While it may sound complicated, the dish has fewer than 10 ingredients.

"It’s very simple," Souza said.

"You just cut the avocado, toss the mango with a tiny bit of olive oil and cilantro and top it with the shrimp. It’s very refreshing."

And don’t be intimidated by the term "emulsion." Chances are you’re more familiar with it than you may think.

"An emulsion is just when you combine two ingredients that ordinarily wouldn’t mix together, like oil and water," Souza said.

"A simple vinaigrette dressing would be a type of temporary emulsion. Mayonnaise would be a permanent one. The carrot mixture is a permanent emulsion, so you could make it ahead and store it in the refrigerator."

To create the emulsion for this dish, start by heating about 2 cups of bottled carrot juice on the stove. Once the juice reaches its boiling point, reduce the heat so that it simmers.

"You don’t have to stir it, but you do need to baby-sit it in the beginning because it will boil over," Souza said.

"Once it reaches a boil and you turn down the heat, you can walk away for a bit. Let it simmer until it reduces and reaches the syrup stage."

Once it becomes a syrup, remove the thickened carrot juice from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. From there, slowly whisk in oil to finish off your emulsion. You want to add twice as much oil as there is carrot syrup, Souza says.

"For the carrot emulsion, you want to use vegetable oil," he said.

"You don’t want to use extra virgin olive oil because it might compromise the identity of the carrot reduction. The carrot juice doesn’t have a lot of flavor (out of the bottle), but the sweetness is unbelievable once you reduce it."

Although the balsamic vinegar reduction is optional, Souza says it helps bring up the flavors of the other ingredients, so you’d probably want to include it.

While you could grill the shrimp for this dish, Souza prefers poaching them in water that has been flavored with star anise, peppercorn and lemon thyme.

"I let the water and (spices and herbs) boil for about three minutes to let the flavor concentrate, then I add the shrimp," Souza said.

With summer’s oppressive heat upon us, the last thing most folks want to do is warm up their homes with extra heat from running the stove nonstop to whip up a meal.

With dishes like Souza’s Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto served over bow-tie pasta, you don’t have to sacrifice a tasty meal for the sake of keeping your home cool. The only time you turn on the stove is to boil your pasta.

"How long you cook your pasta is up to personal preference, but in a well-established (restaurant), you’d serve the pasta al dente," Souza said.

"When it’s al dente, it’s not too soft and not too hard."

The bulk of the "cooking" for this pesto is done in your food processor or blender.

The pesto can be served room temperature or slightly chilled, but you don’t want it to be refrigerator cold, Souza says.

On its own, pasta and a tomato-based sauce doesn’t seem that special, but presentation can take it up a notch. Things like wiping spills from the edges of your plate, adding a sprig of basil or an extra drizzle of sauce can help class things up.

Since the tomato pesto includes toasted pine nuts, Souza reserved a few of them to sprinkle on his plated dishes of pasta.

And when toasting pine nuts, keep in mind that within seconds they can go from yummy to yuck.

"When you’re toasting your pine nuts, you don’t need to add any extra oil to the pan," Souza said.

"You’re looking for them to develop a light brown color. Keep your eyes on them because they’ll turn on you very quickly. They can go from toasted to burned in 40 seconds tops, so don’t walk away."

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