Burrito lovers have a devil of a time at El Diablo. Plus, Jam Bistro hits the beach and meet the folks who keep Amtrak's menus chugging.
(page 3 of 3)
Ever wonder how that portobello manicotti with sherry-mascarpone sauce ended up on your Amtrak trip? We didn’t think so. Meet the masterminds.
There’s no fryer onboard the galley car of Amtrak’s City of New Orleans train. Yet a porter will gladly present you a plate of crispy hot chicken and fluffy rice pilaf with a glass of Pinot Grigio on your next trip from Wilmington to the Crescent City.
Thank executive chefs Christian Hannah and Daniel Malzhan, who ply one of the more unique culinary trades from the Amtrak Training Station near Frawley Stadium in Wilmington.
Their jobs, along with the rest of Amtrak’s small but dedicated food and beverage division, involve soup-to-nuts oversight of the dining experience onboard Amtrak trains. Hannah handles Acela Express service as well as state-supported trains in the Northeast Corridor. Malzhan handles food and drinks onboard long-distance and cross-country routes.
But before a meal winds up on a train, it must be conceived, something Amtrak chefs do at a grand powwow several times a year with a handful of carefully selected celebrity chefs. The most recent Amtrak Culinary Advisory team included renowned chef Michel Richard, owner of Washington, D.C.’s Citronella, and Wilmington native Tom Douglas, who owns six highly touted restaurants around Seattle.
The team creates more than 100 dishes during the meeting—everything from portobello manicotti with sherry-mascarpone sauce to steamed mahi mahi wrapped in banana leaves—then tries to re-create them in a diminutive onboard kitchen during a bumpy train ride. “We wind up with terrific, creative ideas,” Malzhan says, “but we have to ask: Can it work in our world?”
The guys hit the test kitchen in Wilmington to find out, working on equipment that’s installed in various galley cars. From there, the job moves to the administrative realm, seeking out food vendors and producers to supply the ingredients.
The chefs then release their inner-Food Network chef, creating service guides and videos for regional chefs and onboard chefs scattered across the country. They monitor and mentor regional chefs along the way. “It’s a great mix of everything,” says Hannah, whose previous local stops include the Bourbon Street Café and Christiana Care Health Services.
Says Malzhan, who previously worked in kitchens around San Francisco, “That’s one of the things that appeals to me about what we do here. It’s still about love of food and ingredients and making things taste good. That can’t be forgotten about what we do.”
Certainly, when a passenger can sit snugly and dig into brioche French toast with apple compote or a New York strip steak smothered in smoked paprika butter, he likely won’t forget. Nor do Wilmington socialites, when they attend the Evening With the Masters fundraiser dinner, and see the Amtrak chefs situated next to some of the best chefs in the region.
“It’s great to have people realize that, yeah, there are culinary things happening at Amtrak,” Malzhan says. “We are the original meals on wheels.” —Matt Amis