Dinner at Home with a Master Chef

OK, so full disclosure: what I should have said is “Dinner at Home with an Almost Master Chef”. An old culinary school friend, Amanda, is crashing at our house this week as she’s shadowing professional chefs at our alma mater, The Culinary Institute of America, to prepare herself for taking the acclaimed (and incredibly, arduously challenging) Certified Master Chef exam.

Leaps and bounds beyond the awards given to contestants in cooking reality series, Certified Master Chef (or “CMC” as chefs call it in the biz) is a title earned (to date) by only 63 people in the world. As an aside, Amanda, if she successfully passes next year, would be only the second woman to have ever earned the CMC honor. In my eyes (and the professional chef world), she’s a really big deal, so imagine my resistance to accepting her offer to make dinner for us during one night of her visit…not.

Raiding our pantry with the keen eye of a hunter, she effortlessly pulled together a meal that was simple, sophisticated, and ridiculously delicious. The icing on the cake of it all was the “gastrique” sauce that she served alongside. Gastrique is a fancy chef term for a sauce that’s based with a reduction of vinegar and sugar (which, for those of you who cook along with Rach at home know, she loves to do with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar; her signature “drizzle”). To accompany the perfectly roasted chicken she served us, she fortified (another fancy chef word that means “made better”) her gastrique with some brown butter. Heaven was indeed a place on earth.

Balsamic-Brown Butter Gastrique

Bring the flair of a future Certified Master Chef to your next weeknight meal with this simple and delicious sauce that pairs with just about anything. You can even make it a bit ahead of time and serve it at room temperature or refrigerate and use it for up to 3 days. Remember though – it’s very rich in body and flavor, so a little goes a very long way.

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small pot over medium-high heat, combine the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Bring the mixture up to a bubble and simmer until reduced by half and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Transfer the vinegar to a mixing bowl along with the mustard and set aside.

Wipe out the pot that the vinegar was reduced in and return it medium heat with the butter. Melt the butter and allow it to cook until some brown bits form on the bottom and it begins to smell nutty, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the butter to the mixing bowl and vigorously whisk everything together until fully combined (it should look like a vinaigrette). Season with salt and pepper.  Serve the sauce warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has. Probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary team on Rachael’s daytime talk show, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day, and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest twEATs on Twitter at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at

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