Written and photographed by Jasmine Simone
“Growing up, food was such an important part of my life. All of our holidays and family gatherings were focused on the food.” – Adon
Adon learned his way around the kitchen when he was 7 years old. He started by making macaroni and cheese from the box, but quickly progressed to more complicated dishes like homemade ramen with bone broth and fresh noodles.
When I met him in 2009, he impressed me on our first date by diverting from a standard dinner reservation at a fancy restaurant for a homemade meal of Navratan Korma, his favorite Indian curry dish which translates to “nine jewels.” He specially chose this dish to suit my vegetarian diet. Needless to say, I stuck around for dessert and a second date.
As our relationship grew more serious so has his love for food and cooking. I’m convinced that in an emergency he would save his chef knives before anything else, including me. At our house, the fridge and pantry are always full—I can barely find the few ingredients that I like to keep on hand for the rare occasions when I venture into the kitchen to make a smoothie or a piece of avocado toast. He rarely samples anything that I make even though I follow recipes to the tee. He shakes his head and furrows his brows while politely mouthing “no thank you,” though sometimes he entertains with me a little nibble.
He has tried to teach me a few skills like the proper way to hold a knife or how to cut shallots paper thin. Typically this boils into a heated level of frustration that does not often enter our relationship outside of the kitchen. I used to try to be helpful by offering to cut the onions, peel the garlic, or rinse the vegetables, but by the time I complete one of those tasks he’s done all of the things I was trying to do and more. I defend myself suggesting that I was simply trying to help with the prep work for mise en place, a french culinary phrase meaning “everything in its place,” a technique that he rejects because he can prepare everything just as quickly as he goes.
I am always amazed at how quickly he can whip something up. A turkey club with crispy bacon and homemade honey mustard—15 minutes. Perfectly cooked salmon with a miso ginger glaze and a side of braised bok choy—20, tops. A chocolate mouse with vanilla whipped cream and strawberries—no more than 10.
Speed is his friend and messy countertops are my foe.
It was a challenge for me to photograph him while he was cooking. The show Iron Chef came to mind when recalling how fast chefs can work in the kitchen. Having watched hundreds of cooking shows, I think he was eager to perform for the camera, while simultaneously feeling impatient with my art direction. I asked him to repeat a few steps so that I could get the right angle, but we later regretted this move because the fish was too salty from performing Salt Bae‘s signature technique three times in a row. When reviewing the photos, I decided I didn’t like any of the salt photos after all and the images of grinding the pepper mill over the salty fish was a much better shot afterall.
He says that a pro tip is to season every time you add a new ingredient to the pan. Both salt and pepper. He prefers to sprinkle fine pink Himalayan salt while cooking in the pan and Maldon sea salt flakes for finishing on the plate. Also butter.
The dish he prepared for us that evening was a pan-fried halibut with tomato-olive tapenade over lemony polenta. It was the first time he tried adding lemon zest to the polenta and we both thought it was delicious. He says he could eat polenta at least once a week. That’s how I feel about fresh fish. This meal is a marriage of our favorite foods that we will enjoy together again very soon.
Pan-roasted halibut with tomato-olive tapenade over lemony polenta
2 Alaskan Halibut Fillets (6 oz / serving)
½ pound organic grape or cherry tomatoes
¼ cup pitted Castelvetrano olives
¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 organic lemon
½ cup polenta
Za’atar spice blend (sumac – sesame seeds – fennel seeds – dried thyme)
4 or 5 sprigs organic fresh flat-leaf parsley
1. Prep the tomatoes and olives
- Heat the oven to 425°F.
- Cut the tomatoes in half.
- Coarsely chop the olives, checking for any pits.
- On one end of a sheet pan (on 1 sheet pan), toss the tomatoes and olives with 1 to 2 teaspoons oil
- Season lightly with salt and pepper and spread in an even layer.
2. Prep the seafood
- Pat the fish dry with a paper towel
- Rub with 1 to 2 teaspoons oil
- Season generously with salt and pepper
3. Roast the tomatoes, olives, and seafood
- Roast, stirring the tomatoes and olives and turning the seafood halfway through, until the tomatoes are tender and lightly browned and the seafood is cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the polenta.
4. Cook the polenta
- Zest and juice the lemon, keeping the zest and juice separate.
- In a medium sauce pot, bring 2 cups (4 cups) lightly salted water to a boil.
- Add the polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly.
- Reduce to a simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, until the polenta is tender and the mixture is thick and creamy, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir in 2 teaspoons lemon zest and 2 to 3 teaspoons lemon juice.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- While the polenta is cooking, prepare the remaining ingredients.
5. Prep the remaining ingredients; finish the tapenade
- Using the bottom of a bowl or cup, lightly crush the za’atar.
- Strip the parsley leaves from the stems; coarsely chop the leaves.
- Transfer the tomatoes and olives to a medium bowl.
- Stir in the za’atar, parsley, and 1 to 2 tablespoons oil.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Transfer the polenta to individual bowls and top with the seafood.
- Spoon over the tomato-olive tapenade, drizzle lightly with oil, if desired, and serve.
Quick fire Kitchen questions
Favorite ingredient: Butter
Favorite vegetable: The best vegetable ever is onions because it’s the base for everything
Favorite vegetable dish: Kale salad.
“If I didn’t make dinners for us, I would probably eat a kale salad and a burger with no bun, or a steak, or piece of chicken every night.”
Favorite protein: Chicken. It’s so versatile.
Favorite entrée to be served that you don’t want to cook yourself: Pizza.
Favorite pizza: Pepperoni, olives, and mushrooms.
Favorite pasta: Linguine with Clams and White Wine Sauce.
Favorite dish that you make: Filet mignon, mashed potatoes, and french green beans with fried shallots
Favorite cuisine: Thai, Indian, Asian.
Favorite dessert: Tiramisu
Favorite Jewish food: Matzo ball soup
“Actually, I think Corned beef sandwich could be the answers for a lot of these now that I think about it—or Beef Bourguignon with a fresh hot baguette.”
Can you explain to me the difference between a Ruben and a Corned beef sandwich?:
“Well, a Ruben is a Corned beef sandwich, but not all Corned beef sandwiches are Rubens.”
Favorite fruit: Watermelon
Favorite nonalcoholic drink: Coffee
Favorite alcoholic drink: Moscow Mule or a Radler
Favorite Kitchen Tool: 8-inch chef’s knife (The one I got for him for his birthday! #winning)
Favorite kitchen appliance: Air fryer
Favorite Tea: PG Tips English Breakfast
Favorite Herbal Tea: Chamomile and Rose
Favorite non-dairy creamer: Oat creamer
Favorite non-dairy milk: Almond milk—“unless it’s the cashew milk that you make, which is so good.”
Favorite fermented food: Kimchi
Favorite pickle: Don Herman’s Kosher Dills—which you can only get in Cleveland