Posts Tagged ‘Skiz Fernando’


When I got into this cooking game some 8 years ago, I never dreamed I would be an executive chef at a restaurant, or write a cookbook, or even have my own line of spices. But a lot of hard work, and a passion for food has got me to where I am today. At my recent supper club in DC, a lot of people were asking me when I was going to open my own restaurant. “Whenever some angel investor decides to drop a couple hundred thousand dollars on me,” I answered. Restaurants are no easy undertaking, and plenty of them fail in their first few months, but show me the money, and I’m game. But my proudest achievement in this whole realm of food so far has got to be my YouTube channel, simply called Skiz Fernando.


As a filmmaker with 3 features under my belt (2 docs, and a fiction film), I might have taken another path on this Earth, but even though film never panned out for me, I still like to make videos. I shoot plenty of footage–usually with a food-centric focus–on my various trips to international destinations, and I also love to make instructional cooking videos. Since my specialty is Asian food,  my show Pan Asian shows you how to make a simple, quick and delicious Asian dish in usually under 15 minutes. My travel-related videos usually fall under one of two types–Off The Eaten Path, in which  I expose some unknown corner of the food world, or Adventures in Dining. I recently pitched Off The Eaten Path to The Cooking Channel as a kind of reverse Bourdain, in which I eat at ethnic enclaves all over America, and expose this food to the mainstream, but they were not confident in attracting an “ethnic” audience. Little do they know that 5 years from now, minorities will be the majority in America, and most food will be “ethnic.” Oh, well, I have dealt with people with little or no vision for most of my life. That’s not going to stop me from doing my thing.


Which brings me to the point of this post: I have a YouTube Channel with over 100 food and travel related videos, folks. No one paid me to do these, and they are all a reflection of my passion for creative pursuits like writing, and making music and films, and cooking. I make these videos primarily for me–as a creative outlet–but the content is really for all of you. So, please, help a brother out, and subscribe to my channel and watch my videos. I guarantee you will find something interesting or derive some benefit or pleasure from them. The fact that I have recently monetized my videos also means that I am earning pennies with every click. Those pennies add up, however, so far be it from me to scoff at this income. And who knows? Perhaps if my channel blows up, The Cooking Channel or someone else might come knocking on my door and offering me a show on cable. Maybe, I’ll be making so much money on YouTube by then that I can turn them down.





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Dinner Lab-DC menu019

Just came off back to back nights in DC doing two Dinner Labs events that served a total of 220 people. Dinner Lab is a company that regularly stages supper clubs across the country, allowing emerging chefs a chance to shine, and this was my first time working with them. After a hectic 2 days of prep in their DC kitchen, in which we just barely got everything done, I was ready to trot out my menu, which featured a traditional Sri Lankan “Rice & Curry” meal that was deconstructed, or broken down into 5 courses, instead of being served all together. The menu included a mackerel cutlet; tomato & cucumber salad; a capsicum pepper stuffed with ground beef, in a coconut milk gravy; spinach & dhal curry with red rice, coconut sambol, and papadum; black pork curry on a coconut roti with tempered leeks and mango chutney; and finally, for dessert, a coconut flan.

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The greatest challenge in cooking for so many people is getting the spicing right–especially the heat. Because I love chilies, and use them liberally in my cooking, I have obviously developed a high tolerance for heat, which is not shared by too many people. Since many people are not familiar with Sri Lankan food, which is known to be spicy, the trick is to highlight the flavors without letting the chili overtake  everything else. I carefully designed a menu, which would do just that, but as always there were those who thought it was too hot, while others craved more heat. It just goes to show that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.Dinner Lab-DC menu020

But walking around the room and getting feedback from the diners proved to be invaluable. I found  that most people really appreciated the fact that Sri Lankan food stands on its own as a whole separate entity from Indian food. As one of my goals has always been to put Sri Lankan cuisine on the map, I was very happy that my food clearly illustrated this distinction. There is also nothing better than getting compliments on your cooking, and it meant even more since the DC crowd is serious about their food. I got into many interesting conversations about the ingredients I used as well as about Sri Lanka itself. It’s one of those times when a chef is really an ambassador for his country and his culture, and I was proud to represent a place as wonderful as Sri Lanka.

