by Ellen Ritscher Sackett
Chef Mansour Gorji can be found most evenings at his restaurant, Canary by Gorji, in a crisp black chef’s jacket and apron, light on his feet between the dining room and kitchen. He is there to please, attentive to his guests while keeping a watchful eye for what’s on the stove.
Gorji’s Addison restaurant, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last March, was originally named for its sunny yellow walls. It has since been renovated and rebranded but has kept its inviting golden décor, with 10 white-clothed tables that can seat up to 32 dinner guests at a time. It serves as the testing ground for the chef’s New Mediterranean cuisine and for the recipes in his first, just-published cookbook Zing! Four-and-a-half years in the making, the 175-page cookbook is more than a collection of recipes. It offers a glimpse into the man himself and an explanation of how he arrived at his cooking philosophy and New Mediterranean culinary style. Gorji’s introductory words sum it up: “I have a love of tradition. A love of innovation. And a love of flavor. This book brings them all together.”
Cooking well was cultivated in him from an early age. His grandmother Talat Gorji, the family matriarch, insisted that everyone be adept in the kitchen. From age five, the Persian-born chef was instructed to observe meal preparations for as many as 40 relatives who descended upon the household each weekday for lunch. At dinner, he and his cousins took turns cooking for the immediate family, and on weekends, he often went hunting and fishing. Gorji was expected to frequent the market, the butcher and the bakery on his way home from school and learned to bottle lime and grape juices, tomato sauce and pomegranate puree for year-round use.
“She was trying to teach a sense of ratios, balance and flavors,” Gorji recollects.
At 17, he left home for Edinburgh, Scotland, to train as a mechanical engineer. He traveled extensively during the years that followed, which broadened both his mind and palate. Gorji, who has called Texas home since 1987, appreciates his culinary roots, which emphasize fresh ingredients, simply executed for a clean-tasting experience.
“I pay homage to all the countries in the Mediterranean basin – France, Italy, Spain, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, and North Africa,” says Gorji, who mixes culinary techniques and ingredients from each country to create his New Mediterranean cuisine. His restaurant’s menu and wine list reflect this and include Texas influences as well. “You take the best of everyone, and hopefully you succeed in bringing them together.” Gorji uses fresh ingredients, hand-picked for quality during his daily shopping jaunts to area groceries and markets. On his menu are a number of dishes made with Texas ingredients, including quail, wild boar, brown shrimp, catfish, unfiltered honey, cheeses, jalapeños, and local breads, fruits and vegetables. “I give preference to Texas first,” Gorji says. “Anything that tastes good and looks good.”
Included in Zing! is a list of his favorite flavor building blocks, with brief explanations of why he values particular ingredients and how they are best used. This list ranges from the familiar that play a major part in his cooking, including olive oil, tomatoes, mushrooms, red onion and garlic, to those less common, such as pomegranates, barberries, minicucumbers and sumac.
The chef uses prime-quality meat that stands on its own, without heavy sauces or rubs. “Every other element in that dish follows and complies with that meat,” he says. “Everything else plays harmonious to that.”
He keeps it simple with a “less is more” philosophy.
Zing! also brings newbie cooks up to speed by offering a few tips and cooking techniques. Even the savviest chef might find a useful suggestion, for example, how to best adjust one’s cooking for electric heat as opposed to gas.
A small section introduces his gourmet product line that includes Gorji’s Pomodoro and Puttanesca sauces, pomegranate Champagne vinaigrette, and dipping oil and marinade primer. These ready-to-serve products are available at area Whole Foods stores, Bolsa Mercado and Jimmy’s Food Store. Gift baskets may be purchased on the restaurant’s website.
Gorji is one of the first Dallas chefs to become a member of GO TEXAN, a program offered through the Texas Department of Agriculture that promotes Texan products, culture and communities. “I have been from day one a part of GO TEXAN’s Restaurant Round Up,” he says. For this annual event, Gorji plans an all-Texas menu of Texas-sourced dishes paired with Texas wines.
Two years in a row, Gorji won the Texas Steak Cookoff Championship, a blind-taste competition against some of Texas’ most revered chefs. The winning entry both times was his ribeye – lightly enhanced with kosher salt; coarse, ground black pepper; and dipping oil and marinade primer, with a pomegranate crème sauce side. “The first year it was not even on the menu,” Gorji says. Now it’s one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes – confirming that not only has he embraced Texas but that Texas has also embraced him.
“After a quarter century here, Texas is my home, and I take pride in using and promoting the best we have to offer,” Gorji says. “The ingredients are fresh, natural and easily available. What could be more Mediterranean in philosophy?”
QUAIL BREAST WITH WHITE WINE,
HONEY, BARBERRIES & KALE