Amy Lebrun, the talented executive chef at Lido Bottle Works at Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach, joined me in my kitchen to show off her fish-cookery skills. She showcased rock cod fillets, same-day caught off the backside of Catalina Island. She sourced the fish from the Dory Fishing Market, the beachside fishing cooperative at the base of the Newport Pier. The fillets, a glimmering bridesmaid’s pink, smelled sweet, proof that the fish had been plucked from the saltwater only hours earlier.
Lebrun graduated from Huntington Beach High School, where she played on the soccer team. After graduating from the culinary program at Orange Coast College, she had the opportunity to work her way up in the kitchens at Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. She cooked from the banquet kitchen to the Club Grill to the Dining Room, under the treasured mentorship of chef Dee Nguyen. She credits Nguyen with teaching her the importance of endurance. Today, Nguyen is executive chef-owner of Break of Dawn restaurant in Laguna Niguel. He conducts inspirational pop-up dinners from time to time, and she relishes those opportunities to collaborate with him.
Secret Talent: She says that “bad dancing” brings her joy, especially if it is accompanied by someone who can’t sing very well.
Biggest Mistake: Working in catering. It wasn’t for her. She says that it is just reheat and serve; temporarily, she says that it killed her soul.
Favorite knife: She adores her one-sided Global vegetable knife. As a student in 2000, she attended the Culinary Olympics in Germany. Her cherished knife traveled in a knife bag in the overhead bin above her head. That was air travel before 9-11.
Drink of Choice: Red wine. A Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir from Walt is one of her favorites.
Espelette Powder: She loves using mild Espelette pepper, a must-have ingredient in the Basque country of France. The name comes from the village of Espelette in southwest France.
Collector: She collects Bakelite jewelry, vintage Pyrex, and reverse-painted picture frames from the 1920s.
Lido Bottle Works, Lido Marina Village, 3408 Via Oporto, Newport Beach
Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”
Lido Bottle Works’ dory catch of the day with kabocha puree, seasonal fruit pico, chorizo, and rainbow chard
Yield: 2 generous servings
1/2 kabocha squash, peeled, seeded, strings removed, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
1/3 cup diced sweet onion
1/2 unpeeled apple, such as honeycrisp, cored, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup dry white wine plus 2/3 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups ground soft Spanish chorizo
Seasonal fruit pico, unpeeled and all cut into small pieces to each contribute about 1/4 cup: Asian pear, fuyu persimmon, Bartlett pear, crisp apple, pomegranate arils (seeds), roasted (peeled) poblano chili, red onion – plus 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil to taste
4 tablespoons butter, divided use
2 (about 4 to 6 ounces each) rock cod fillets
1 small bunch rainbow chard (4 large stalks of chard), stems removed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup diced red onion
Espelette powder to taste
Optional garnish: borage flowers
- In a large saucepan on high heat, add squash, onion and apple. Add wine and water; bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until squash in fork tender. Puree in blender or using an immersion blender. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, cook ground chorizo in wide medium skillet on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until cooked through and a little crispy on part of the exterior. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, prepare “pico” of seasonal fruit: In bowl combine prepared Asian pear, persimmon, pear, apple, pomegranate, chili, red onion, cilantro, juice, salt, pepper and olive oil. Set aside for 20 minutes for flavors to marry.
- Season fish with a little olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Heat 2 tablespoons butter until very hot in large skillet on medium-high heat. Saute fish, turning once, until cooked through (it is OK if butter gets a little color in the process).
- Meanwhile, cook chard: In large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter on medium-high heat. Add chard stems, garlic and red onion. Cook until stems are starting to get tender. Add leaves and cook until heated through and wilted.
- Plate: Place a puddle of squash puree in center of each place; push with spoon to smear slightly. Top with generous portion of chard, building a mound. Top each with fish fillet and sprinkle with espelette powder to taste. Top with chorizo and pico. Serve immediately.