I should also mention that the locations for both dinners were amazing. The first night was held at the Atlas Theatre on H Street. , and the second at an old renovated church cum artspace called The Blind Whino on M Street–just around the corner, coincidentally, from the Capitol Skyline Hotel, where I worked as Executive Chef. I’ll be doing another Sri Lankan menu for Dinner Lab at an event in Baltimore on December 6th.



















The Chef with one of his satisfied guests.










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Here’s another quick, easy, and delicious one from the Pan Asian files. This one comes from Vietnam, which is one of my ultimate dining destinations.

Like much Vietnamese food, this dish plays off the interaction of several tastes–sweet, salty, spicy, savory–though the heat, in this case, is a simple garnish of chili pepper strands. Five Spice Powder is a popular spice blend used in Asian and some Arabic cooking that contains Star anise (bajiao, 八角), Cloves (dingxiang, 丁香), Chinese Cinnamon (rougui, 肉桂), Szechuan pepper (huajiao, 花椒), Fennel seeds (xiaohuixiang, 小茴香). You should be able to find it anywhere they sell Asian products. U.S. spice giant McCormick even makes a version. All the other ingredients are fairly common–even fish sauce–and its amazing how such simple ingredients make such a delicious dish. I would recommend using a good honey in this dish since the flavor is prominent.

The Recipe

3 tablespoons oils

1 large onion, cut into wedges

1 lb (500 g) boneless chicken thighs, cut into thin strips

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into matchsticks

½ teaspoon 5 spice powder

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 finger length red chili, deseeded and cut into thin strips, for garnish

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves, for garnish

  • Heat oil in a wok over high heat until very hot. Stir fry the onion until fragrant and translucent—about 1 minute. Add chicken and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and stiry fry for another 30 seconds.
  • Reduce heat to medium and add five spice powder, and mix well. Add fish sauce, soy sauce, and honey, and stir fry 2 minutes more until chicken is well-coated with sauce and cooked through. Remove from heat and transfer to serving platter.
  • Sprinkle with black pepper and garnish with chili and cilantro leaves. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Serves 4


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Chilaw is a town smack dab in the center of Sri Lanka’s west coast–maybe 2 1/2 hours north of Colombo. It’s known for coconut estates and crabs and really any type of seafood since the town sits on a large freshwater lagoon. I have been there several times to see Leela, my aunt’s former cook, and once, I even brought Anthony Bourdain here for an episode of No Reservations, when he proclaimed Leela’s home cooking as “the best meal” of the trip.

I had never been to the fish market, however, and this video captures the sights and sounds of one of the busiest markets on the island. Usually peak hours are at about 4 or 5 in the  morning when the boats are just returning with the day’s catch. Though we arrived late–at about 10 am–the market was still buzzing with activity, and ordinary people as opposed to wholesalers and hotels, were buying seafood for their evening meals. Unfortunately, the massive lagoon crabs that are available here were long gone–mostly snatched up by wholesalers who sell exclusively to Singapore (for their popular Chili crab and Pepper Crab dishes). Therefore, we only see small ocean crabs left. The strange looking stuff at the end of the video are actually fish that are spiral cut and dried in the sun since dried fish is popular in Sri Lanka.

