Chef Aaron McCargo lit up the crowd as soon as his smile and energy hit the stage. I’m not going to lie, I do not watch “The Next Food Network Star.” This was my first introduction to Chef Aaron and it’s easy to see why he won the Food Network Star title and earned the success that followed.
Since winning the 2008 season of “The Next Food Network Star” Chef Aaron McCargo Jr. has been lighting the fire of food inspiration in kitchens across the US. He invited us into his “Big Daddy’s Kitchen” (Food Network show) and in 2010 published “Simply Done, Well Done.”
Chef Aaron is Jersey homegrown proud and has founded Play to Win, an organization created to instill in young men “the desire to become life-long learners and give each of them the tools to develop a ten year life plan that will demonstrate productive choices.” He wants to share a gift he was given, a chance to develop a passion into a productive career. We talk more about this in the podcast interview.
Chef Aaron McCargo was at the Pennsylvania Farm show as part of the PA Preferred Culinary Connection experience. Week long culinary events fill the stage highlighting local farmers and food producers. The culinary events are not to be missed.
How can you not dig on Chef Aaron?
His charm and authentic style along with many easy kitchen tips make him lovable. Chef Aaron shared several AMJ101 tips throughout his presentation.
Chef enjoys local and fresh food, basil and brussels sprouts from his garden but what he really loves is bacon. It was evident while watching him prepare the Bacon and Pesto Pasta Salad dish (recipe). (Did you catch that he has a garden? His children get involved too!)
Helpful tips in the preparation of this dish included precooking and cooling the pasta before adding the dressing to prevent the salad from becoming dry. Instead of cooking pasta with olive oil be sure to season the water with salt.
Using the best quality, fresh and local ingredients is important to Chef Aaron. He suggests reading the bacon label for sodium content. Chef precooks a package of bacon and leaves it out on his counter, covered, for breakfast sandwiches, salads, snacking and so on.
Keeping recipes “basic and good” is the key to his cooking style. Chef’s pesto recipe includes only 5 ingredients: garden fresh basil, garlic, nuts, lemon juice and cheese. He suggests triple batching this recipe for many uses and precooking ingredients to have on hand for a quick meal.
What tips does Chef Aaron share to make an at home cook into a super start cook?
What items should a home cook should splurge on?
What tool trumps any other kitchen tool you can buy?
Find out how Chef Aaron keeps it real in the kitchen, listen in to this podcast interview; his laughter and inspiration are infectious.
I was asked to particulate in the Thermador Chef Challenge (PA Preferred Culinary Experience) on the opening day of the farm show. It was mushroom day and there were several types of mushrooms used in our blue ribbon dish. Yes, our team won the blue ribbon and a lovely gift bag. Brandi Proctor (CBS news 21) and I were led by Chef Jason Clark (Mounte Hill Tavern). To get a sneak peak inside the winning gift bag and read more about the winning dish check click here.
- 1 pound rotini
- 8 slices bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup roasted red pepper strips (two 4 ounce jars)
- ½ cup thinly sliced red onion
- ½ cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes
- 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup olive oil
- In a medium saucepan, cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. Drain, but do not rinse and transfer to a dish to cool to room temperature. The pasta can be chilled until ready to use.
- In a larger bowl, toss the pasta with the bacon, Parmesan, roasted red pepper strips, onion and sun-dried tomatoes.
- In a food processor fitted with metal blade, pulse the basil with lemon juice, garlic, salt and black pepper until well mixed. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube into the pesto and pulse until smooth. Spoon the pesto over the pasta mixture and toss until evenly coated.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to 3 hours to give the flavors time to blend. Serve chilled or at room temperature, garnished with Parmesan cheese.
Chef Aaron McCargo was at the Pennsylvania Farm show as part of the PA Preferred Culinary Connection experience. Culinary events filled the stage during the entire farm show all week, to highlight local farmers and food producers. The culinary events not to be missed.