Chef Brian Stickel to speak at Farm Dinner

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Thanks to the high drama of TV cooking shows, chefs have become superstars in their own right. And some really do earn the praise. Of these, Brian Stickel, corporate chef of the Clyde's Restaurant Group and a lifelong Catholic, deserves this top position after earning a degree at the vaunted Culinary Institute of America and years of kitchen work in Washington, California and New York.

A native of Danbury, Conn., Stickel said he slipped into the food world because of his family life. "My grandmother had a cooking show in West Virginia," he said. "And my mom, who is German, cooks very well. My aunt owned a catering company in West Virginia, so food really has been a part of our lives."

Thus inspired, he worked in restaurants while in college and cooked often at home for friends. They complimented him on his skills, suggesting he become a chef.

After college, Stickel attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., before interning in Napa Valley, Calif. After returning to snowy New York, Stickel came to Washington, where he started working for other restaurants before eventually landing at Clyde's.

During his tenure, he has worked every aspect of kitchen life in the group's 14 restaurants, including at Clyde's of Georgetown, 1789 Restaurant, The Inn at Little Washington, Clyde's at Gallery Place, Clyde's at Tysons, and finally, as the executive chef at The Hamilton, Clyde's in-town restaurant and nightclub.

"Cooking is like playing soccer," he said. "It's the same rush in teamwork. I have always loved it because I am under extreme pressure."

That pressure can result in temper tantrums and television shows often depict high-end chefs yelling at their staff. But that's not Stickel's way. The reason? His Catholic faith.

"Catholicsm applies to my management and how I treat people," he said. "People can go one of two ways. They can yell or they can be kind."

Reaching this top position as a young chef, Stickel remains calm despite the pressure, leading staff to feel comfortable to come and speak with him about kitchen and personal issues. "That is how we can function," he said, "and I am patient with them, making myself approachable."

Responsible for overseeing and hiring chefs for all 14 restaurants, Stickel asks that each chef cares about his work and about the food he prepares. If a mistake happens, Stickel wants them to come back and fix it. "Just come back the next day and care," he said. "And now we are seeing the new crop of chefs in the company and that is starting to have an effect. We have a lot of people who care about what they cook."

A staunch supporter of Clyde's farm-to-table approach to cooking, Stickel sources his produce locally and gets his inspiration from what comes in to the kitchen.

"I look at the farmer's vegetables, like Tuscarora farm," he says. "If I get 14 cases of asparagus, I need to do something with it."

That makes Stickel, representing Clyde's, an ideal speaker at the upcoming Second Annual Catholic Farm dinner, taking place at Clyde's Willow Creek Farm Sept. 7. Stickel, whose home parishes are St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Catholic church in Connecticut and St. Charles Boromeo in Arlington, can speak effectively to how dedicated farmers can have a positive impact on consumers' lifestyle - and on their palates.

Brian Stickel's Grilled Atlantic Swordfish with Roasted Corn, Green Bean Succotash and Chimichurri Sauce (serves 4)

4 (8-ounce) fillets, Atlantic swordfish, skin removed

Olive oil for coating fish

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

Roasted Corn and Green Bean Succotash

1 Vidalia onion, peeled and cut into small dice

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

1 poblano chile, roasted, skin and seeds removed, cut into small dice

1 red pepper, roasted, skin and seeds removed, cut into small dice

4 ears corn, shaved

¼ pound green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces on the bias Green Beans (blanch, cut 1" on bias)

3 Sun Gold tomatoes, cut in half

1 cup corn stock (place corn cobs and your onion scraps in heavy bottom sauce pot, cover with water and simmer for 1 hour)

To make the succotash,

Chimichurri Sauce

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

1 bunch italian parsley, chopped

1 sprig fresh oregano, chopped

10 cloves garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

To make the chimichuri sauce, mix everything together in a small bowl and set aside. This can be made up to 6 hours ahead of time.

Lightly coat each piece of swordfish in olive oil and then season it with salt and pepper. Grill each fillet for about 4 to 6 minutes on each side. While the swordfish is cooking, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet, and cook the onions over low heat until golden, about 4 minutes. Add the corn, peppers, and green beans, and sauté for a few minutes; add the corn stock. Increase the heat to medium, reduce the mixture by half and swirl in butter swirl in the remaining butter. Fold in tomatoes to warm and season to taste.

To serve, ladle about ¾ cup succotash into the middle of a large pasta bowl. Place one fillet swordfish on top of the succotash, and spoon about ½ cup chimichurri sauce across the swordfish and on three edges of the succotash. Repeat, and serve hot.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014