Black Eye Coffee Executive Pastry Chef
As executive pastry chef for Black Eye Coffee, Alicia Luther spends her workday making the sweet treats guests enjoy with their cuppa joe at either of the shop’s two locations: 3408 Navajo St. and 800 Sherman St.
Thus, she says, “When I’m home, I’m all over the place” when it comes to cooking. Her favorite, though, is her maternal grandmother’s albondigas soup.
“When I’m sick, or it’s really cold outside, that’s when I’m glad I have this recipe in my collection,” Luther says. “It’s comfort food at its best.”
Born and raised in Southern California, Luther’s family gathered at her grandparents’ home every Sunday for dinner. “Traditionally, albondigas (Mexican meatballs) are made from pork or beef, but since I’m not a huge red meat eater, I use turkey. And it’s just as good.”
A relative newcomer to Colorado, Luther moved here from Los Angeles last August after her current job “fell into my lap. It promised a welcome change from the 14-hour days I was putting in in L.A., so my boyfriend, two dogs and two cats packed up and made the trek to Denver.”
Now, Luther appreciates the better work/life balance that 8-10 hour days bring. She also enjoys the freedom to develop an ever-changing dessert menu for Black Eye Coffee.
“Right now my focus is on citrus—things like lemon and blood oranges,” she says. “My favorite is a Meyer lemon tart that also has candied kumquats and pink peppercorns. It’s savory without being overpowering. I also like my spiked root beer float with absinthe ice cream.”
Adjusting to Denver’s mile-high altitude wasn’t as problematic as she had feared. “I knew that baking would be different here than at sea level,” she says, “but I’d researched it pretty thoroughly before accepting the position. Fortunately, I had enough time to play with the recipes and, to be honest, altitude hasn’t been that much of a problem.”
ABUELA’S TURKEY ALBONDIGAS SOUP
1 pound ground turkey
½ cup uncooked white rice
1 large egg
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons garlic salt
2 teaspons black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon chili powder
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 quart chicken stock
1 quart water
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 bell pepper (any color), chopped
½ yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons oregano
1 bay leaf
Cilantro, chopped scallions, lime wedges for optional garnish
Combine turkey, rice, egg, 2 tablespoons oregano, salt, pepper, cumin and chili powder in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or your hands. Shape into 1-inch meatballs. Set aside.
Combine stock, water, potatoes, carrot, bell pepper, onion, olive oil, 2 teaspoons oregano and bay leaf in a large pot. Bring to simmer over medium low heat.
Roll meatballs in flour and add to pot. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Divide soup between bowls. Garnish with lime wedge, cilantro and chopped scallions.
Uncle Joe’s Hong Kong Bistro Executive Chef
Nothing says comfort food to Thach Tran like pan-fried dumplings.
“I love eating them and I love to make them at home, which I do about once a month,” he says. “They’re pretty labor-intensive, so I’ll make a big batch and then freeze them so that I can just warm them up a few at a time to enjoy after a long day.”
Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Tran learned to appreciate good food from his grandmother, who owned two noodle restaurants. “One of them was right next to my elementary school and when classes let out, I would go to the restaurant where I did everything from wash dishes to watching broth simmer,” he recalls.
His grandmother taught him to cook by taste. “To me, using cups was so confusing, but when I do measure I like to use grams and milliliters because they’re more of an exact measure,” he says.
Tran’s aunt and uncle were the first to move to the United States, arriving as refugees by way of Guam and California before settling in Denver and sponsoring the rest of his family. Tran was 9 years old at the time.
He learned more about the American way of cooking by watching Food Network shows and completing culinary school at Johnson & Wales University. He was part of the team that opened Denver’s popular ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro, serving five years as executive sous chef before being hired on as culinary director for the Law Brothers Group.
“I was asked to consult on the opening menu for Uncle Joe’s Hong Kong Bistro (891 14th St. in the Denver theater district) and to help hire its first chef. I wound up staying.” Tran also helped develop Platform T, another Law Brothers concept with two locations in Denver.
PAN-FRIED DUMPLINGS (Guo Tie)
Yield: 20 dumplings
Note: Tran uses metric measurements; find conversion calculators online
PORK AND GARLIC CHIVE FILLING INGREDIENTS
210 grams pork belly, minced
1½ grams salt
4 grams sugar
1 gram white pepper
15 grams oyster sauce
2 ounces light soy sauce
15 grams ginger, minced
10 grams garlic, minced
4 grams potato starch
150 milliliters water
4 milliliters vegetable oil
4 milliliters sesame oil
170 grams Chinese or garlic chives
In a Kitchen Aid or similar mixer, use the paddle attachment to combine all the ingredients except for the water, oil, sesame oil and Chinese chives. Mix on medium-low speed, No. 3 or No. 4 setting, for about 2-3 minutes. Continue mixing, adding water and oils, then mix for another 2 minutes to emulsify the fat and starch content. This will create an emulsified filling that will hold together when cooked. Lastly, mix in the garlic chives and combine until fully incorporated.
DOUGH (SHUI JIAO PI) INGREDIENTS
448 grams medium-gluten flour or all-purpose flour
4 grams salt
250 milliliters water
In a Kitchen Aid or similar mixer, use the dough hook to combine all the ingredients and mix on medium speed for 3-5 minutes. Dough should pull clean from the bowl. Knead the dough by hand for another 2-3 minutes by folding the dough over itself 18-20 times. Form the dough into an oval football shape, then wrap in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 1 hour.
To shape the dumplings, cut and roll the dough out to a long rope, about 3 centimeters in diameter. Cut and portion the dough into 12-gram portions, then flatten the dough with your palm into mini dough discs. Using a rolling pin, turn and roll the discs into round shapes.
CRUNCHY CRUST INGREDIENTS
28 grams potato starch
90 milliliters water
Mix to combine.
In a nonstick pan on medium heat, start with one tablespoon of oil and arrange dumplings in a circular formation, or any way you want.
Pour about three tablespoons of water into the pan, cover with a lid and allow dumplings to steam for 2-3 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated.
Add about 3 tablespoons of the potato starch mixture for an extra-crunchy crust, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Cover to allow the mixture to cook and steam. A crust will form after all moisture has evaporated. Cook until a golden brown color is achieved. Invert onto a plate and serve with light soy sauce and vinegar.