Healthy eating and chocolate? Now that really sounds like an oxymoron.
Not for Casey Granieri and Jerry Comi, professional chefs, who make tossing together ingredients look as easy as opening a box of cake mix.
The two friends and business partners shared their secrets on how chocolate can enhance a meal at a demonstration at the Robert Woods Johnson Rahway Fitness & Wellness Center this week.
Chocolate pasta was paired with Thai chicken. Chocolate and raspberry sauce, combined with oil and vinegar became a tangy salad dressing. And of course , the desserts: ganache truffles and chocolate crepes, complete with a dash of Grand Marnier and Crème Anglaise.
In between cooking, the two traded barbs like knives slicing beef, and talked a bit about their paths to careers in food.
Both New Jersey natives, they grew up not far from each other. Both have grandparents from Calabria, Italy; they each learned to cook from their grandmothers and savor those recipes: calamari, smelts, tomatoes, and fresh pastas.
Casey first trained to be a forest ranger. Realizing he liked to eat more than study trees, he enrolled in culinary school. He’s worked in every aspect of food service: waiting tables, washing dishes, preparing salads, catering. He’s the food manager for a hospital and is waiting for bank loans to fulfill his dream: a 175-seat restaurant offering Continental cuisine and live jazz entertainment.
“I’m not a picky eater,” he said. “If you make it for me, I’ll eat it.” He loves preparing entrees the most and enjoys making people happy with food.
Jerry, who cooks for his town’s volunteer fire department, also has held every job related to food. He began at 12, assisting his uncle delivery fresh pies to restaurants and hospitals. After high school, he entered engineering school but left after a year to follow his palate. Unable to afford professional cooking school, he attended the “school of hard knocks, going from restaurant to restaurant, spending about six months at each, learning as much as I could,” he said.
For both, the learning never ends. “I learn something new every day, “ said Casey. “There’s nothing like hands on experience,” added Jerry, has tried foods he never ate before, like sushi, thanks to Casey.
Chocolate, while not really healthy—once sugar is added to cocoa the health benefits diminish rapidly— makes people feel good. In moderation, like most things in life, they attest, it’s fine. They use healthy oils, like coconut and olive oil, and insist on butter over any substitutes.
Advice for anyone considering a career in food?
Both men laughed.
“Be prepared to work long hours. Get a summer job at a restaurant. When everyone has off for holidays, you’re working. But if you love food, it’s worth it,” like salt and pepper, they answered together.
Casey’s Thai Cocoa Chicken
(for two portions)
Boneless chicken breast
2 ounces cocoa powder to coat chicken
white pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
2 oz. heavy cream
1 oz. coconut milk
3 oz. chicken stock
1-2 tablespoons Thai sweet chilies
pinch of cinammon
1/4 of a lime, squeezed for the juice
sea salt to taste
1 tablespoon butter or coconut oil
Flatten chicken breast so it has a uniformed thickness. Season with pepper and chili powder. Coat with cocoa.
Beat eggs and dip the breast in to coat.
Heat pan with the butter or oil until hot. Saute´ chicken on both sides until light brown. Add the rest of ingredients and reduce until the sauce thickens. Adjust salt & pepper; serve with chocolate pasta.