Jeffrey Saad is one of those chefs whose passion for the industry is infectious. Always living by the motto ‘food without borders,’ Saad firmly believes each of us should drag our tongues across the globe. Saad’s extensive knowledge of spices makes him credible in showing us that we can, in fact, cook locally while eating globally. Runner up on the fifth season of The Next Food Network Star, Saad was undeniably the favorite. It was only a matter of time before he was hosting web series Spice Smuggler – an on camera opportunity that soon landed him the role of host on The Cooking Channel’s United Tastes of America. Saad’s television presence, his current group of restaurants – The Grove – as well as his line of spice blends have made him a household name, rather than just a chef. Saad has a way of making international cuisine attainable, constantly innovating and transcending beyond geographical borders, and of course, taking us all along for the ride.
You’ve travelled all over, but if you had to describe your ideal food day, what would it be?
It would definitely start by finding the closest thing to an absolutely perfect shot of expresso. Then I think a bite of just the perfect scone – so many people make them, but really the great ones are few and far between. That would be the way to start the day. Then I’d make my wife Nadia a latté, kiss her good morning, and see off the kids to school. After surfing I’d go and seek out the perfect tacos: Something that’s unique, where you get that crispy tortilla, with crisp greens topped with spicy salsa. Then I’d try to find that perfect bite of chocolate – maybe chocolate ice cream – but just that one bite that makes you beg for more, where you flash to that morning espresso and it just brings it all full circle. Then I’d make the family dinner. I really love doing osso bucco – maybe veal shank – which was how I fell in love with my wife. She shoved a corkscrew into the center of the bone to get the bone marrow out and I was just done; that was it. Then just a killer glass of wine with dinner; there’s nothing like it. I’d end it with a perfect tiramisu. So many do tiramisu, but so few do it right. It’s one of the first desserts I learned to make, using that real mascarpone and the very best expresso. At the end I’d have a sip of dessert wine or a cognac – just a little bit. It’s all about balance; just enough to make you appreciate every flavor you’ve had, but still want to go surfing in the morning.
Your show, United Tastes of America, celebrates the evolution of simple American classics into legendary recipes. Is there such a thing as taking these classics too far from what they were originally, or is the sky the limit?
What I think is amazing is that in food the sky is the limit if the execution and balance of flavor is on the money. When things go wrong, and there’s fusion that’s spread way too far, it’s an insult to every country involved in the dish. There needs to be a balance and it needs to be well-executed.
What chefs are good at evolving those dishes? Which not so much?
Michael Smith out of Kansas City. He has a restaurant called Michael Smith and one called Extra Virgin. I shot a show out there and then went back on my own. He does duck tongue tacos there. Anyone that can do duck tongue tacos in Kansas City is doing something right. He also does ribs – and again to do ribs in Kansas City, that’s tough. He does them with guajito chiles and mango puree, which could be an insult to the rib but he executes it so well and knows how to break those borders, which I love. It makes you say ‘I’ve always liked ribs, but now I like them even more.’
As we all know, there’s a greater awareness now about the health and diet of the average American. Do you find this issue is relevant to United Tastes of America?
That’s a great question and it’s important to talk about. Non-fat should never be an ingredient. It’s part of your diet; your body needs fat. To me it’s about balance. I felt bad about the whole Paula Deen thing, because the message isn’t to eat that stuff all day. It’s, ‘See how great this is with butter. Butter’s great. Eat this decadent meal, but then for lunch have a salad. For breakfast have granola and fruit.’ It’s about balance.
And it’s become so much more than being about food. It’s not about how we find the way around the truth. The truth is [one should] eat balanced meals and exercise, but for me it’s never going to be NO pasta. I’m going to have pasta – just not too much of it. You can eat everything and anything if you keep it to small balanced portions. It’s one of the reasons why I’m happy that tasting menus have become such a trend. If you have a gigantic amount of anything, it goes from being thrilling to being mundane and overdone.