Offbeat tips to plan a joyous picnic | Namichef

Tips for Spectacular Picnic

How to have a Spectacular Picnic

My wife and I have always been avid picnickers. The COVID pandemic has only solidified that, especially during the lockdown. However, even when things opened up and weather permitting, every few weeks we pack up our IKEA bags and move dinner outside.

Location, Location, Location

Let’s start with the basics, where should we eat? Some of us will look for seclusion, some will search for natural beauty and some will search for both. In my opinion, I want to be in an area where I can look at people. I really took the following article from the New York Times to heart:

Essentially, the article’s author, Pete Wells, proposes that we go out to eat not just for the food (one of my goals for NamiChef is to show people that you can eat better at home than in most restaurants) but also to look at other people.

That’s why we consistently choose to picnic in Washington Square Park. We live close by and if you want to do some people watching there is no better place on Earth. From the skateboarders, musicians, performance artists, and other Greenwich Village “characters”, Washington Square Park has you covered. We just try to find a nice patch of grass and we set up our picnic.

Washington Square Park

Pro tip:  go before sunset and watch the transition as day turns to night.

My wife is very well organized and a great planner and she has invested in inexpensive picnic equipment including blowup mats, folding chairs, cheap pillows that we don’t care if they touch the ground, and thermoses to keep our beverages cold.

Now let’s talk about consumption:

Beverages: I know we shouldn’t do this but we’re wine drinkers so we fill the thermoses up with ice-cold rosé. Drinking in the Park is still illegal but the police don’t seem to care as much as they used to so just be responsible.

Food: ANYTHING that is delicious at room temperature our personal favorites are:

  • Pizza – I’ll do a blog on NamiChef pizza, it’s a crowd favorite
  • Fried chicken – I make this with my Ninja Foodi Air Fry Oven using the following recipe from “My Forking Life” by Tanya Harris:

  •  Caprese salad:
    • Ripe tomatoes – August to mid-September is prime time in New York
    • Fresh basil
    • Fresh mozzarella cheese:  Sergimmo Salumeria makes a fresh batch 3 times/day
    • Good extra virgin olive oil – any suggestions?

I have also made a pasta salad with seafood and seafood paella (please see my blog called “How Paella Changed my Life” for the recipe). We’ll also bring cheese, smoked meats, vegetable sticks, and hummus (a great reason to buy a Nutribullet is not just healthy smoothies and boat drinks – try the hummus!)

From there you can spend a few hours of quality time with that special someone, a group of friends or just your favorite book.

As always, please send your ideas about picnicking and feel free to share photos and suggestions, and always remember:  With the right ingredients and access to extra help when you need it, you are already one of the best chefs that you know.

Seafood Pasta, my “Get out of Jail Free” Card | Namichef

Seafood pasta recipe

Seafood Pasta Recipe

Seafood Pasta – (full version)

Seafood pasta – (short version)

This one is a show stopper and an excellent example of sourcing great local ingredients.  If I invite friends and family over for dinner this dish is always their first choice and it’s a great way to get myself out of trouble if my wife is mad at me.

Let’s start with the foundation of the dish.  I like the Linguine with Clams recipe from the Striped Spatula with Amanda Biddle food blog.  I change a few things but it’s a great place to start.


Linguine with clams (used Pappardelle this time) – the foundation for my dish and a delicious “budget” version   

With this recipe as my base, I add additional seafood that includes scallops, jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels, and squid.  You can pretty much throw in anything you want that swims.  

NamiChef tip:  Include canned clams.  I haven’t seen this in other recipes but unless you have some extra clam juice, you’ll need canned clams for the additional liquid.

NamiChef tip 2:  I take the shrimp shells and throw them in the hot oil.  This is my attempt to infuse the oil with shrimp flavor through the shells.  WARNING!!! Be careful, the shrimp shells can cause the oil to splatter when you cook them.

Once the shells are pink, I take them out of the oil and then I throw in the shrimp and scallops to get a nice sear.  You don’t have to do this, you can poach them in the liquid but I think the flavor of the seared seafood adds more depth.

Once the shrimps and scallops are seared I take them out and build the dish.

