Executive Chef Emphasizes Fresh, Seasonal Ingredients

June 7, 2010

Executive Chef Emphasizes Fresh, Seasonal Ingredients

Blazer Dining's Executive Chef Karl Elliott leads a flavorful life. Trained at The Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, N.Y., Elliott has infused more than 15 years of professional cooking experience into the 20,000 meals Sodexo serves at VSU each week.

Inspired by Artisanal cooking -- which emphasizes fresh, seasonal ingredients and simple presentation -- Elliott was instrumental in building a relationship with local produce company, Destiny Organics. The state's only certified organic distributor ensures that 50 percent of the produce served in Hopper Hall is pesticide-free and directly from the region. Elliott, who began working at VSU in April 2009, said he is passionate about providing the campus with menu items that support Sodexo’s focus on balance of mind, body and soul. The father of two strives to share his love for diverse flavors that bring people together.

“I take a lot of influence from the Mediterranean (Southern France, Northern Spain, Italy and Sicily). However, I also like Mexican, Thai and classic American cuisines,” said Elliott, who spends much of his free time gardening with his daughters. “The greatest part of being an American-trained chef is our diversity in cooking styles. The biggest challenge is keeping the cuisine simple and true to its classical origins.”

Known for his positive management style, Elliott -- who has worked in restaurants from New York City to Napa Valley -- said he couldn’t manage the challenges of such an extensive campus dining operation without the professional and personal support of VSU’s dedicated network of campus employees. The team has handled the addition of residence hall eateries, expansion to the Student Union, and incorporation of new menus and programming with graceful professionalism.

“I enjoy the ‘never a dull moment’ operational challenges of working at VSU. Without everyone doing his or her part we would not succeed,” said Elliott, who personally enjoys French Provencal and Spanish Basque cuisine. “The work life balance is great. We work very hard all semester, but there are always breaks and gatherings to spend time with our families.”

As he breaks from the frantic pace of the school year, Elliott focuses his attention on summer entertaining. He shares one of his favorite summertime dishes -- Grilled Pesto Shrimp Crostinis. This tasty, yet simple, recipe is complex enough to impress dinner guests but simple enough to make with your kids.

Grilled Pesto Shrimp Crostinis
*Makes 20 crostinis

Ingredients for crostinis
1 French baguette (cut into 20, ¼-inch slices on the bias)
8 oz. fresh goat cheese (or favorite cheese)
40 thin slices of ripe Roma tomatoes
20 extra large shrimp (16/20), peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper to taste
20 small fresh basil leaves (to garnish each crostini)
Olive oil (as needed)

4 c. tightly packed fresh basil leaves
1 c. Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/3 c. pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
Salt (to taste)

For the pesto, place all ingredients into food processor blend and blend until smooth. For the shrimp, brush shrimp with oil season with salt and pepper and grill until desired doneness. Toss or drizzle shrimp with a little pesto. To prepare the crostinis, brush the baguette slices with a little olive oil and toast on the grill or in the oven. Spread each toast with a thin layer of softened goat cheese. Lay two thin slices of Roma tomato on each piece of toast. Drizzle tomatoes with a little pesto sauce. Slice shrimp horizontally to create two pieces and lay on top of tomatoes. Garnish with a fresh basil leaf and serve.