February 18, 2014 – Chef Jeffrey Weiss of Pacific Grove’s Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar is getting ready for another twirl with stardom. He’s launching his book Charcutería The Soul of Spain on March 11 and, together with owner Thamin Saleh, will take Jeninni’s Mediterranean flavors to New York for a dinner at the prestigious James Beard House in mid-June—this in addition to running the creative kitchen of one of our area’s hottest new restaurants.
The former figure skater was a national silver medalist at the juniors level in pairs competition in 1995 and practiced on the ice in San Jose from age 4 to his mid-twenties. While his forearms are full of kitchen scars, he says, “All my skating scars are internal,” and sees a connection between his former self and current endeavors.
“Your brain gets wired from growing up in an athletic environment. It gives you focus and drive and you learn that with strong dedication you can get strong results,” he says.
“I couldn’t just say here are a bunch of recipes, have a good time. I had to explain it,” he says. “We Americans think charcuterie is this fun hipster thing, but in Spain it’s something that sustained a nation during decades of civil war and for centuries before that.”
When Weiss hung up his skates, he enrolled in the culinary program at Mission College in Santa Clara, working nights at Lion & Compass with chef Steve Chan—who first introduced him to simple charcuterie. He went on to Cornell Hospitality School with the bug already planted. When Spanish chef José Andrés came to lecture he managed to snag an internship at his renowned Jaleo restaurant in Washington DC.
Weiss decided to delve deeper and applied for a one-year chef scholarship from the Spanish Foreign Trade Institute (ICEX), which promotes the sale of Spanish products by training young international chefs. A call from Andrés to Madrid sealed the deal and Weiss was one of 12 students chosen for the prestigious program.
After an immersion course in Spanish and a mind-bending tour of the best Spanish restaurants, Weiss was paired with chef Adolfo Muñoz in Toledo—a walled city south of Madrid known for it’s El Greco paintings and pickled partridge.
While he enjoyed the experience, Weiss longed to visit the wild west of Spain where charcuterie is a way of life. So he finagled a stint in Extremadura, home of the famous acorn-fed, cured ham and the pig killing ritual known as the matanza.
The matanza is the beginning of all sausage making and takes up the first part of Weiss’s book, which traces the history and science of charcuterie with plenty of self-deprecating humor. The second part of the book includes recipes for spicy chorizo, morcilla blood sausage, butifarra from Catalonia, brines, terrines, pickles and paté—including the delicious chicken liver paté served at Jeninni, which has just a touch of vanilla bean.
“I wanted the book to honor the people who do this work everyday,” he says. “I don’t expect that everyone who picks up Charcutería is going to set up a curing chamber and start hanging legs of pork. One of the major reasons I wrote this book was to help communicate the incredible story that Spain and Spaniards tell through their cuisine and culture.”
The last few chapters of the book focus on traditional Spanish dishes that make use of cured meat, like Asturian Fabada bean stew with chorizo and Croquetas de Jamón—a tapas party staple. It ends with chapters on liqueurs and desserts, including the fanciful Salchichoc meatless chocolate sausage.
“I hope this resonates with people,” adds Weiss. “I’m absolutely thrilled that I had the opportunity to show stuff that hasn’t been shown before and showcase what I felt was so special in Spain.”
During his year abroad, Weiss also had a chance to learn how to make authentic Spanish paellas from the masters. Starting next month you can taste them at Jeninni on the first Tuesday night of every month. The chef’s planning to start with a lobster and chorizo paella that he calls “the most legit you’ll ever taste.”
Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar | 542 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove | www.jeninni.com
For Weiss’s recipes for pork ribs and chorizo visit the website for the book: www.charcuteriabook.com