As mentioned, I bought my ingredients at several different locations in my area.  For the pasta, my wife’s favorite is fresh squid ink pasta which I buy at Raffeto’s, a local pasta store in Greenwich Village:

I also bought my shrimp and mussels at Eataly.  It’s expensive but the ingredients are really top quality and exploring the store itself is a treat (I also bought a porchetta sandwich for lunch).

I bought my scallops and clams and squid from the Union Square Greenmarket.  The purveyor is American Pride Seafood out of Suffolk County, New York.  I also bought my parsley from one of the vegetable farmers:  S & SO Produce Farms out of Goshen, NY

Union Square Greenmarket

I purchased the canned clams from Citarella and the lemons come from a fruit/vegetable stand outside of Trader Joe’s on the corner of Third Avenue and 14th Street.  We try to buy as much as possible from this gentleman because it’s good quality and cheaper than Trader Joe’s.

Here’s the recipe for 2 but it can easily feed 3 or 4 as a pasta course:

  • One pound of fresh squid ink pasta
  • 6 big scallops (I asked the fishmonger for big ones)
  • 4 jumbo shrimp
  • 6 little neck clams
  • 6 mussels
  • 1 cleaned squid body
  • ¾ cup of chopped parsley
  • As much garlic as you can take
  • As much red pepper flake as you can take
  • 1 can chopped clams – this is a key ingredient because it’s a source of extra clam juice that really helps the dish
  • ¾ cup of white wine (use the cheap stuff as long as it’s dry)
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • (Optional) 2 tablespoons of butter at the end

Seafood with squid ink pasta

As I did with my Paella recipe, I cook the seafood first and then I take it out to prevent over-cooking.  I add the squid and the chopped clams at the very end.

This is a great example of making restaurant-quality food at home.  The only difference is the price.  The full version is half the price of the same dish at a restaurant and I guarantee my seafood is as good or better than any restaurant and the portion is huge.

If you make the budget version of this dish the cost is around $3.00 / person.

Please try this at home and let us know how it goes, feel free to share any tips with Namichef, and always remember:  You are already one of the best chefs that you know.

Cook your favorite restaurant dishes at home | Namichef

restaurant dishes at home

As I continue this journey of trying to become a better cook, my latest passion is to try to recreate restaurant meals at home. 

For example:

Last night my wife and I went to a West Village restaurant called The Little Owl:  It was our wedding anniversary and we wanted to get out of the house (aka tiny NYC apartment).  The restaurant is the definition of Greenwich Village cute, and I highly recommend it for its food and atmosphere.  

One thing, be prepared to be photographed if you eat outside.  The restaurant is on the ground floor of the same building where the fictional apartment from the show “Friends” is set and the tourists know it and love taking pictures of the building.

During dinner, my wife suggested I write a blog about the restaurant but that’s not my goal.  I do not want to be a restaurant critic and nor am I qualified to be one.  I want to position NamiChef as a way to encourage other home cooks to make restaurant-quality meals in their home kitchens.  Even 5’ x 6’ kitchens like mine.  However, last night’s dinner included some items that I have never made before and now I want to explore how close I can get to recreating the dish using the NamiChef concept:


  • Ingredients
  • A recipe that you can execute and modify
  • Technique

The standout was grilled octopus.  It’s one of my wife’s favorites and this rendition was exceptional for its soft texture.

How do I make the same thing at home.? I just Googled “how to make octopus tender?”  This New York Times  article by Harold McGee in 2008, was the first thing that popped up on my feed. It was scientific and didn’t provide the answer I was looking for and I was annoyed by the fact that he had the resources to order two octopi from Japan.


The consensus seems to be to simmer the beast for a couple of hours but we shall see.  CALLING ALL NAMICHEFS.  Where can I buy octopus?  I Googled it and found a fish market near me (Essex Pearl) that sells it frozen for $11.95 / lb.  Citarella sells it as well, but it is $56 for two 14-ounce pieces of pre-tenderized. I think it’s more expensive and because I am going to boil the hell out of it, frozen works for me.  FYI, Citarella is a legendary New York small grocery chain.  It’s expensive but it’s exceptional and its origins come from selling fish so you’ll never go wrong buying seafood from Citarella.  Also, I’ve never seen an octopus at the Union Square Greenmarket so I assume whatever you can find in this is not local.