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IMG_0466  Baigan Bharta is an iconic dish that you’ve, no doubt, enjoyed at your local Indian eatery. It basically translates to “Eggplant with minced vegetables,” which is a description that hardly does justice to this delicious preparation. Complex, in a smoky, sweet, spicy, savory kind of way, Baigan Bharta thrills the taste buds, and lacking any animal fat, it’s healthy to boot. It’s also fun to make because you get to roast a whole eggplant directly on one of the burners on your stovetop (provided you are using a gas range instead of electric). The thick eggplant skin chars well, allowing all that flavorful smoke to seep right into the inner flesh. In this recipe, we also roast the tomatoes in the oven, though if you are short on time you can always used canned tomatoes. Though the recipe calls for a food processor to puree the vegetables, I prefer a rough chop to preserve some kind of texture beyond that of baby food. Also, you will get different bites–some of sweet tomato and some of smoky eggplant. Since there are very few spices used–only cumin seed, coriander seed, and cayenne powder–this dish can be put together without much fuss, and should be added to your regular repertoire. It can stand alone with some steamed Basmathi rice and raita, or eat is as a snack with some good Indian flatbread like chapati or roti. There’s a ton of recipes for this dish floating around out there, but I found one I liked in the new cookbook, Spices & Seasons, by fellow Hippocrene author, Rinku Bhattacharya. It’s simple to make, with relatively few ingredients, and tastes amazing. I guarantee Baigan Bharta will become one of your goto Indian dishes. Spices & Seasons012

The Recipe

From Spices & Seasons (Hippocrene Books, 2014) by Rinku Bhattacharya 1 large of 2 medium eggplants (about 1 ½ lbs.) 3 Tbsp. oil 4 medium ripe tomatoes (about ¾ lb) 1 tsp. cumin seeds 1 medium red onion, finely chopped 2 tsp. crushed coriander seeds 2 tsp. ginger paste 6 cloves garlic, crushed 1 tsp. salt or to taste 1 tsp. cayenne pepper powder 2 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro leaves 2-3 green chilies, chopped (optional)

  • Place eggplant(s) on an open flame and cook for about 6-7 minutes. When the exposed side is completely charred, turn the eggplant and roast on the other side for 6-7 minutes until well charred. Place the eggplant(s) on a plate to cool. Carefully remove the skin and mash coarsely.
  • In the meantime, drizzle about 1 tablespoon of oil into a baking dish. Place the tomatoes in the dish and begin broiling them in the oven on low heat. Turn the tomatoes a couple of times to ensure they are cooked evenly and the skin is uniformly darkened. When the tomatoes are charred, remove from broiler and cool slightly. Carefully remove their skin and place the tomatoes in a blender or food processor and coarsely puree.
  • Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a pot. Add the cumin seeds and cook for about 45 seconds. Add the red onions and lightly sauté for about 5-6 minutes, until they wilt and begin to turn soft and crisp around the edges. Add the coriander seeds, ginger paste, and garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant and toasty.
  • Add the mashed eggplant and mix well. Add the tomato puree, salt, and cayenne pepper powder, and cook and stir until they are well mixed.
  • Stir in the cilantro leaves and serve immediately.

Serves 4 IMG_0464

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Ask anyone who lives or has spent some time in Jordan’s capital of Amman what their favorite restaurant is, and most likely “Fakhr El-Din” will be the first name out of their lips. I had heard plenty about this upscale Lebanese restaurant, founded in 1997 and located near Amman’s second circle in a house once owned by Jordan’s first Prime Minister, Mr. Fawzi Al-Mulki. And what grand house it is with an indoor fountain, well-appointed dining space, and a picturesque outdoor garden. Though I had passed by the place, I never found occasion to eat there.

All that changed when I decided to invite my wife’s family out for a meal. I gave them three choices: Armenian, Syrian, or Lebanese. Most everyone chose the latter–specifically Fakhr El-Din–since they were well familiar with the food and ambience. Since I had been to the Armenian place before (which was good), and the Syrian spot had recently closed, I was on board as well, having fond memories of my culinary adventures in Beirut. Since we had about 8 in our party we had to take 2 cars, and unfortunately for me, the car I was in had to make a couple stops, so we arrived late to dinner. As a result, I missed out on ordering from their extensive menu , which includes sections for both hot and cold mezze, salads, soups, chef’s specials, seafood, and main courses. Had I not, I would have tried some of their more unique dishes, including lamb brains and frog legs.

