For the past six years, San Pellegrino, the popular purveyor of Italian sparkling water, has hosted the Almost Famous Chef Competition, and this year’s winner is Santa Monica native Kristianne Pak. This highly competitive event features aspiring chefs from various culinary institutions from around the country, and is split into regional stages and a grand final, with all of the entrants being judged by top chefs and media for their gastronomically creative gifts.
Twenty-six-year-old Pak, born and raised in Santa Monica, has shown an interest for all things culinary from a very early age. “I always cooked dinner for my brothers when I was younger, which developed into a love of cooking for others as an adult and entertaining and throwing dinner parties. It’s a passion of mine I always considered a serious hobby.”
Pak graduated from the California School of Culinary Arts, Le Cordon Bleu Program in Pasadena, and now sees culinary arts as her passion and her career. When asked if she was nervous about entering this prestigious competition, she said she was nervous just because she didn’t know what to expect, and who she would be competing against. One part of the competition was the mystery basket event in which contestants are required to create a dish from a selection of surprise ingredients. Pak said of this section: “I did not know what I would be cooking, and with what ingredients, until they were revealed in front of me, and I had to write a menu in 15 minutes. That was the hardest part of the competition…I ended up creating a dish of panko and orange-crusted catfish, vegetable tempura with parsnips, carrots, potatoes, and baby leeks, and pancetta risotto with kaffir lime essence.”
So, as a rising star chef with a keen eye on the art, where in Santa Monica does she dine? “One of my favorites in Santa Monica is Melisse on Wilshire Boulevard. For a quick sub sandwich I love Bay Cities Italian Deli. My favorite Caesar salad is at Johnny’s Pizzeria on 3rd Street,” she said. One local restaurant that Pak hopes to dine at soon is The Lobster, given that one of the judges “was Executive Chef Allyson Thurber in both the regional competition in Santa Monica and also at the nationals in Napa.”
Pak has plans for the future. “In 10 years, I hope to be running my own Asian-inspired bistro. I would also love to teach children nutritional and basic cooking classes, focusing on inner-city children who would not normally be offered classes like this, due to financial constraints. In 10 years, I hope to also have a series of cookbooks published, and many in the works,” she confidently responded.
Pak’s winning dish of glazed beef short ribs with stir-fried miso spinach and chestnut steamed rice earned her a cash prize of $10,000 and a year-long position with an elite chef. She has generously shared her recipes here for Mirror readers to prepare and enjoy. The beef short ribs – marinated and braised in a sweet Asian pear, soy, and ginger marinade – and chestnut steamed rice recipes are below. For the stir-fried miso spinach, go to smmirror.com.
Beef Short Ribs
• 5 lb. Beef short ribs, portioned and scored
• 10 Shitake mushrooms, soaked, cut in pieces, stems removed
• 1 Asian pear, peeled and grated
• 12 Chestnuts
• 4 T Rice wine
• 1 cup Soy sauce
• 3 T Sugar
• 8 T Green onion, chopped
• 8 cloves Garlic, peeled, minced
• 4 T Ginger, peeled, minced
• 1 T Sesame seeds, toasted
• 3 T Sesame oil
• To taste black pepper, ground
• 3 cups (approx.) water
1. Remove any fat or silver skin from meat.
2. Make scores on meat to absorb marinade.
3. In a large bowl, create marinade for ribs using soy sauce, sugar, green onion, garlic, ginger, grated Asian pear, sesame seeds, shitake mushrooms, rice wine, sesame oil, and black pepper. Mix well.
4. Add short ribs to the mixture. Let marinate about 30-45 minutes.
5. In a large pot, bring rib mixture and water (as needed) to a boil.
6. Once a boil is reached, cover, and reduce heat to a slow simmer. Baste meat every 10-15 minutes.
7. Let simmer until meat is very tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
After 30 minutes, remove some liquid from the pot, strain, and reduce to make the reduction sauce. Add extra soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar to the reduction. Strain and keep warm.
4 cups Calrose rice, washed
12 ea. Whole chestnuts, boiled, peeled, and chopped
7 cups water
To prepare chestnuts, remove the outer shell and place in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and peel off the remainder of the skin. Chop finely. Rinse rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Add the chestnuts to the rice and add water. Cover.
Bring rice to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer over low flame about 15 minutes. Stir rice. Let steam with heat off another 10 minutes.
Stir-Fried Spinach with Miso Dressing
6 lb.Spinach, washed, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 T Soy sauce
2 T Miso
2 T Rice vinegar
3 T Sesame oil
1 T Sugar
1 t Ginger, peeled and chopped
Sesame seeds, as needed
Vegetable oil, as needed
1. Wash, trim and cut spinach. Peel and cut carrot into very fine julienne strips.
2. Separately, combine soy sauce, miso paste, sugar, and vinegar until smooth.
3. Toast sesame seeds.
Heat wok over high heat. Add sesame oil and vegetable oil to wok. Add carrot and ginger and stir-fry until heated through. Add spinach and stir-fry until slightly wilted, about 3 minutes.
Drizzle and toss with miso dressing and sprinkle with white sesame seeds.
Place 1-cup chestnut rice in center of heated entrée plate in a ring mold. Pack down lightly.
Arrange approximately 4 oz. stir-fried spinach around rice in a half-moon shape.
Place 2 short ribs on bed of spinach and chestnut rice.
Drizzle reduction around plate. Garnish with very bias-cut green onions tossed in 1 tsp. sesame oil and toasted white and black sesame seeds.Serve hot. Serves 8.