If the party down the street served quesadillas with salsa and enclosed empanadas, he'd serve quesadilla chopsticks dipped in sweet salsa and beef empanada tartlets with cheese sprinkled on top.
"We do real funky stuff," he said.
Walsh, who has no formal culinary training but a lot of restaurant experience, uses his imagination, from-scratch ingredients and fresh products to create elaborate meals as the executive chef for Chef's Expressions, a catering company in Timonium, Md.
So, if you're looking for a way to improve your cooking in the new year, Walsh is one to watch. He uses fresh organic and local ingredients combined with exotic finds to create exciting dishes.
"We don't invent anything," he said. "We deconstruct and reshape recipes to take it to a new level."
Starting from scratch
Walsh owned Chez John in York from 1982 to 1989. He also worked for Wickey's Catering and Left Bank before he took the job at Chef's Expressions in Timonium six years ago.
The 52-year-old always valued fresh ingredients. On a recent Friday night, Walsh and his crew catered a Mexican-themed holiday party in Baltimore for 500 guests. The edible flowers, corn shoots and other greens for garnish came from Brogue Hydroponics, which has a stand at Eastern Market.
All of the ingredients for the large party were fresh. All of the dishes were made from scratch.
"It's more expensive, but real food is important," he said.
His advice on making something snazzy is to look at a recipe backward rather than making something up. Take a finished traditional favorite and replace ingredients.
"Clients want me to go nuts and go over the edge," he said.
And that's what he does.
In the thick of it
During a dinner party, Walsh and his staff worked from a small office kitchen that they set up earlier that day with hot boxes and ovens.
"We are professional movers," Walsh said.
They served appetizers in martini glasses and on geometric plates decorated with green and orange infusions (flavor extracted from ingredients and steeped in water.) Soup was served in tall shot glasses and black bean dip was served in a votive with asparagus, red pepper and jicama, a root vegetable.
"You eat first with your eyes," Walsh said. "If something looks great, most people will try it . . . but it better taste better than it looks because that is really the final judgment."
A handful of event chefs helped him heat and cook the dozens of trays of freshly prepared foods.
"Chef, this is really good," event chef Jo-Ann Brown said as she popped a coconut tartlet with prickly pear coulis.
"If the staff is eating it, you know you are doing something good," Walsh said.
Bonny Opper, senior event and sales consultant at Chef's Expressions said she brings Walsh into the client tastings when she really wants to wow them. And if the clients have international tastes, she knows Walsh will make them feel comfortable.
"He has a lot of European skills," she said. "He's traveled all over the world."
When brides and grooms are looking to combine their international backgrounds, Opper knows Walsh will see their vision through.
"He can pair a lot of fusions," she said.
In his cart
When Walsh isn't preparing menus, ordering ingredients, prepping foods and working parties, the Spring Garden Township resident is a father of three.
Walsh said it's simple to create a fabulous meal at home. Despite his busy schedule, Walsh takes a few minutes each day to stop at the supermarket for ingredients for dinner.
He said local supermarkets stock a wide selection of spices, fruits and vegetables and other ingredients.
"I shop at Giant," he said. "I also go to Eastern Market and Farmer's Market. I don't really spend more than $100 a week on groceries."
His advice is not to overbuy.
"You don't need a 10-ounce steak at dinner," he said. "Go with quality over quantity."
His cart usually contains a protein such as free-range chicken, fresh vegetables and organic fat-free milk. He also buys Plugra butter and a lot of artichokes. His three children use organic bananas for breakfast shakes and blueberries for pancakes.
"I buy what I and the children and are in the mood for, which involves them in the decisions," he said. "I truly am a gourmand."
MEET JOHN WALSH:
Children: Chloe, 16, John, 14, and George, 9
Lives in: Spring Garden Township
Occupation: Executive chef at Chef's Expressions in Timonium, Md.
Background: Walsh was born in France and grew up in Europe. While attending the University of London, he got his first taste of the culinary world as a dishwasher at Hard Rock Café. He slowly climbed the ladder from there, working at various restaurants and building his knowledge.
Awards: He was voted one of top 10 chefs in America and Canada has been nominated Chef of the Year in Maryland for the past three years. He also won the gold medal in Catersource/Foodservice Director magazine's Kitchen Contenders Chef's Challenge in February.
On life: Walsh said his children are his pulse, they have always been there for him, and they love his food. He loves his job and praises his co-workers.
On work: He speaks with many chefs in the U.S. and France and finds new techniques to improve. He involves the staff and always says, "Why not?" instead of "No we can't."
"It makes a better kitchen with life, good vibes and excitement," he said.
WINE DINNER IN YORK
A Benefit for St. Patrick Catholic School at Victor's Italian Restaurant, 554 Ogontz St., York, 854-4937, 5 to 9 p.m. Jan. 18. Featuring award-winning Chef John Walsh and Executive Chef Lucien St. Onge. $110 per person.
2009 CULINARY SEMINARS
Chef's Jerry Edwards and John Walsh of Chef's Expressions, 9526 Deereco Road, Timonium, Md. offer cooking seminars for $50 each. Three classes are $125 ($20 extra for wine pairing) or six classes are $250 (includes wine pairing). Seating is limited. To sign up, call 410-561-2433.
Jan. 8: Hearty Winter Recipes - Three soups and bread.
Feb. 11: Braised Meats
April 16: New Orleans Style Cooking - Mardi Gras Favorites
June 11: Cooking with salt - More than 10 different salts to change your tastes
Aug. 13: Summer Recipes with Summer Wines
Nov. 19: New and Old Thanksgiving Recipes
WINE DINNERS IN BALTIMORE
Looking for inspiration? Chef's Expressions has a line up of 2009 Wine Dinners that are prepared by executive chef John Walsh and the staff.
