Cook’s Tour: David Garrido
(Fresh Planet Cafe, Jeffrey’s)
by Betsy Thaggard

Note: This interview with David Garrido, commissioned by CitySearch, didn't make it into print before the recipe's ingredients went out of season. But the recipe's good, and the interview was fun, so I'm running it here. -bt

Here’s what all-star culinary ability is all about: When asked to be the subject of a Cook’s Tour, Chef David Garrido suggested we shop the Farmer’s Market for our ingredients, and he’d come up with a recipe based on whatever looked good that day. And by golly if he didn’t prepare the freshest, most flavorful meal I’ve eaten in all of Austin...even at Jeffrey’s, where he’s been burning up the kitchen for six years.

These days, it isn’t surprising to find "fresh" on Garrido’s mind. He and partners Neil Francois and Ron and Peggy Weiss recently opened the Fresh Planet Cafe at the downtown Whole Foods Market. The menu leans toward Asian and "Nuevo Tex-Mex" (which happens to be the name of the cookbook Garrido expects to publish in March) and emphasizes "natural, no preservatives, unrefined sweeteners, minimal dairy," he explains -- and, of course, "fresh."

So we started shopping downstairs from Fresh Planet, at Whole Foods’ weekly Wednesday farmer’s market. Garrido moved from table to table like an executive chef overseeing each station on the line (which he is) and choosing from the interesting and mundane. His first purchase was a pair of small Japanese eggplants, followed by a mottled squash. The seller described it as yellow squash with cucumber mosaic virus, I think; whatever it was, I ate it and lived to tell about it happily.

By the time I had finished writing this down, Garrido already had moved on to two more tables. This apparently was a man possessed. He grabbed a box of tiny currant tomatoes (like cherry tomatoes, but even smaller and sweeter), then moved indoors to round out his purchases. "Fruits are like wines -- they have good years, too," noted the chef with the Spanish and Mexican roots who’s called Canada, Europe and Dallas (among other places) home. This must be a good year for nectarines, because a couple went into the shopping basket.

After stocking up on a few items from the shelves -- "365" house-brand olive oil, pasta and Kalamata olives, plus German mustard redolent of horseradish, and some crumbly goat cheese -- he took the goods upstairs to put them to work. He grouped and regrouped them a couple of times, finally satisfied with his combinations, and then fired up the grill and put a pasta kettle on to boil. Like Gene Kelly doing an impromptu soft-shoe, he was making it all look very easy. But what about those of us born without the natural gift of combining foods (most of us, that is)?

"Read the food magazines," he advised. "The magazines always have recipes for in-season ingredients. Study the combinations. Then go shopping. And learn not to be afraid to substitute when something looks better than what you planned."

We were joined by Jackie Northway, Fresh Planet’s managing chef, who took over grill duties. Meanwhile, Garrido was working a handful of okra into submission -- I’m not kidding about that; he said he doesn’t like the stuff much but has ways of making it less slimy. (See the Chef’s Notes below for this and other tips.)

He combined the finished elements into artful dishes, and we were curious about those nectarines. As he placed pieces into the arrangement, he explained, "The combination of sweet fruit and vegetables is very romantic in the summer." How true. One bite of this extemporaneous ecstasy, and I was in love. I wanted to bear this pasta salad’s children ... or at least, be a part of its family reunions now and then. Thanks to the following recipes, you can, too:



“365” Vegetable Pasta Salad
by David Garrido, Fresh Planet Cafe
Serves 4 (Remember, don’t be afraid to improvise!)


1/2 pound linguine
Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
2 Japanese eggplants, sliced lengthwise
1 yellow squash, sliced lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for grilling
10 fresh okra, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon flour
3 /4 cup currant tomatoes
6 fresh basil leaves, julienned
1/2 small lemon or lime
2 nectarines, pitted and diced
4 Kalamata olives, pitted and diced
1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled
8 chives

Cook linguine in boiling water for 7 minutes or until done. Drain in a colander and rinse briefly with tepid water to wash away some of the starch. While still warm, drain and toss with honey-mustard vinaigrette in a large bowl. Set aside.

Brush eggplant and squash with olive oil, and season with salt. Grill or saute each side over medium heat for 3 minutes or until done. Set aside.

Lightly dust sliced okra with flour, and saute in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. After about 1 minute (when okra is lightly browned), add currant tomatoes, basil and juice of lemon or lime. Season with salt and remove from heat.

On each of four plates, arrange one slice of eggplant and one slice of squash. Top with pasta, then okra, and garnish with nectarines, olives, cheese and chives.

Nutrition (per serving): 419 calories



Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette
Serves 4


2 tablespoons German mustard
1-1/2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar

Combine mustard, honey, oil and vinegar. Mix well and set aside.


  Chef’s Notes
  • "Don’t go by smell when buying fresh herbs. They must have flavor."
  • "Choose fresh, young eggplants -- small ones, because they’re less sour and don’t need to be soaked."
  • For grilling, slice eggplants and squash thinly but leave the stem end intact. Fan out the slices to expose all surfaces to the heat. "They’re close to done when the edges turn clear and they’re soft to the touch." (Jackie Northway)
  • "Slice okra very thin, and dust it with a little flour or corn meal. Then saute it over very high heat -- the oil should be nearly smoking."
  • "A good way to tell if pasta is ready is to follow the package directions, then take one piece, cut it in half and see if it looks cooked through. If it isn’t ready, you can see the uncooked center."
  • "To pit a nectarine, slice it in half around the pit, then twist it apart."

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