Moody’s chef takes the stage in Yosemite
When Paul McCartney waltzed into a Truckee restaurant last year to have chef Mark Estee cook for him, the mood and table was set for stardom – and not necessarily the ex-Beatle’s.Estee, the 33-year-old head chef and co-owner of Moody’s Bistro & Lounge, had no idea the dining event would create such a stir, he told a group assembled last week for a cooking demonstration at the Ahwahnee Hotel for Chefs’ Holidays in Yosemite.Estee was selected as one of three chefs to give cooking demonstrations last week for the 19th annual event, which started Jan. 11 and ends Feb. 5.A cook who began his culinary journey a dozen years ago with a penchant for seafood from his New England upbringing, Estee was inspired to become a chef by his father. The patriarch was known for his tomato sauce and weekend Italian and Greek meals.Nowadays, his son’s bistro operates as one big family – with all members contributing equally.”You can catch the nuances of the meals from the staff kitchen,” he said.Estee has a stand-alone, personal flair and menu that highlights organic and locally grown foods.The invitations and appearances have been pouring in over the last few years. Soon he’s due to cook lobster, among other courses, at the famed James Beard House in New York – named after the American cookbook author.The modest, young chef with the strong Boston accent peered out on the audience of about 50 aspiring chefs and home cooks to admit his nervousness over putting on demonstrations and entertaining crowds.”I’m always afraid I’m going to cut myself,” he said.His self-fulfilling prophecy occurred in front of 75 people at Macy’s in Boston when he carved a turkey and his hand in the process.”People just looked at me and said: ‘Shut up, guy, and give me some free turkey,'” he said.Estee pulled off the multi-faceted demonstration at Yosemite’s world renowned lodge without a hitch.On the agenda Thursday morning – braised pork bellies, which is essentially bacon, and scallops in a ceviche marinade that ended up in a cocktail glass.”This was such an ’80s thing, but I brought it back,” he said.For good measure, he added crispy shallots and potato gnocchi to the agenda – an easy dish that turns the skins into a kitchen staff meal.Estee’s cooking philosophy is simple and straightforward: Use what you can in season, and season when you can.”The best way to season food is constantly. It looks like a lot, but it’s really not,” he said, while generously flinging pepper, onions, cilantro and citrus juice over the assortment of dishes. The audience caught the action over the counter and stove by watching in an overhead mirror.Telling a Truckee radio station audience earlier that he was honored to represent Lake Tahoe at the Chef’s Holidays, Estee sprinkled in a few references to living in the Tahoe-area town when given the chance.In keeping with his philosophy of getting the most out of ingredients, Estee said he tosses the salt used in the potato gnocchi outside to melt the ice around the restaurant.He must have melted the hearts of the culinary connoisseurs who attended to learn and eat.”I’ve been coming here 18 years, and this is the best demonstration we’ve had,” Bay Area resident Nonette Hanko declared at the end of Estee’s gig.