Chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo
Francois Kwaku- Dongo - Executive Chef L’ Escale Restaurant in Greenwich, CT
Francois was raised in Western Africa’s tropical Ivory Coast. He left Africa in 1981 as a young man and set his sights on the East Coast of the United States, moving to New York to study Literature at Manhattan’s Borough College. He worked in New York City restaurants while attending school, and was bitten by the gourmet-cuisine bug when he was part-time prep cook at Alo Alo Restaurant. He quickly moved up the culinary ladder to become a line cook, where he was tutored by Chef Francesco Antonucci. Francois joined Antonucci in 1984 at Remi in New York City as Sous Chef where he remained for five years. While at Remi, Francois was highly trained in the art of pasta making, preparing superb risotto, gnocchi and raviolis.
Francois first met Wolfgang Puck at Remi, where he was responsible for all of Puck’s prep work for his “Good Morning America” appearances. In 1989, Francois’ dream of working with Puck came true when he moved to Los Angeles and began to work as a line cook. Francois worked -- watching, tasting and learning -- at Wolfgang Puck’s various restaurants including Chinois on Main, and Postrio in San Francisco. Within five months Francois became a Sous Chef to Executive Chef Makoto Tanaka at Spago West Hollywood. Francois paired his masterful pasta-making techniques with Puck’s unique sauces to create awe- inspiring Seafood Risotto with Tarragon and Crisp Ginger, Sauteed Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Grilled Baby Chicken and Sage Parmesan Butter.
When Chef Makoto moved to Chinois on Main in 1991, Francois became the Executive Chef at Spago West Hollywood and remained in that position for nearly six years. During this time, Francois traveled to Japan with Chef Makoto to learn about Japanese cuisine and technique, and trained with some of the finest French chefs, including Chef Marc Meneau at L’ Esperance in Saint- Pere-sous-Vezelay, France; Chef Bernard Loiseau in the La Cote d’Or in Saulieu, France; L’ Oustau de Baumaniere in Les Baux-de- Provence, France; and Troisgros in Roanne, France.
As Executive Chef of Spago West Hollywood in 1992, Francois was voted one of the best upcoming young chefs in Los Angeles. The food critic Ruth Reichl of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “the early menu of Spago listed just four pastas: one ravioli, one angel hair and two that were simply called pasta. Today with Francois, we know exactly what sort of pasta we are going to ingest. Linguine, gnocchi, Agnolotti, Risotto, which was virtually unknown on menus in 1982, is now a fixture of California Cuisine.”
Because of Francois’ raw talent and star qualities, Puck chose him to open Spago Chicago in 1996. Legions of foodies lined up day and night to sample this city’s trend-setting eatery, which received overwhelming reviews in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun- Times, and Chicag o Magazine. As Executive Chef and Partner, Francois oversaw the development and openings of Wolfgang Puck Catering and Events, Puck’s Restaurant at the MCA and Wolfgang Puck Catering at The University of Chicago Gleacher Center, Goldman Sachs, Citadel Investments and many of Chicago's premier event destinations and institutions.
In addition to frequent appearances on television and radio, Francois has been featured in various print media including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun- Times, Chicago Magazine, Nation’s Restaurant News, and Wine Spectator. In 2002, a profile of Francois was featured inGourmet Magazine.
Francois also contributes his time and skills to working with inner-city youth and such charitable organizations as Meals on Wheels, The Ronald McDonald Foundation, Chicago Film Institute, and The Rita Hayworth Alzheimer’s Association.
Francois now lives in Greenwich, CT, with his wife Ruth and their children Joseph- Paul and Christine-Elizabeth.
GROUPER W/GARDEN VEGETABLES & SAFFRON YELLOW TOMATO COULIS
4 grouper filets 6 to 7 oz each
2 T olive oil
2 or 3 basil leaves, cut into julienne
Salt and pepper
4 oz baby carrots
4 oz pearl onion
1 small bulb fennel
2 oz snap peas
2-oz fava beans
2oz baby artichoke heart, peeled and reserve in acidic water
2 oz heirloom tomato, chopped
2 oz morel mushrooms or wild mushrooms
For the sauce:
2 yellow tomatoes coarsely chopped
6 oz shallot, coarsely chopped
6-oz garlic coarsely chopped
12 oz clams
2 T olive oil
3 C chicken stock or chicken broth
8 oz butter cut in little pieces and chilled
2 T lemon juices
Salt and pepper
1 In a medium saucepan, heat 2 T olive oil and sweat, tomatoes, shallot, garlic and add shellfish
2 Deglaze with wine reduce a sec over medium heat.
3 Add stocks and reduce by half again. Skimming all the time.
Finally, take it off the heat, strain and blend in butter. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice and add remaining of olive oil and reserve.
For the vegetables:
Peel the carrot and cut into batons
Peel the outside ribs of the fennel then cut lengthwise into wedges.
Blanch the onions and fava beans separately in boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain and peel.
Clean artichoke and cut into quarter
Remove the tip of the snap peas
Heat 1-2 T olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan and stir all the vegetables.
Cook gently for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the just begin to soften, season with salt and pepper, remove from the heat and keep warm.
Brush the top of the grouper with a little melted butter; lightly season with salt and sprinkle with chiffonade of basil.
Brush some olive oil over a baking tray large enough to hold the grouper slices in one layer and arrange the grouper on the pan. Roast until medium, about 8 minutes. The grouper should be cooked on the outside, but still moist and slightly underdone on the inside.
Divide the sauce among 4 warm dinner plates. Spoon equal amounts tomato coulis in the center of each plate, lay vegetable in the sauce and place 1 piece of grouper on top. Serve immediately.