Blogger and food writer Maria Desiderata Montana of San Diego Food Finds, chatted with us about her love for cooking and grilling.
COR: What’s your mission behind your blog and your cookbook series
MDM: As an experienced journalist, I created my San Diego Food Finds website to serve as a comprehensive, dining-related resource to both residents and visitors. It includes an insider’s look at all of the best culinary offerings, highlighted by my professional food photography to help readers visualize the food served at the dining destinations of my choice. I also include a regularly updated calendar of events, recipes, chef interviews and much more. My first book, the ‘Food Lovers’ Guide to San Diego’, is a perfect extension to my website, and serves as an excellent reference to everything in San Diego. My second book, the ‘San Diego Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes From America’s Finest City’ is really the icing on the cake!
COR: Tell me a little about your recipe? How’d you come up with the concept?
MDM: As an experienced cook, I wanted to provide readers with an example of a tasty dish that is not only simple and easy to prepare, but also remains healthy and light. Most of my recipe concepts are born from a deeply traditional Italian upbringing, where my mother was truly passionate about utilizing all of the fresh ingredients available in our backyard garden.
COR: What’s the best aspect of grilling in Southern California? Any special rubs? Olive-oil based marinades?
- MDM: Although I was born and raised in the Northwest, I’ve spent the past 20 years in sunny San Diego. Surprisingly, the grilling techniques are much the same. Most of my rubs are limited to what is seasonal in my garden, taking full advantage of fresh herbs and spices. My favorite marinades frequently contain a few sprigs of rosemary that grows wild everywhere in southern California, including my backyard. The aroma is unmistakable, and works for veggies, fish and meats.
COR: What was the first recipe you ever cooked on the grill?
MDM: Where I grew up, salmon and trout were the most common catch of the day. As a child, I would eagerly wait by the smoking grill, knowing a tender fish was only minutes away. It was especially common during the warm summer months by the lake.
COR: Do you have any notable grilling disasters?
MDM: My first attempt to grill a halibut steak without the proper mesh screen. Once the fish was nearly ready, I had flaky chunks dropping everywhere in the grill, as I frantically tried to scrape-up the filet with a spatula.
COR: What do you love the most about grilling—the flavor, the tradition?
MDM: Grilling provides such a wonderful, smoky flavor to everything. It seems to beckon the fond memories of childhood. Indeed, there is something special about a tradition that spans thousands of years, defying modern technology.
COR: How do you think olive oil enhances grilled recipes?
MDM: If you use the RIGHT olive oil, it adds that unmistakable flavor and texture to the food, penetrating your senses unlike any other ingredient. Common oils will only make the food taste oily.
COR: What’s the craziest thing you ever cooked on a grill?
MDM: Octopus. My first attempt resulted in a very chewy dish, but then I learned the art of marinating (from my chef friends), which makes a world of difference.
COR: What’s the most iconic grilling recipe in Southern California?
MDM: Definitely a grilled fish taco topped with a creamy coleslaw of some sort. However, I have been known to opt for a grass-fed beef burger on many occasions.
COR: Any special grilling tips?
MDM: Know when your recipe calls for slower, indirect heat versus the more traditional direct searing. Each technique is important, but a disaster when used incorrectly.
To enjoy more of Maria’s mouthwatering recipes, visit her blog San Diego Food Finds!