Chef Inspired Summer Cookout

The PA Wine Land Post is teaming up with some amazing Pennsylvania chefs, designing menus to encourage you to eat well and entertain at home — and while you’re at the grocery store, don’t forget to grab a bottle (or four) of PA wine.

Next up, it’s time to plan a casual summer cookout with Adams County chef Subarna Sijapati, owner of Subarna’s Custom Catering.

“I grew up in a large, multi-generational household in which eating together and enjoying food was an important part of daily life,” recalls Sijapati. “My mother, who is in her seventies, still gets up early in the morning and goes to the local farmers market in my hometown of Kathmandu to select vegetables, fruits, and meats.”

That passion for local seasonal products only grew when Sijapati came to the U.S. for college. Uninspired by the options in his school’s dining hall, he started cooking his own meals. Eventually, he worked in restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, earned a culinary degree at The Art Institute of Colorado in Denver, worked as a private chef, and held the position of executive chef at UC Santa Barbara.

Then a twist: In 2008, his wife was offered a position at Gettysburg College in Adams County, PA. The family headed east.

Last fall, Sijapati started his own catering business.

“I [wanted to] share my talent in preparing global cuisine with Adams County, where there are not many ethnic restaurant options,” he says. “I do custom catering, which means I customize each event — from menu writing to recipe creation — for each of my clients, whether I make Italian, Korean, or Indian food.”

Sijapati has seen the food scene in Adams County evolve. While the fertile region spent years sending its bounty east to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia, locals are increasingly interested in keeping the good stuff close to home. Thanks to two years managing the Adams County Farmers’ Market Association, Sijapati has plenty of personal connections with small winemakers, fruit growers, and meat producers.

When he’s not cooking professionally, Sijapati still loves to feed his family. After all, he’s deeply familiar with their personal preferences — it’s his easiest custom catering gig. When the weather cooperates, he likes to invite a few friends, power up the charcoal grill, prepare a bunch of sides in advance, and purchase a special piece of meat as the centerpiece of a convivial cookout.

Baby Kale Caesar Salad with Grilled Grape Tomatoes, paired with Pennsylvania Sauvignon Blanc

The beautiful kale at his local farmers’ market-inspired this first dish. Sijapati takes his iteration of the iconic Caesar salad to another level with some piquant additions.

“I like to put grape tomatoes on the grill,” he explains. “They provide sweetness and a little bit of acid.”

His classic dressing — lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, extra virgin olive oil, egg yolk — gets an added punch from whole-grain, stone-ground mustard.

When it comes to the pairing, PA Sauvignon Blanc is a wonderful choice. The wine’s acidity plays well with the lemon juice in the dressing, while also balancing the creaminess of the salad.

Gold and Purple New Potato Salad with Dill-and-Tarragon Vinaigrette
Grilled French Green Beans with Pickled Shallots and Toasted Almonds
Grilled Sunburst Squash and Local Oyster Mushrooms with Goat Cheese and Fresh Thyme
Paired with Pennsylvania Pinot Noir

This trio of vegetable sides is designed to showcase local produce and to make the host’s evening easier: They can all be prepared in advance and served at room temperature. When it comes to potato salad, Sijapati eschews the classic American addition (mayonnaise) in favor of an herbaceous vinaigrette (“new potatoes are already creamy, so I don’t like to put mayonnaise on them”). This also means your salad will hold up better during a long afternoon in the sun.

“These days, more and more people are vegetarian — or just worried about the environment and their health,” says Sijapati. “So I did four vegetable sides. Right now local green beans are very crisp and there is so much squash at the market. Once they start producing, you have to eat them.”

Pennsylvania Pinot Noir will provide an earthy punch. The dry red wine will pair well with these dishes, all of which feature a tension between richness and freshness.

Brazilian BBQ Picanha with Chimichurri Sauce, paired with Pennsylvania Chambourcin

“I really, really like the Brazilian style of barbecue,” explains Sijapati. “I think they do a fantastic job of keeping the taste of the meat without doing too much to it. They only cook on a charcoal grill, on an open flame, and then just season with sea salt.”

The traditional foil for that simple steak is chimichurri, a raw condiment made from parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano, and vinegar.

Picanha is the name of the cut that they use in Brazil — domestically, it is often called the “sirloin cap.” It’s a hefty hunk of meat, perfect for a crowd. Sijapati also recommends asking your local butcher for help choosing what was raised locally and looks fresh.

The chef pairs his centerpiece steak with Chambourcin, a popular Pennsylvania hybrid that is usually aged in oak, which will accentuate the flavors from the grill, and exhibits notes of cherry, red fruit, and herbs.

Grilled Peaches with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, paired with Pennsylvania Catawba Rosé

“This is the time of year when the peaches come out,” says Sijapati. “They’re one of my favorite foods. Just cut the peaches in half and grill them. I sometimes put on a little bit of brown sugar or cinnamon just to give a little bit of extra flavor. I usually make my own vanilla bean ice cream. Then you’re good to go. The party is happy.”

Hot tip: Grill the peaches first on a clean grill so you don’t get meat flavor in your dessert.

Closeout the evening with a bottle of Catawba. This blush wine has some beautiful sweetness, which will accentuate the ripe fruit.