Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Beautiful Surprise

Have you ever eaten a chestnut?

I ask this every time we serve these super seasonal delectable little gems at dinner service to a new customer.  I ask this because 9.9 times out of 10 the answer is "never".  

Our repeat guests know what to expect now that we have been serving this fall harvest item for three winters in a row.  However most guests first reaction to chestnuts is to tell me they have never experienced eating a chestnut even though they know the holiday song by heart.  Typically the whole experience for our guests who are new to chestnuts starts by singing the song - I sometimes join with the ones who sing aloud "chestnuts roasting on an open fire...."🎶. 

From across the dining room in the open kitchen I can see Chef roll his eyes at this singing scene.  His expression is followed by a warm smile though because he knows this is part of what makes the chestnuts special.  Eating a chestnut for the first time IS an experience.  

I confess I was almost 30 years old before I had my first delicious experience with this holiday famous nut.  It has become one of my favorite but it really is very different than what I would normally  associate with a roasted nut.

This is how I lead the conversation for my guests who are going to enjoy chestnuts for the first time:

I say~ "Have you ever tried roasted chestnuts?  No?  Oh you are in for a real treat then my friends. 

We serve them hot out of the oven so please be careful for the first few minutes not to burn your fingers, but you will want to eat them while they are warm.  

This is truly what will make your first time most menorable.

Chestnuts don't have the crunchy texture of the roasted nuts you are used to.  

They are slightly sweet and soft.  

Please make sure to take the shells off- it's easy to do where they have popped open on their tops.  

Everyone I serve these to always looks a little disoriented at first when I set them on the table.

When I come back to check on my guests table 2 minutes into their first chestnut experience the smile on their faces is proof that my confidence in these delicious golden treats was right on.  

Typically the very next thing I am asked is for the recipe.  It's usually hard for people to believe how simple it is to make these.  I feel like I am sharing a secret.  

-a handful of chestnuts- 
-a little melted butter
-375 degree oven

** with a knife score an "x" pattern on the rounded top of the nut.  If you don't do this the nuts will explode in your oven.
** put the nuts in a bowl with melted butter and toss and spread on baking sheet with the x side up.
**sprinkle salt
** bake 10-15 mins or until shells open up
**let cool a few moments then enjoy!!

My favorite story about serving chestnuts is about the guy and girl who came to dinner and it was obviously a special date because I could easily tell he was looking to impress his lady.  

When I told them I would be bringing roasted chestnuts out in a few minutes as a starter I followed up my statement like I always do by asking "have you ever had roasted chestnuts?"

Without hesitation he answered- "oh yeah, they are good- we will definitely have an order of those."  I assumed by his responses that he knew what to do so when I delivered the warm nuts to the table, I smiled, and said "enjoy!"  It was busy in the dining room that evening so I welcomed the opportunity to not have to do my whole presentation if they already knew what to do.  It gave me time to tell the other tables who had not ever tried them and his opportunity to impress.

When I returned a few minutes later I noticed that the chestnuts were half gone but there were no shells on his plate.  She had one on her plate, untouched.   It took me a moment to make sense of what I was witnessing before I asked "how do you like the chestnuts?"  

I followed up my initial question nervously- "Did you eat the shells too?" I asked..... (Now my cheeks were getting flush, embarrassed to realize that this guy just ate the shells and the nuts.  

"Oh yeah" he said.  "I always eat them that way."  My surprised look must have prompted him to add to this response-"but I bet they are great without the shells too."

His date with a sweet smile immediately started peeling the nut on her plate, and now I confess:

 I always make sure my guests know to peel off the shells so they can always enjoy the best chestnut eating experience!