Be confident, put yourself out there, and be willing to take some risks.” This is not the Sports Coach talking. It is Restaurateur, Owner, and Chef, Derek Davis of Derek’s Restaurant in Philadelphia. It is Davis’s first Tip to all of those Moms and Dads out there for the upcoming fall Tailgate season that are cooking and grilling up meals year round for their families but waver in their confidence on preparing new things for their Team Family Tailgate during the sports season. “It’s a food event with your team and family and you should have fun with it.” says Derek. “Don’t be scared of food, learn by mistakes and experience, and be willing to try something new, if it doesn’t work out exactly right, there is still plenty of other food, and you can always try it again or not.”
“It’s important to know a range of food products and what can be done with them.” Davis said. “You can’t go in to the store to get things for a Tailgate with only one idea in mind. You have to be open and know how to use and prepare a few different things. Price is always important and whatever is the cheapest in the Produce section at the Supermarket is typically local, most in season and the freshest product to buy and use. Considering grilled meats, poultry and fish, prices go up and down, for example, when the price of ribs, which tend to be popular at Tailgate events are high, then generally this is when you can get your best deals on boneless Pork loin (tenderloin). Pork loin is easy to season or marinate in advance, some fresh herbs, garlic, brown sugar for a little crust, there are so many variations and people really like them.”
While trying new cuts and selections in the grilling department, Davis also recommends utilizing toppings of fresh salsas or tapenades with lots of of seasonal combinations to choose. “Last week we made a nice salsa verde combination using fresh mint and parsley with olive oil, garlic, anchovies, capers, and pistachios.”
Like an athlete on the field, Derek is used to great risks, coupled with hard work. As an Owner and Chef, Davis has reaped great rewards as a veteran of the restaurant profession since age twelve. A culinary school graduate, a journeyman’s apprentice traveling and working at top restaurants around the country before becoming Chef at four-star restaurants finally to President, Founder and Owner of a variety of restaurants in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia.
Along with a solid business acumen, a caring big-hearted Derek, chats on a broad array of food topics, products, restaurants, chefs and trends, while still determining a unique recipe to introduce to the Tailgate and focusing on some important Tips for the Tailgate Table. He never skips a beat on Tip 3 toward insuring good health for both team and families encouraging the use of excellent Food Safety in Tailgate preparation as utmost. Beyond proper sanitation in preparation and keeping all food products chilled until use, Derek talks about grilling meats, poultry, and fish to their proper cooking temperatures. “It’s arbitrary to give actual grilling times because there are so many variables, the cut of meat, the thickness, these are some of the skills people learn by experience in the restaurant business.” He said. Still, no one likes an overcooked grill item and Davis recommends using a meat thermometer as the best bet to insure safety while not overcooking the food. On grilling with the portable travel gas grills Davis says to crank them up to the highest temperature, making sure the grill top is well oiled. Next, put the food to be grilled right onto the grill and let it sear a bit then close the lid letting the grill food continue to cook before flipping over half way through.
Somewhere in between Grilling and summing up his final Tailgate Tip, a big grin appears on Davis’s face, “I’m thinking of fruit water” he says “you know the kind they sometimes serve at Health Spas and Resorts, the Agua Fresca?” A sparkle in his eye, the same creative chef I worked with at Apropos restaurant many years ago emerges. Minutes later, I was back in the kitchen greeting the prep folks while whipping up a refreshing watermelon Agua Fresca with mint, agave syrup, and water with Derek for an interesting and healthy twist on a new Beverage for the Team Family Tailgate. Using a juicer would be the best substitute for the restaurants stainless commercial blender. The consistency of the Watermelon Agua Fresca is similar to a slush or chilled summer soup. The decorative, labor intensive mini cubes of watermelon garnish in between mini pieces of mint on a toothpick that Derek placed on the top side of the cocktail style glass looked spectacular! They are well suited for smaller gatherings than the usual large number of Tailgate attendees, unless you are lucky enough to have a full time prep squad.
As a final Tailgate Tip Davis shares the philosophy that he adheres to his own restaurant menu, that there should always be something for everyone to eat, meaning a broad variety of foods and choices suitable for different tastes. “Grilled vegetables work well, including if there are vegetarians in the crowd, it’s the kind of idea that everyone is well fed and enjoys the whole Tailgate experience.”
With the first Team Family Tailgate soon ahead and watermelon still in season I am taking advice from Derek, a little risk and a lot of fun, so along with a choice grill I’ll be preparing an extra special Tailgate beverage: The Watermelon Agua Fresca. GO TEAM!
You can read about Derek’s Restaurant here
Watermelon Agua Fresca
1/2 of a round seedless watermelon, rind removed and cut into chunks
6-7 mint leaves
2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
1 Quart or a little more water
Mix Watermelon, Mint Leaves and Agave Nectar in a juicer for about a minute, pulsing intermittently. Add water and blend very well pulsing for another minute checking in between for the mixture to combine well into a slush type consistency. Best poured and served in small clear plastic glasses at the Tailgate.