But on the positive side, we did not have to wait to eat, and upon arrival found our table laid with a nice sampling of mezze including hummus, babaganoush, tabouleh, a beet salad, raw almonds, and kibbeh nayeh, a Lebanese specialty made with raw lamb, burghul (cracked wheat), and spices. A Middle Eastern version of steak tartare, this dish is served with raw onions, garlic sauce, and fresh mint leaves, and eaten with pita bread. I’ve had it several times before, but Fakhr El-Din’s version was especially good, and we ended up ordering 2 plates of it, since it was so popular. Rounding out or feast were the most tender chunks of goat that I have ever eaten as well as chicken livers sauteed in a sweet pomegranate syrup, and, of course, lamb kebabs and chops. I have found that most lamb I have eaten in the Middle East is not at all gamey or fatty, and this lamb was no exception, cooked to perfection.

For dessert, they brought out a plate of freshly sliced watermelon and cantaloupe as well as a selection of candied apricots, and a mulberry jam. We also ordered a serving of Osmaliyeh, a rich, cheese-based pastry topped with strands of baked angel hair pasta and crushed pistachios, and drenched in a sugar syrup. It was no wonder that the Arabic coffee, served by men wearing red fezzes, did not have any added sugar.

Though you could eat this same food practically anywhere in Jordan or the Middle East for that matter, and for much cheaper, it was the high quality ingredients and excellent service that set this restaurant apart. So for a top-notch traditional meal in sumptuous surroundings, Fakhr El-Din is the place to be.

(Reservations recommended)


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In light of the recent round of violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, I probably chose the worst possible time to visit the “Land of milk and honey” for the first time. But as luck would have it, a weeklong cease-fire in mid-August provided a convenient window of opportunity to make a quick trip there to sample its culture and cuisine.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am married to a Palestinian, who has family both in Israel and the occupied territories of The West Bank, so I was privy to a perspective that few Americans get. Considering the horrific images that circulated in the media prior to my arrival—mostly of young Palestinian civilian casualties–it was a surreal time to be there, especially as a ‘tourist,’ yet I found both Arabs and Israelis (and Arab Israelis) to be incredibly hospitable and kind. Despite the long-standing enmity between these two groups, they also share so much in common, including a love of family, a pride in their past, and a reverence for one and the same God.

In fact, my only negative experiences occurred at Israeli border checkpoints—the first en route from Jordan, and the other as I travelled from the Palestinian-controlled West Bank back to Israel—where despite my U.S. passport I was treated with suspicion, disrespect, and downright disdain, albeit nothing on par with what Palestinians living there must deal with on a regular basis. To be honest, it felt like being transported back to the Jim Crow era in America or Apartheid South Africa, and I only wish that more American policy-makers could experience Israel from the perspective that I did. Maybe then our tax dollars would not contribute to the systematic denial of human rights for an entire group of people as well as supplying the firepower to massacre innocents that has led to a deaths of more than 2000 in a month. But you can’t judge a country by its government, so politics aside, the people I encountered on this trip provided me with some keen insights as well as some memorable meals.

The old mulberry tree, all that remains of my wife's family's property in Israel

The old mulberry tree, all that remains of my wife’s family’s property in Israel

We stayed with my wife’s family in the Palestinian village of Jaljulya, located about 20 minutes outside Tel Aviv. I was surprised to find such Arab enclaves to be not an exception, but the rule, as we passed many similar towns. Furthermore, Arabs living in Israel speak and read Hebrew as well as their native tongue, and carry Israeli passports, which allow them to travel out of the country. Such is not the case, obviously, for those living in the West Bank (more on that later). But Arab Israelis like my wife’s family have paid a heavy price for such ‘normalcy’—namely the cession of their ancestral lands. We toured acres and acres still owned on paper by my wife’s grandfather, which is now a middle-class Jewish neighborhood. An old bent Mulberry tree is the only remnant of former times, when this property once contained endless groves of citrus.