We shall see.  Here’s another way to use NamiChef to up your home cooking game.  Go for a fine dine to your favorite restaurant.  Get dressed up and look at the other people who also got dressed up.  Order a cocktail or three and think about what you are eating and where you can find the same ingredients or something similar.  Then do a little homework, figure out the ‘secret sauce’ and make it a home.

I guarantee it will be cheaper.  Once we launch, you’ll have NamiChef by your side for advice on sourcing the ingredients and then cooking them.  The only thing you’ll miss is the eye candy you see when you eat out at a nice restaurant…  and you’ll have to do the dishes.

This brings me back to why I started NamiChef… Restaurants are important and a badly needed distraction from time to time but no matter what you are still one of the best chefs that you know.

Namichef Saga: The delectable cooking journey

Union Square Greenmarket New York City

The NamiChef Story

I started NamiChef simply because the more I cooked at home, the better I got at it and I became able to make great food without a sophisticated kitchen.  I have a tiny kitchen in a small New York City apartment equipped with the barest essentials:  refrigeration, heat, and water.

From there it’s just been a question of finding a recipe that I think will taste good and the necessary ingredients. 

Let’s start with the ingredients.  That’s the foundation of every home-cooked food dish.  Today we have more access to more ingredients than ever.  We can buy food from around the globe, within a 20-minute car ride or if we live in a city, a 10-minute walk and if we can’t find something, there is a good chance that someone can deliver it to us.

We all have our favorite places to shop.  Some places due to convenience, others because of their high quality.  Some people will even go to several stores to accumulate the perfect ingredients for a meal (guilty as charged).

That’s where I envision NamiChef coming in handy.  My goal is to build a platform that will guide participants to the best ingredients in their area.  In some cases, it’s a quest for a hard-to-find Asian ingredient.  In others, it’s just finding the basics like chicken or fish.  I want to help people find the best possible products at the best possible prices for their home-cooked meals.

So you finally have all of your home-cooked food ingredients.  How do you execute the dish?  What if you need a little extra help beyond the recipe or a YouTube video?

That brings us to the second component of NamiChef.  Guidance on how to make restaurant-quality meals at home.  My goal is to supply the NamiChef community with 24/7 online access to skilled cooks.  This team will be both professional kitchen people as well as skilled home cooks.  You can book them in advance if you need help with an entire recipe or meal or in real-time to get advice to determine if your dish is done. 

I think that this commercial provides an excellent example of getting last-minute help with a dish

Amazon Echo Show TV Commercial, ‘Cooking Together’


What is the ultimate goal of NamiChef?  I want to bring out the chef in all of us.  I truly believe that each of us is one of the best chefs that we know and that we can recreate restaurant-quality dishes in our home kitchens if we can source great ingredients and get a little help with those ingredients when we need it.


Why I still Love Peter Luger Steak House and always will | Namichef

Peter Luger Steak House

Pete Wells, the esteemed food critic of the New York Times, did the unthinkable.  On October 29, 2019, the Times published his scathing review of Peter Luger Steak House.  His rating of ‘Satisfactory’ equates to 0-stars.  Shear heresy or a wake-up call?  Probably both.

A little background, Peter Luger Steak House (Luger’s), started in 1887 and is one of New York City’s oldest restaurants.  It is in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn and like most areas of New York it has been home to waves of different immigrant groups.  Today it’s hipsters and the Hasidic Jewish community.

I consider Luger’s to be an ‘aspirational’ restaurant.  I don’t want to eat there, I ‘aspire’ to eat there, and here’s why:

  • History
  • Location
  • Reputation
  • Character
  • Price
  • Food

That’s why Well’s 0-star rating was a punch to the gut of the world’s greatest steakhouse town.  As a matter of fact, start typing in ‘Pete Wells’ in Google, and even before you finish typing the third choice is “Pete Wells Peter Luger”.

