In 1975, an American student traveling through Europe was treated to a lobster omelet on his birthday. "I've got to learn to cook that" was Bob Brody's reaction to his birthday meal. He returned to Massachusetts, packed his bags and scheduled a flight back to Paris, where he enrolled at La Varenne cooking school.
After a year as an apprentice at the school and working at restaurants in Paris, Brody did a stint at the two-star Chateau de Locguenole in Brittany at the peak of the nouvelle cuisine movement.
"Working with chef Michel Gaudin at a time when France was reasserting itself as a leader in the food world was exciting. The experience pointed the way for me," Brody says, and it inspired his move toward experimental cooking.
He returned to the United States to work at the Sheraton Boston, where he introduced regional American dishes and continued experiments with cuisines he learned in Europe.
Today, as executive chef of major restaurants at San Diego's Sheraton Harbor Island East and Sheraton Grand, Brody's concern is to improve the quality of banquet food.
"My big challenge right now is to bring restaurant quality standards to the banquet room," he says. "We do a pretty good job with 250 to 400 diners now, but I look forward to the time when we can do the same for 1,000." He would like, for example, to use sauces based on reduction techniques rather than sauces made with flour and starch, the staple fare in banquet-style cooking.
Brody has also learned that pasta dishes, such as the one featured here, can work well as banquet service.
"But you must be careful," he says. "You have to know how much cooking to do at different stages; also when and how much garnish goes on a dish." When making Brody's Pasta With Szechuan Spiced Shrimp, from the Chambrette restaurant at Sheraton Harbor Island East, prepare the ingredients ahead, as chefs do, so that they can be added immediately. PRODUCED BY ROBIN TUCKER FOOD STYLIST: NORMAN STEWART PLATE FROM THE NANCY EPSTEIN GALLERY, BEVERLY HILLS BOB BRODY'S PASTA WITH SZECHUAN SPICED SHRIMP
pound spinach leaves
2tablespoons olive oil
cup Chinese chili paste, or to taste
1pound colored dry or fresh penne, fettuccine or other pasta
1/2cup butter, cut into 10 pieces
Wash spinach and remove stems. Peel and seed tomatoes. Chop roughly. Clean and de-vein shrimp. Bring water to a boil in pot. Add salt. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in saucepan. Add garlic. Saute few seconds. Add shrimp and chili paste. Cook until shrimp turns pink. Set aside.
Cook pasta until tender. Drain and place pasta on serving platter or individual plates. Arrange shrimp over pasta. Place tomatoes and spinach in medium skillet. Saute vegetables in half the butter until tender, adding remaining butter bit by bit until melted. Pour over pasta. Makes 4 servings.