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Palestinian hospitality knows no bounds, and each morning for breakfast we were fêted by a spread fit for a sheik, prepared by the women of the family, all of whom wore the traditional hijab, or head covering, even at home. Breakfast consisted of hard-boiled eggs, hummus, a tomato-cucumber salad, falafel, labneh (yogurt), pickled vegetables, home-cured olives, and fresh, piping-hot pita–all of it home made. Strong Arabic coffee (no sugar), sage tea, and lemonade with mint accompanied the meal, and this family were also big espresso drinkers.

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After visiting the former ancestral lands, and cruising through the comfortable suburbs of Tel Aviv, Mustafa, my father-in-laws’s cousin and our host, took us to the old Tel Aviv boardwalk, Namal, which was crowded with beachgoers and families enjoying the beautiful weather and a welcomed pause in the conflict. The irony that we were not more than 44 miles from Gaza City, which had sustained widespread destruction as well as a disruption in their power and water, was not lost on me. We dined at The White Pergula, a restaurant overlooking the water, which was, incidentally, Palestinian-owned, like many of the businesses around here, and almost as soon as we sat down were treated to a dizzying array of mezze, or appetizers. I ordered a local brew, the all malt Maccabee, though I subsequently discovered Goldstar, a dark lager, which I much preferred. Since I had never heard of any of the fish on the menu with the exception of Sea Bass, I let Mustafa do the honors, and he didn’t disappoint. A heaping platter of lightly battered and fried seafood, including fish, calamari, and shrimp, was delivered to our table, and we chased lunch with some dark, muddy Arabic coffee.


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The following day, after checking out the bustling Carmel Market, we dined in Yaffa, Tel Aviv’s much older neighbor, and an amazing place to wander around and get lost in history. Once again, small plates of mezze inundated our table before even ordering as is the custom here. In addition to such standards as hummus, babaganoush, and tabouli–which incidentally, were some of the best I’ve ever had–we had various simple preparations of beets, carrots, red cabbage, arugula, sautéed eggplant, and a concoction of fresh dill and sliced tomatoes that I couldn’t stop eating. No utensils necessary as you scoop up the mezze with grilled za’atar bread (a concoction of dried thyme, sesame seeds, salt, and spices) or regular pita. Old Man & The Sea, another Palestinian-owned restaurant with a Mediterranean view, featured a nice selection of the local catch, so I ordered a light, flaky, mild white fish called Lokuse, simply grilled with salt and pepper and served with a lemon. We also tried the sea dates, as mussels are called here, and grilled shrimp. With all that seafood swimming in my belly, I was thankful to see watermelon and prickly pear served for dessert, though I had to try the small balls of deep-dried dough soaked in simple syrup, called Awwameh, reminiscent of the Indian dessert galub jamun.


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As we put away a large meal like this in the late afternoon, we usually skipped dinner, but went to check out Tel Aviv by night with my wife’s cousins and their wives. It was during these nocturnal outings that I had an opportunity to try Israeli shawarma, which is notably made not with lamb, but turkey. We visited a small chain called Sun, where we got a generous heap of the lean meat accompanied by a chopped tomato and cucumber salad and fries. I doused my shawarma with a condiment called amba, a tangy, spicy, mango pickle, which must definitely have some Indian origins, though it was introduced to Israel by Iraqi Jews. Served alongside the meal was a plate of various pickled vegetables and the ubiquitous pita. On another occasion, we had the original lamb shawarma in one of the places on the main street of Yaffa that are apparently open all night. But even more than the food, what amazed me about the place were its original vaulted stone ceilings, which seemed to date back to antiquity. One note about Palestinian hospitality: They would give you the shirt off their back. My wife’s family did not let us pay for anything on these excursions, and once when tried to pick up the tab, I almost set off WWIII, so I deferred to our hosts.

