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Fun at the Gluten-Free Spree

I had some kind of wheat-free fun Friday night, along with a crowd of about 300 who had come to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness's fourth annual Gluten-Free Spree, held at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda.

They sampled from food vendors and from local GF bakers, while Richelle Bolyard, senior program coordinator at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (and celiac sufferer) and I helped Zengo chef de cuisine Graham Bartlett set up our team station for a cooking competition. (Yep, I was invited to "help" cook. And I wanted to win, of course.) Chefs from eight other local restaurants and caterers also were assigned two assistants each. The NFCA had given the participating food pros a course about using gluten-free ingredients and preventing cross contamination.

Pretty soon, wafts of crab cakes, monkfish, pizza and paella drew the evening's participants to where samples were being served.

I sized up the other dishes and figured chef Graham would do well. We assembled his sushi rice salad with scallions, sesame seeds and roasted corn. He seared sweet scallops in a garlicky oil. The dish was finished with squeeze-bottle drizzles of a slightly spicy aioli. Big thumbs up from the crowd; the chef cooked and we plated as fast as we could.

After an hour and a half or so, we fixed final plates for the three judges, and our work was done. People were rooting for us.

Chef Graham and Zengo general manager Carlos Rodriguez have been responsive to GF concerns for more than a year. Neither one has food intolerances, but they've seen the requests for GF foods increase. So the restaurant's menu features a gluten-free section. The chef is holding sessions to train the staff about food allergies as well.

After some informative speeches by experts on the disease, the judges ruled in our favor. Chef Graham picked up a nice trophy, and he gave us something, too: assistant kudos. Loved that.

Participants left with bags full of gluten-free products, coupons, literature and items that were auctioned during the evening.

-- Bonnie Benwick

Here's the recipe for chef Graham's Best Gluten-Free Dish, at a manageable 4 servings:

A shot of the winning recipe, during chef Graham's testing phase. (Zengo restaurant)
Seared Scallops al Mojo de Ajo

4 servings

MAKE AHEAD: The aioli and the plain sushi rice can be made several days in advance and refrigerated.

1 cup canola oil
6 medium whole peeled cloves garlic
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce, preferably Sriracha
1 tablespoon yuzu juice (sour citrus juice; available at Asian markets)
Freshly ground white pepper
1 cup uncooked sushi rice, such as Tamanishiki brand
1 1/4 cups cool water
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (a gluten-free brand)
2 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon sugar
Kernels from 1 or 2 ears roasted corn (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
1 or 2 scallions, white and light-green parts, coarsely chopped (2 tablespoons), plus more for garnish
2 teaspoons white or black sesame seeds, plus more for garnish
1 pound (10- to 20-count) dry-pack sea scallops, patted dry

Heat 1/2 cup of the oil in a saute pan over low heat. Add the garlic cloves and cook for 20 minutes, until they have caramelized and flavored the oil. Reserve the cloves for another use, if desired; transfer the oil to a container and let cool.
Meanwhile, make the aioli: Place the egg yolk in a medium bowl; slowly whisk in the remaining oil to form an emulsion. Add the chili sauce and yuzu juice; stir to mix well, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Wash the rice in cool water until its starch is gone and the water is clear. Place the rice and water in a rice cooker and cook according to the package or the rice cooker manufacturer’s directions. Transfer to a medium bowl to cool completely.

Combine the rice vinegar, sake and sugar in a liquid measuring cup, then add to the rice and mix well. Add the corn, scallions and sesame seeds; toss to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Divide among individual plates, making a small mound in the center of each one.

When ready to serve, heat a large saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic-flavored oil.

Lightly season both sides of the scallops with salt and pepper. When the oil is almost smoking, add about half of the scallops, making sure not to crowd the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. Turn them over and cook for about 1 minute, until just cooked through.

Place some scallops on top of each portion of rice. Drizzle with some of the aioli and garlic-flavored oil from the pan, if desired. Garnish with some of the scallions and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Per serving: Calories: 420; Protein: 24 g; Carbs: 45 g; Fat: 16 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 90 mg; Sodium: 370 mg; Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 5 g

By The Food Section  |  May 4, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Recipes  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Graham Bartlett, gluten-free, recipes  
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