If I were to characterize my thoughts about Luger’s I would also use the word “blissful”.  So after reading the review, when my wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday I replied, “dinner at Luger’s”.  I thought it was absolutely impossible that Wells’ article was accurate and I had to see for myself.  BTW, ‘aspirational’ restaurants almost automatically mean a splurge which is why I go to Luger’s about every two years.

The restaurant itself is huge.  The decor is a kind of Germanic hunting lodge with bright lighting that makes 0 effort at ambience.  The servers are all middle-aged to old men.  It’s the kind of restaurant where if you go a few times, you no longer need a menu.

My post-Wells meal?  He was largely right.  My German potatoes were mushy rather than the crispy I was used to and my magnificent Porterhouse was cold.  Granted I like my beef rare but cold is cold.  Also, Wells described the servers as needing a nap.  In my case, my guy was competent but looked bored.

Oh, how the mighty had fallen.  It’s as though the world’s greatest steakhouse, where you had to book a reservation week in advance, seemed to decide, that people will come here no matter what.

So when my birthday came around this year and my wife asked me what I wanted, once again I said, “a steak dinner” and proceeded to book a reservation at one of Luger’s rivals.  A place that I could walk to from my apartment rather than take two subways, with a sexy atmosphere and awesome food.

So why did a little voice inside of me say, “let’s see if there’s anything available at Luger’s… just out of curiosity of course”.  Well, my birthday was on a Friday this year and all that was left was 4:45 PM and 10:30 PM so I contented myself with dinner at an equally expensive restaurant that was awesome as well.

Case closed, right?  Well… I put myself under ‘Notify’ on my Resy app just to see what would happen.  When a 9:30 table opened up, I thought it was a bit late so I passed.  Next came 9:15.  The same result but when 8:45 popped up I took it and immediately canceled my reservation at Luger’s rival.

Why did I do it?  Because it’s f’ing Peter Luger Steak House that’s why.  Birthdays are a special occasion and the trip on the subway, the walk to the restaurant, and the drink at the bar are all special at Luger’s.  Even seeing the maitre d’ (whom Wells unfairly dissed in my opinion) with his massive list of names of people waiting for their tables was a special occasion.

So how was my dinner, this time?  My steak was perfect, my potatoes were crispy and when my wife snuck off to ask the waiter to put a candle in my dessert, he complied and cheered the entire room to sing “Happy Birthday”.

Peter Luger steak house is still one of two steakhouses in NYC with a Michelin Star.  The other is an outstanding Korean Barbeque take on a steak house so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.  Reservations are still hard to come by but not as difficult as before.  You can always argue about which steakhouse is best but there is only one steakhouse in NYC that is ‘aspirational’ – Luger’s.

A complete guide to cioppino seafood recipe | Namichef

Cioppino seafood recipe, a Tale of Three Recipes

Cioppino – Seafood Stew – (full version)
Cioppino – Seafood Stew – (short version)

What is Cioppino?

Cioppino is essentially a seafood stew. It’s origins lie in the Italian region of Liguria which is a wonderful coastal area in the northwestern part of Italy. Portofino and Cinque Terre are beautiful towns mobbed by tourists pre-COVID and the capital of the region, Genoa, is associated with Christopher Columbus who was probably born there.

Immigrants from Liguria settled in San Francisco at the beginning of the 20th century and they brought their regional seafood stew with them which has since taken on the distinctly Bay Area character that we enjoy today.

The dish is not always on the menu in Italian restaurants but definitely try it if it is and better yet, make it at home! There are a lot of layers and you do a lot of chopping but when you taste the result you and your guests will be thrilled.

The NamiChef way is to find recipes that we can visualize and taste in our imaginations and then try to make them at home. As we practice we’ll discover more and more dishes we can make that taste as good or better than anything we have ever had in restaurants. Even in a 5’ x 7’ Greenwich Village kitchen!

In doing my research I discovered that I found elements of three different recipes that I liked so I used parts of all three.

I personally liked Giada de Laurentiii’s version, which you can explore on the below-mentioned link of the food network site:

I also took some elements that I liked from the Epicurious recipe:

Finally, I found a good step-by-step video on YouTube from “Gus In the Kitchen”:

One thing that made me nervous was that each of these recipes are for 6 people so I cut everything in half. Things turned out really well but I am always hesitant about changing the proportions of each component of the dish and I didn’t change everything exactly proportionally. However, after the success of this dish, those fears are dissipating which is a key concept of NamiChef – the more we cook at home, the more confident we get.