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Back in Jaljuliya, we ate some mean barbecue, indulging in tender cuts of lamb rubbed with a home made spice mixture as well as lamb kebabs. The grilled meat was served with a rice pilaf, pickles, and molokhia, a leafy green that is boiled to yield a slimy, green broth, which was probably the least favorite food I ate on the trip.

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Though Tel Aviv is no doubt a hip, modern, attractive city with plenty to offer in the way of amusements and dining, I preferred the rustic charm of Yaffa with its old stone buildings and glorious past. But surpassing even this picturesque port is the coastal town of Acre (Akko in Hebrew) in the north. The old city, which was mentioned in ancient Egyptian sacred texts, and passed through the hands of Alexander the Great, The Crusaders, and the Ottomans, practically emanates history, and remains a place where the 95% Arab population lives and works. In fact, we ate at a highly recommended, 60-year old restaurant called Abu Christo, which was started by a Greek/Palestinian family. By now I was growing accustomed to the fine mezze and fresh Mediterranean fish, and we enjoyed small anchovies and a local favorite called Sultan Ibrahim as well as calamari and shrimp. Afterwards we strolled the small stone alleys of the old town. Since we didn’t spend much time there, it’s a place I would definitely revisit.

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On the way back that evening, we stopped off for dessert in Nazra, better known to Christians as Nazareth, where there is a huge Catholic church. Driving through the bustling city center, I was no longer surprised to find most of its inhabitants Palestinian. We stopped off at a well-known bakery/sweet shop called Elmokhtar Sweets, where I had my first taste of the Palestinian favorite known as Kanafeh, a cheese-based pastry topped with angel hair noodle threads and crushed pistachios and soaked in a sugar syrup. Fresh out of the oven, the cheese was gooey like mozzarella while the topping had a crunch thanks to the baked noodles and nuts. Though still full from dinner, I greedily scarfed it up.


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Thanks to the hospitality of Mustafa and his family we stayed in Israel much longer than originally planned, but with the cease-fire set to expire in a couple of days, we decided it was time to check out the West Bank. So named since it is territory on the west bank of the river Jordan (with the country of Jordan on the east), this area, which includes such historically significant places as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Jericho, is akin to a Native American reservation in the U.S. Where once the Palestinians controlled all of the land, which is currently called Israel, today they are largely relegated to this much smaller territory as well as the Gaza strip.

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We headed for the city of Nablus, from where my mother-in-law’s family hails, driving through a rocky, hilly landscape studded with olive trees and evergreens. The views became increasingly more dramatic as we progressed, until we finally entered into the bottom of a deep valley. Though I had expected a small town, Nablus is actually one of the bigger cities on the West Bank, with its characteristic box-like dwellings ascending the mountainsides. Walking around the old souk, or marketplace, which spreads out from a central clocktower, you could get lost in the maze of covered passages that house shops and stalls selling practically everything. We ate falafel and fool (fava beans), hummus and a salty fried cheese similar to Halloumi. We also sampled more Kanafeh, which supposedly originated here, though I preferred the one I had eaten in Nazareth. The following day, we had time for a breakfast of kebabs before visiting family, and preparing to cross back into Jordan. I tried lamb testicles on a stick for the first time and found them to be tasty. Though the time was short, we did not want to get caught in Israel when the cease-fire expired, and sure enough, the day after we returned to Jordan the makeshift rockets started flying from Gaza, only to be answered by precision-guided Israeli missiles dropped from F-16s.

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As we were briefly held at an Israeli checkpoint that last day crossing over from the West Bank, I spoke to an older Palestinian man, who told me that they detain him there everyday for a couple of hours, despite the fact that he is married to a Hungarian, and holds a European Union passport himself. “It’s because I’m Palestinian,” he said. I could only shake his hand, tell him I was sorry, and wish him luck, but I felt very small at that moment–but happy to be getting out of Dodge.

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