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Chef Marcus Samuelsson's Hot Hot Heat

Marcus Samuelsson, the wunderkind chef from NYC's Aquavit and award-winning cookbook author, was in SF last night to promote BlueStar ranges, powerful (and expensive) gas stoves that put out 22,000 BTUs of restaurant-level heat. Turns out Samuelsson himself owns a BlueStar and moonlights as a spokesman of sorts. We thought we'd be sitting down to a Samuelsson-prepared dinner, but instead got a cooking lesson in which he demonstrated the fine art of searing and sitr-frying, which, he repeated several times, is not the same as sauteeing. And if you're trying to sear something with a regular at-home stove, it's likely you're just sauteeing it instead.


Samuelsson schools us in searing. All photos by Kathryn Roach.

The nicest thing about the BlueStar is that the cooktop is shaped so you can remove the burner plate and place your pan directly on the flame. As Escoffier taught us, this does wonders for flavor, especially anything full of protein like fish or meat. The heat seals and lightly chars the outside, leaving the flavor and juices trapped inside. Most restaurant entrees taste a lot better than home cooking largely because of this simple technique: searing quickly in high heat.

Samuelsson threw some marinated shrimp into a frying pan, threw some green chili sauce over it, and within two minutes had arranged a plate of seared shrimp on crisp butter lettuce leaves, a perfect summer appetizer.


Stir-frying up a storm.

Then the packed room congregated in groups of about 10 around BlueStar ranges and, under a chef's guidance, tried out the stoves themselves, whipping up an Ethiopian beef stir-fry (hangar steak strips, red onion, jalapenos, chili powder, cumin, and red wine to finish) that we then lopped up with injera, the East African spongy bread that replaces a fork. You rip off the bread and scoop up the beef with it, then shove it in your mouth.


Beef stir-fry on injera.

The lesson: You need fire to make restaurant-level food. Not all of us can afford a BlueStar (they start at about $5,000 and go on up to stratospheric price levels), but if you've got a gas range at home, don't be afraid to use a smoke-resistant oil such as canola or peanut, turn it to high and sear away to your heart's content.