Here is a list of my ingredients for cioppino seafood recipe:

  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (what’s your favorite? I use Trader Joe’s for cooking but I am open to suggestions)
  • ½ onion chopped
  • ½ fennel bulb chopped
  • 2 shallots chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic minced (remember that if garlic is in season, buy it at the farmer’s market if you can, it’s worth it)
  • 3 cups of fish stock (my local Citarella carries this, Gus’s YouTube video shows him using “Seafood” stock,
  • Epicurious calls for chicken stock but I wanted to stick to something from the sea)
  • 4 ounces of bottled clam juice
  • 14 ounces of San Marzano tomatoes crushed by hand or with a potato masher (I used Trader Joe’s diced
  • tomatoes but next time I’ll definitely use the San Marzano’s)
  • 2 ½ tablespoons of tomato paste
  • ¾ cup dry white wine (cheap is fine, you just want the acid. Just never use anything called “Cooking Wine”)
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped flat leaf parsley
  • ½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper (add more if you like things spicy)
  • ½ teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf (totally optional) – I had some fresh basil lying around so I chopped it up and threw it in. Whenever I buy fresh herbs, I always seem to have lots leftover. Any ideas on how best to keep them fresh would be greatly appreciated.

The stars of the show (fresh seafood):

  • 4 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 large scallops
  • 4 littleneck clams
  • ½ pound of firm fish (I used cod)
  • ½ pound of mussels (I threw in about 20)
  • 1 lobster tail (the recipe calls for crab. If you want to be really regional you should use Dungeness crab and I saw a lot of Alaskan king crab in recipes but the lobster tail was just easier and less expensive
  • Buttered and toasted sourdough bread to dip in the broth

Whoa!!! Lots of ingredients and prep, right? That’s the bad news. The good news is that once your ingredients are ready, it’s just a matter of preparing the broth, the fish, and the bread.


  • Sauté the onions, fennel, and shallots until translucent about 10 minutes
  • Add the red pepper flakes and the garlic and sauté for a minute (DON’T BURN YOUR GARLIC)
  • Stir in the tomato paste until everything is coated
  • Add the liquids and oregano and simmer for 30 minutes

NamiChef tip (or observation): All of the recipes said to simmer with the pot covered. I did so and after 30 minutes I wasn’t happy with how much my broth thickened so I uncovered my pot and simmered that way until I was happy with the thickness. Also, remember you’ll be adding mussels and clams that, when they open, release additional liquid into your broth.

Essentially, uncovering your pot makes the broth thicken more quickly.


If you’ve seen my Paella and Seafood pasta blogs, I have a couple of tips.

NamiChef tip: Take your shrimp shells and saute them in hot oil as a way to infuse your oil with their flavor. BE CAREFUL OF SPATTERING

NamiChef tip on cioppino seafood recipe: (H3)
Sear your scallops, shrimp, lobster tail, and fish in the hot shrimp-infused oil. That caramelization will add extra flavor rather than just poaching them in the broth. Also, if you develop any brown bits on the bottom of your pan (fond), take a little white wine or stock and deglaze (about a ¼ cup). When that thickens, throw it into your soup.

Now you are on the home stretch. Throw in your clams and mussels into your broth and this time put the lid on, and in about 5 minutes all of those bivalves should be opened. If some don’t give them a bit more time and if they still don’t open, discard them.

Check your broth for salt.

Now it’s time to add your shrimp, scallops, lobster tail, and fish and simmer for 5 minutes.

At this point, take a thick slice of sourdough bread, toast it, rub a glove of garlic on it to flavor the bread with the garlic’s oils, butter, sprinkle on the parsley, and some salt…


Now your cioppino seafood recipe is finally ready to plate:

This is definitely a new part of my repertoire and I am looking forward to cooking this for friends and family because, as we say at NamiChef:

With the right ingredients and a little bit of guidance when you need it, you are already one of the best chefs that you know.