A couple of decades ago, it would not have been considered a formal dinner. But at a time when casual and carry-out hold sway, the meal that Phil King prepared in honor of a friend’s birthday was an intentional treat served at a beautiful table with all the traditional trimmings — service plates, embroidered linen napkins, sparkling crystal and silver, and candles and flowers. The fine china was “Grandma Stover’s good dishes,” inherited by King’s partner, Dennis Stover.
For King, cooking is a creative outlet.
“It is part of the creative gene,” he says. “I like planning, organizing and making things pretty. It’s a creation, like painting … it’s all part of being artistic.”
He spent the day at home preparing for the evening.
“Today was my favorite kind of day,” he said. “I didn’t have to leave the house for anything. I loved getting out the silver and the crystal and doing the flowers and making everything as beautiful as possible. I had my favorite music playing, and I was just having a great time.”
Sometimes King cooks from recipes. Fillets of beef chasseur is one of his signature dishes; he got the directions more than 15 years ago from a friend and client of the salon and day spa he owned in Indianapolis before moving here. Sometimes he wings it. To make pretty potatoes, he roasted same-size pieces of baby redskins and sweet potatoes with an Italian herb blend and a bit of olive oil.
King’s eye for color and July’s abundance of mangos inspired the dual-layered chilled soup.
King seasoned the honeydew puree with vodka and lemon juice but felt it needed something to intensify the flavor. He used the juice from the pineapple that was part of the evening’s dessert. The mango puree was enhanced with Cointreau, a goodly amount of lime juice to cut the sweetness and a shot of white pepper to add zing. All this was done early in the day. To serve, he carefully and simultaneously poured half a cup of each into a serving bowl and added a sprig of mint. Voila! An off-the-cuff creation as tasty as it was beautiful.
One more beauty of King’s menu is that most of the work was done in advance. Put that together with a partner who is not only willing but terribly good at the cleaning up, and you have a chef who was able to enjoy his own party, as his guests most surely did.
Phil King’s birthday dinner menu for a friend included:
• Antipasto of hard salami, bocconcini with tomatoes, assorted olives, cheeses and crackers
• Chilled melon and honeydew soup
• Fillets of beef chasseur
• Snow peas vinaigrette
• Herb-roasted redskin and sweet potatoes
• Coconut flan with fresh pineapple and crisp wafer
PHIL KING’S FILLETS OF BEEF CHASSEUR
Yield: Eight servings
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt or your favorite seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
8 6- to 8-ounce beef tenderloin filets, one-inch thick
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brandy
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons tomato paste
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup beef broth
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons currant jelly
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
Combine half of the garlic, the seasoned salt and pepper — rub steaks.
Sauté steaks in two tablespoons of the butter until brown on the outside with center raw.
Arrange steaks in a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish.
Cook brandy in same skillet over moderate heat; stir constantly and scrap up the brown bits.
Add remaining four tablespoons butter, and stir in flour.
Reduce heat to low; stir until mixture is golden.
Stir in tomato paste and remaining garlic — mixture will be thick and grainy.
Remove from heat; whisk in wine, chicken broth, beef broth and water.
Bring to a boil over moderate heat and stir constantly.
Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes; stir until liquid is reduced by a third.
Add Worcestershire and currant jelly; when jelly is melted, add mushrooms.
Adjust seasonings to taste; and thin sauce to coating consistency (I never add anything). Cool and pour sauce over steaks.
At this point, steaks may be covered and refrigerated overnight. (I always do and have marinated as long as 48 hours.)
Allow steaks to warm to room temperature before cooking.
Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes for rare, 20 to 25 minutes for medium to medium rare.
Note: If you buy pre-cut filets, they are usually closer to 2-inches thick. I cook them for 30 minutes, and they come out to a nice medium to medium rare.