Cooking with Chef Jim Copening: Cool summer dishes

June 25, 2014 

Chef Jim Copening

PICASA

My wife, Donna, and I moved from New York City to the Bradenton area three years ago this summer. Our dream was to open a restaurant featuring the flavors and cuisines that we experienced in New York. Restaurants offering ethnic and international flavors -- Indian, Greek, Thai, French, Afghani, African, Mideastern, Spanish and Japanese were our favorite dining spots.

We believe that food should be exciting. Really exciting. And our guests seem to appreciate our eclectic menu.

Here we are in Florida. In the summer. It's hot. Really hot. But, I much prefer the summers in Florida to those in New York where the streets radiate the sun's heat 24/7, captured between the alleys created by the towering buildings. Let's face it. It might be hot in the summer here, but there are wide open spaces, the beach is a short drive away, breezes blow off the Gulf, and evenings and frequent rainstorms offer a welcome relief.

At our restaurant, Arts & Eats, we have a few perfect summer dishes on the menu that will help beat the heat, including an herb chicken salad, crab meat salad, watermelon feta salad and cold potato leek soup (also known as vichyssoise). The last two offerings make for fun and interesting summer eating.

The watermelon feta salad combines the sweetness of the melon with the saltiness of feta cheese and the acidity of balsamic vinegar. Heaven.

The traditional soup named for Vichy, France, called vichyssoise, is a cold potato leek puree with a cream base. There's some dispute about the origin of the soup, but your taste buds won't care. They'll just love the creamy texture, deliciousness, and

coolness as a refreshing summer meal.

Enjoy!

Vichyssoise (Cold Potato Leek Soup)

1 stick butter

3 leeks, chopped and rinsed well

5 large Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped

1 pint heavy cream

Kosher salt to taste

White pepper to taste

64 ounces of chicken stock

Melt the butter in a 5-quart pot. Add leeks and sauté until translucent. Add the potatoes and stock. Simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, about 30 minutes. Puree the mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add cream. Chill. Makes 8 servings.

Watermelon Feta Salad

2 hearts of romaine lettuce, shredded

2 large wedges watermelon, chopped into 1-2 inch pieces

1 cup, Feta cheese, crumbled

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Sea salt and black pepper

Divide lettuce into 4 servings and place portions on 4 chilled plates. Add watermelon on top and sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Top with a sprinkling of feta cheese (about 1/2 cup).

Chef Jim Copening, of Arts & Eats, can be reached at artsandeats@gmail.com. The restaurant is at 1114 12th St. W., Bradenton, in the Village of the Arts. Information: 941-201-6647 or artsandeatsfl.com.

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