For reservation or a copy of next months menu, e-mail Katie Bittinger at firstname.lastname@example.org call 410-561-2433 to reserve your place. For all the dinners, visit www.chefsexpressions.com.
Jan. 23: A Good Hope Dinner South African wines near the Cape of Good Hope paired with New American comfort cuisine.
Feb. 12 and 13: A Valentine Dinner Designed to lighten your heart. Fine champagne and wines from romance language countries paired with heart-healthy cuisine.
March 20: A Celebration of Spring Celebrate with fresh spring dishes and crisp, full-flavored wines from California.
April 17 Jazz Festival Wine Dinner Enjoy flavorful French Arcadia cuisine with wines from the north of France, Alsace and Austria.
May 20: South American Wines from Chile and Argentina paired with chef's rendition of Latin influenced classical cuisine.
June 17 An Aussie Dinner Top scoring Australian wines paired with top scoring American cuisine using local ingredients.
TRY IT OUT:
Chef Walsh shared some of his recipes, so you can create a fine-dining experience at home without stress or hassle.
Acorn Squash Risotto
1 large acorn squash, about 1 pound
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
2 cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
3 cups duck (or chicken) stock
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
¼ cup grated, fresh Parmesan
Salt and pepper
Heat duck (or chicken) stock to a simmer. Skin and seed acorn squash and finely dice; heat sauce pan and add 2 tablespoons of butter. Once butter begins to bubble, add shallots, Arborio rice and squash, sauté for a few minutes and deglaze with white wine. Add stock one cup at a time, cooking each cup until almost completely absorbed. Add remaining ingredients: sage, butter, Parmesan, heavy cream and season with salt and pepper. Let rest for a few minutes before serving.
Recipe provided by John R. Walsh, executive chef at Chef's Expressions
Calvados Ice & Golden Raisin Cream
3 cups half and half
1 Tahitian vanilla bean, split lengthwise
¼ cup golden raisins
¾ cup sugar
6 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
½ cup crème fraiche (fresh cream)
4 tablespoons Calvados (apple brandy)
Pour half and half into heavy medium saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Bring to a simmer. Whisk sugar, yolks and corn syrup in medium heatproof bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in hot half and half mixture. Return to saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of the spoon when finger is drawn across, about five minutes (do not boil). Strain into bowl. Mix in crème Fraiche and Calvados. Chill until cold. Transfer to ice-cream maker, process according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to covered container; freeze. Can be made three days ahead. Makes about eight servings.
Recipe provided by John R. Walsh
1½ pounds boneless chicken breast
½ cup grapeseed oil
¼ cup lemon juice
2 large cloves garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon red pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon paprika
1/3 cup plain yogurt
Usli ghee, Indian clarified butter
Add lemon juice to the chicken, and rub them into the slashes and all over for two minutes. Cover and marinate for 30 minutes.
Put all the ingredients of the marinade into the container of an electric blender or food processor, and blend until reduced to a smooth sauce. (Alternatively, garlic and ginger may be crushed to a paste and blended with the remaining ingredients.)
Pour this marinade over the chicken pieces and mix, turning and tossing, to coat all the pieces well. (A note of caution: Since certain brands of tandoori cooking tend to stain the fingers, use a fork to turn the chicken pieces in the marinade or use a pastry brush to spread it over the chicken.) Cover and marinate for four hours at room temperature, or refrigerate overnight, turning several times. Chicken should not remain in the marinade for more than two days.
Take the chicken from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking to bring it to room temperature. The chicken is now ready to be either roasted in the oven or broiled.
To Roast in the Oven:
Start heating the oven to 500- to 550 degrees. Take the chickens out of the marinade. Brush them with ghee, and place them on an extra-large shallow roasting pan, preferably on a wire rack. Set the pan in the middle level of the oven, and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through. There is no need to baste while the chicken pieces are roasting, because the enclosed environment keeps the chickens from drying.
To Broil Indoors:
Preheat the broiler. Brush the grill with a little oil to prevent the meats sticking. Place the chicken pieces, slashed side up, on the grill, and brush the slashed side with ghee. Cook 2 to 3 inches away from the heat for 20 minutes. Turn and cook the other side for another 10 minutes or until the chicken pieces are cooked through. Brush often with ghee during cooking.
Serve the chicken immediately, lightly brushed with ghee. Makes 6 servings.
Recipe provided by John R. Walsh
Seared Scallops with Pear and Mint Beurre Blanc
For Beurre blanc
¼ cup roasted diced Pears
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1½ sticks (¾ cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup minced shallot
2/3 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons mirin (rice wine available in Japanese markets)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup heavy cream, 40 percent
6 U-10 Diver Scallops, tough muscle removed from side of each if necessary
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Make Beurre blanc: In a nonreactive sauce pan (stainless steel, glass, or ceramic, not copper or aluminum) add shallots white wine, mirin and lemon juice reduce by 1/3 and add heavy cream. Cut butter into small pieces. Remove reduction from heat and incorporate the butter with a whisk, add butter one piece at a time in order to infuse. After all butter has been incorporated add pear and mint, put on low heat just to warm a bit.
Pat scallops dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sear scallops, season with salt and pepper, turning once, until golden brown and just cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes total. Transfer to a platter as cooked and keep warm.
Spoon 3 tablespoons Beurre blanc onto each of 6 plates, and then top with scallops. Serves six.
Recipe provided by John R. Walsh