Cyndi Sterne is the entrepreneur and chef-owner of Yes, Chef! Culinary Events in Sandy Springs. Formerly known as Hal’s Kitchen, she has successfully grown and operated the business for nine years. The industrial-chic kitchen and dining room located at Belle Isle Square can host up to 60 guests for hands-on cooking experiences for innovative corporate team building events, private celebrations and seated dinners.
Sterne, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, attended Indiana University and majored in costume design. Her chef classes run two to three hours each and cover a variety of cuisines. Three that are coming up are Vegetarian Fare, Pasta, and a special Valentine event. For the team events, everyone cooks after the group or hosts preselect(s) the menu. Popular choices are Steakhouse, Latin American, Mediterranean, Continental and Southern.
“Although I am not a true Southern native, I have always had an affinity for Southern food brought to Ohio from my Southern-raised maternal grandparents. My grandfather was from Selma, Ala., and his Coca-Cola soaked peanuts were an oddity to us Northern, suburban kids. My grandmother’s family owned a general store in Arkansas, and we fondly remember her fried chicken that made its way to the Shabbat table.”
About the season, Sterne said, “Holidays have a special way of invoking food memories, and Chanukah is one of the best.” When her boys were in elementary school, she started a deep-frying Chanukah tradition. What began with Southern staples has evolved into harissa-brined chicken schnitzel with a cooling tahini sauce, zucchini fritters and sufganiyot.
Her advice: “If you are lucky enough to own some heirloom cast iron, this is the perfect time to break it out. Not only does it sear and fry perfectly, a cast iron pan on the stovetop is a memory that all southern cooks (and the kids watching) can identify.”
She shares with us two of her holiday recipes:
Zucchini Keftedes (Sephardic meatless balls)
1 1/3 pounds medium zucchini, trimmed
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup panko
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1 cup coarsely crumbled feta cheese
Vegetable oil (for frying)
Labne (strained yogurt) for garnish
Additional chopped fresh dill for
Using grating disk of food processer to grate zucchini. Remove to strainer and sprinkle zucchini with 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Let stand 30 minutes to 1 hour. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment or foil.
Wrap zucchini in towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Place in medium bowl. Mix in green onions, 3 tablespoons chopped dill, mint, garlic, lemon zest, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Gently stir in panko and egg, then feta.
Using 2 tablespoons zucchini mixture for each, shape into 1 ¾ to 2-inch-diameter patty and place on baking sheet. Chill at least 1 hour.
Pour enough oil into heavy large skillet to reach depth of 1/4 inch. Heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add patties to skillet. Cook until golden and cooked through, adjusting heat if browning too quickly, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Using slotted metal spoon, transfer to paper towels. Arrange on platter. Top with labne dollops. Sprinkle with dill.
Blood Orange Cake
Servings: One Bundt cake or 14 minis
2 sticks unsalted butter,
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3 blood oranges or 4 Meyer
lemons (about 1 pound),
ends trimmed, cut into chunks and
seeds removed (If the oranges are
dry, add splash of OJ or orange or
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
Heat oven to 325 F with a rack positioned in the center. If you have a big food processor, the entire cake can be made in it! Spray 10-cup Bundt pan with oil-based spray. Pulse orange chunks in food processor until mostly smooth but not completely puréed. Spoon out 1 1/2 cups of the pulpy orange mixture. Pulse butter and sugar together in processor. Add eggs individually and continue to pulse.
Whisk together the dry ingredients in large bowl. Add butter, sugar and egg mixture to the flour and combine. Add the orange purée, and thoroughly combine. Add to batter, then beat until blended. Scrape batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake until firm to the touch, and toothpick stuck in the middle comes out dry or with a few crumbs, about 50 to 55 minutes. Cool pan on rack set over a rimmed baking sheet for 10 minutes, then invert cake onto rack and cool.
Pour leftover purée into a small saucepan with ¼ to 1/2 cup of sugar and a few splashes of water. Dissolve sugar and let it get syrupy. Strain pulp and drizzle the syrup over the cakes.
Follow Sterne on instagram @yeschefatlanta for recipes, tips, and chef-led classes. Or call her at 404-345-9610.