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Chef for a day 

click to enlarge Chef Jim Anile: "Let's put this baby together." - PHOTO COURTESY OF IL PALIO RISTORANTE
  • Photo courtesy of Il Palio Ristorante
  • Chef Jim Anile: "Let's put this baby together."
How would you like to spend a day with a top-notch, fun-loving chef? To go with him to the market, select expensive produce, meats and cheeses and prepare a spectacular four-course meal standing at his side? Chef Jim Anile of Il Palio Ristorante is currently offering that challenge to the kitchen curious. For the better part of a day, Anile will take you on a tour, in slow motion, of what a professional kitchen has to offer.

The wide array of sounds, sights and scents that make up the world of a chef is different then what cooking at home is for most. Daniel Platt, a software designer for GlaxoSmithKline and a weekly patron at Il Palio, found out recently how different it was to be behind the scenes at one of Chapel Hill's better known dinner spots.

Daniel and his wife, Elianna, have developed a great love of travel and food over the past few years, making several trips to Italy "on our stomach," as they say, following the circuitous food route through Tuscany, Rome and Bologna, a favorite dining city. He was approached by the Siena Hotel's head of marketing, Sasha Travers, to test run this unique adventure, to which he happily said, "Si Si!"

Daniel arrives at the kitchen ready to go. He has a vague idea of what he'd like to prepare for dinner, considering scallops for one course, but confesses quietly, "Let's see first what the chef has in mind."

Anile's plan of action has no ingredients yet. "Let's go to the market first and see what we feel like cooking. Then we'll supplement with what we have here at the restaurant. Once we're done, we'll sit down in the office and discuss the ideas we've developed and then speak with Damon (the sommelier) about which wine will go well with each course. After we've met with him--well, then we'll start cookin'!"

Anile then asks Daniel when he expects his guests to arrive and whether he'd like to serve them "family-style" platters or individual detailed plates. Daniel chooses platters and his guests are expected at 7 p.m.

Daniel and Anile drive to Whole Foods, and after much picking and sorting through the islands of produce, bins of bulk food, the cheese counter and game station, they emerge. In their sack they carry two large duck breasts, a young and a slightly riper blue-veined cheese, baby carrots, a bunch of globe radishes, a small bag of lentils, Brazil nuts and fresh peas in pod.

Upon arrival at the kitchen, they immediately head for the walk-in cooler, nice and neat with fresh berries and greens on one side and well-wrapped meats and poultry on the other. Boxes of still writhing soft shell crabs line the back shelf, and immediately the chef and Daniel agree that this will be a second course. After a moment more of pawing around, they emerge from the refrigerator victorious and ready to put the pieces together.

"OK," Anile says, leaning over an ancient computer, "let's put this baby together."

He starts quickly planning the menu, asking Daniel for counsel every step of the way.

"Let's have John Tate (the pastry chef) come up with the dessert, as we have plenty to do this afternoon." Sommelier Damon Haynes now enters the scene. As the chef discusses the main dishes, Daniel watches in awe as Damon rapidly spits back his wine suggestions.

The cooking finally begins. All of the dish proteins are prepped first; the meats seasoned and marinated, the lentils cooked with smoked bacon and a simple broth. A Romescu sauce is made out of Brazil nuts. Tiny, bright orange carrots with perfect green stems are par-boiled then peeled in preparation for a gentle pickling. Risotto is aerobically stirred while the soft shells crabs are trimmed, eyes first. Meanwhile, the two blue-veined cheeses sit atop a metal shelf and wait.

Several hours later, the guests arrive. Daniel dons a chef's coat, white with cloth buttons, and dinner is served!

His eyeglasses steamed, cheeks aflame with kitchen heat and pride, he introduces the first course to his wife and two friends--seared scallops with pickled baby carrots and fresh dill. Then came fried soft-shell crabs with a Romescu sauce; risotto with wild mushrooms and English peas; duck breast with green lentils; and cheeses with fresh pears. And for dessert, to cap the new chef's maiden voyage, there was a raspberry mousse chocolate cake.

For information on how you can spend the day with chef Jim Anile, contact Sasha Travers at The Siena Hotel, 537-1500,

Around Town


La ShiSh, a Greek and Lebanese cafe, opened this year in Cary at Reedy Creek Plaza, 908 N.E. Maynard Road. The cafe is a family-owned venture that serves traditional Middle Eastern favorites--souvlaki, hummus, tabbouleh along with a marvelous tiramisu ...

Update on Jean Claude's Cafe: Great news for all of Therese Freeman's supporters. After a Front Porch article in The Independent about the possibility of her cafe closing because of what she feared was anti-French sentiment, another article followed in June in The News & Observer. "I've been packed," she says. "If it continues this way for at least another month, I'll be back in business. Thanks to The Independent, for the interest and to The News & Observer."

Chapel Hill/Carrboro
Roberto Giafalla, chef for Spice Streetat 201 Estes Dr., has moved to run the stoves at Vin Rouge in Durham. Nadir Sherwani, the former Vin Rouge chef, has been sent to cover Spice Street for the time being. Both restaurants are owned by the irrepressible George Bakatsias ...

Villa Cafe opened at 100 West Green Drive in Southern Village, serving authentic Mexican fare. The cafe is open for lunch and dinner, and is expecting to be serving breakfast as well within the next few weeks ... Tini's Tapas, at 100 W. Franklin St., is now open with a menu of 50 different tapas with daily specials. Prices range from $5 to $13 a plate. Hours are: Monday-Friday lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday til midnight. Tini's also has a full bar open late Friday and Saturday nights ...

Discover the wines of Italy on Wednesday, June 25, with sommelier Damon Haynes in the lobby bar of the Siena Hotel at 1505 East Franklin St. The regions of Tuscany, Piemonte and Friuli Venezia Giulia will be the main focus. Tasting begins at 5:30 p.m.; reservations are not needed. Info: 929-4000.


The Washington Duke Inn ,3001 Cameron Blvd., has a new director of restaurants. Daniel Post-Kennedy, who previously worked for the Pierre Hotel in New York City, was brought on to run and lend vision to the current expansion at the hotel. The changes include a new restaurant, a relocation of the Fairview restaurant, and an expansion of the Bull Durham lounge. Work is expected to be completed by December ...

Look for menu innovations from chef Rick Sordahl at Safari Cuisine, a restaurant at 101 Chapel Hill Road that offers a variety of Kenyan dishes such as samosa, chapati and mukimo (a traditional vegetarian plate). They also make several types of curries, stews and regular American sandwiches, priced at $3 to $7 for most menu items ...

Vin Rouge, 2010 Hillsborough Road, is no longer open for lunch; only a Sunday brunch. C'est la vie ... Papa's Grill, a Mediterranean restaurant at 1821 Hillandale Road, will be featuring live eclectic music, hors d'oeuvres and wine tasting every Tuesday and Thursday night ... Maggiano's Little Italy at The Streets of Southpoint also will be offering live music Monday through Friday. For more information call 572-0070.

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