You can serve it as an appetizer at a cocktail party or to feed hundreds at the Lynnwood Convention Center.
Michael Felsenstein knows that his smoked salmon asparagus flatbread is going to be a hit in either scenario — especially during this time of year.
“It’s a nice seasonal appetizer for spring,” said Felsenstein, the executive chef at the convention center.
The dish is one of the featured hors d’oeuvres on the Lynnwood Convention Center’s menu through June, complementing meals like herbed lamb chop and Parmesan-crusted halibut. The event venue caters for conventions, weddings, fundraisers, auctions and more.
Felsenstein, 54, has been the driving force behind the center’s culinary direction since 2005. The center has four seasonal menus — spring, summer, autumn/winter and the holidays — while there also are special menus for celebrations, executive meals and quinceaneras.
Felsenstein, who grew up in Brooklyn, didn’t always know he wanted to be a chef. He was studying political science at Binghamton University when he was struck with the realization that he would rather cook food than analyze politics.
“I was just like, ‘This is what I want to do,’ ” Felsenstein said. “I really didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. I still don’t really have a clear explanation, other than I knew I had to make a decision and something felt right about it.”
Felsenstein doesn’t come from a long line of chefs. His grandfather owned a kosher restaurant in Manhattan, while his grandmother was a “phenomenal baker.” His father, uncles and aunts didn’t want anything to do with the food industry, though.
“It kind of skipped a generation,” Felsenstein said.
Felsenstein visited the university’s career office the next day and made his epiphany into reality.
He graduated from The Culinary Institute of America four years later. Felsenstein spent the first half of his 30-year career working in fine-dining restaurants. He’s worked in five-star hotels in New Orleans and Chicago and four-star restaurants in New York and Seattle. He also was the executive sous chef at the Museum of Pop Culture (formerly called EMP) in Seattle.
Felsenstein said working in restaurants that demand high-quality production has made him a more well-rounded chef.
“You get introduced to a lot of ingredients, a lot of cuisines, a lot of different personalities and techniques and chefs,” Felsenstein said. “You always learn from each other.”
Felsenstein has the same mentality with his cooking staff. He might guide the culinary direction on the menu, but he believes in giving the staff equal opportunity to contribute ideas.
“It can kind of spark an idea that turns into something entirely different,” Felsenstein said. “It helps me, because like any creative person, you get writer’s block sometimes.”
For example, the sous chef, Andy Hirth, suggested the smoked salmon asparagus flatbread. Felsenstein liked it so much that he put it on the menu.
Space at the center is rented for a variety of events, meaning Felsenstein and his six-person staff could be cooking for a wedding one day and an auction fundraiser the next. In all situations, Felsenstein wants the food to taste like it came from a four- or five-star restaurant.
That’s easier said than done when there are 400 mouths to feed.
The menu is crafted so that it appeals to the masses, but is also creative and cookable on a large scale.
“You don’t want to be so esoteric that you ruin it for people,” Felsenstein said. “There is a nice balancing act.”
Felsenstein said smoked salmon asparagus flatbread is an ideal fit because of its appearance, fresh ingredients and simplicity. There also is room for personal modification from a cooking perspective.
The flatbread can be soft or crispy, but Felsenstein usually goes for the latter.
It’s best served in bite-sized pieces and comes with a crunch from either the bread, the veggies or both. The smoked salmon should strike the taste buds first, followed by the creme fraiche spread on the flatbread; the sour cream variant neutralizes the saltiness of the fish.
“The more delicate flavors will come through afterward,” Felsenstein said.
Sliced, cut and placed on top of the salmon are red onions, asparagus, red peppers, Pecorino cheese and chopped parsley.
“You can go to Costco and get all of your ingredients,” Felsenstein said. “It’s a pretty good bang for your buck.”
Best of all, it takes no more than 15 minutes to prepare.
It can be one of three main appetizers at a party, but is good enough to stand on its own, Felsenstein said. The flatbread goes with anything, but a big green salad is his top choice for an accompanying main course.
“You don’t need much more than that,” Felsenstein said.
Smoked salmon and asparagus flatbread
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 7½-by-8½-inch piece naan flatbread
3 ounces hot-smoked salmon, fully cooked
2 ounces asparagus, thinly cut on bias
1 ounce red pepper strips
1 ounce red onion strips
2 ounces shaved pecorino or
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Spread the creme fraiche evenly on the naan.
Evenly distribute the salmon and vegetables on the naan.
Top with the shaved cheese and bake in the oven about 10 minutes so that the vegetables are just cooked through and the naan is nicely browned.
Remove from oven and sprinkle with parsley. Cut into 8 pieces and serve.
Makes 8 pieces (4 servings if an appetizer, 1 serving if the main course).
Washington North Coast Magazine
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