Expert Interview Series: Chef Dennis Littley on Re-creating Your Favorite Restaurant Dishes at Home

Dennis Littley is the owner, writer and photographer behind A Culinary Journey with Chef Dennis / Ask Chef Dennis Productions. He's eating his way around the world and sharing his adventures and recipes as a food and travel blogger,...

Favorite dishes

Dennis Littley is the owner, writer and photographer behind A Culinary Journey with Chef Dennis / Ask Chef Dennis Productions. He's eating his way around the world and sharing his adventures and recipes as a food and travel blogger, retired chef, Live Stream Show Host and brand ambassador.

Tell us about your site. When and why did you start Ask Chef Dennis?

I started my blog in November of 2009 as a resource for my culinary students at my last job at an all girls high school in Flourtown, Pa. None of the girls ever visited my blog but one morning I woke up with readers in New Zealand and Singapore. That's the day I officially became a food blogger.

What's your philosophy on cooking? How do you approach food?

Build your meals around what you have available at home. Buy fresh, local ingredients whenever possible. And cook what you like to eat. Cooking isn't rocket science and should be approached as a fun activity that the entire family can take part in.

Who or what inspires you in the kitchen?

Graham Kerr was who first inspired me to be a chef. He had so much fun cooking and sharing his food with others I thought that would be an amazing way to make a living. These days I'm inspired by all of the creative bloggers that come up with so many delicious new dishes on their blogs.

Where are some of your favorite places to travel in pursuit of great food?

I love Paris, Rome and London. Each of those cities has an amazing culinary scene. But I also love my new home town of Orlando as well as many delicious cities across the U.S.. Great food is found in so many places, look for spots the locals enjoy. Taste the local specialties and be adventurous in your eating.

What's one of the most unforgettable dishes you've tried? What set it apart?

I love all types of food from burgers to foie gras, but one of the most unforgettable meals I ever had was in Orlando at Cuba Libre. Every course was amazing, especially the Lechón Asado. A Slow roasted, marinated Berkshire pork with a classic sour orange mojo, Amarillo chile smashed yuca, black bean sauce and Vigorón slaw. What set this meal apart from others was at the end of four courses, they delivered a Cuban coffee and a sampler of eight mini desserts.

Can you share one of your favorite recipes from your travels?

One of my favorite recipes from my travels has to be Tiramisu. The best Tiramisu I ever had was at a restaurant at the base of the Spanish Steps in Rome. I was lucky enough to be able to duplicate it when I got home.

Ingredients

6 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

1¼ cup mascarpone cheese

1¾ cup heavy whipping cream

2 -7-ounce packages Italian Lady fingers

1 cup cold espresso

½ cup coffee flavored Liqueur (optional)

1 tbsp cocoa for dusting

Instructions

Combine egg yolks and sugar in the top of a double boiler, over boiling water. Reduce heat to low, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. This is your sabayon, remove from the heat and whip yolks until thick and lemon colored. Add Mascarpone to whipped yolks, beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream in the mascarpone sabayon mixture and set aside. Mix the cold espresso with the coffee liquor and dip the lady fingers into the mixture just long enough to get them wet, do not soak them! Arrange the lady fingers in the bottom of a 9-inch square baking dish (or container similarly sized)

Spoon half the mascarpone cream filling over the lady fingers. Repeat process with another layer of lady fingers and cream. Refrigerate four hours or overnight. Dust with cocoa before serving.

What's your advice to other travelers who want to replicate dishes they sampled on their journeys? How can they track down recipes and the right ingredients/flavors?

Don't be afraid to ask to speak to the chef, ask them how they prepared the dish. Take notes on the ingredients you see and describe the flavors. And remember to take pictures of the dish.

What's your advice on tracking down hard-to-find ingredients or finding substitutes that work in a dish?

If it's a local favorite, look in the nearby stores for any special ingredients. These days you can order everything online, which is a great way to get those hard-to-find ingredients that make a good dish great.

What are your go-to tools in the kitchen?

A very sharp Chef's knife, a good quality cutting board, a heavy duty stand mixer, an immersion blender and lots of little bowls to hold ingredients for the dish I'm preparing.

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