The first time I met Coi Burruss was a few months ago at a dinner party in the Austin Hill Country. Lots of foodies were there, and the guest of honor was the much appreciated Chef Ash Corea. I had no idea that the young woman who looked like a stylish fashionista was actually an up-and-coming chef in her own right. But within minutes of discussing the delicious comestibles laid out for the guests, it became evident that her knowledge of food extended beyond that of the average party guest.
Perhaps that air of celebrity status stemmed from the fact that, at the time, Burruss was a contestant in the grueling “Hell’s Kitchen” reality show and was used to being on camera and under constant scrutiny. Or maybe it’s that her reserve and confidence are the natural results of growing up in a family where self-expression and self confidence were encouraged.
Burruss’ episode in the “Hell’s Kitchen” competition ended a few months after this first encounter, leaving her wiser for the experience. She says if the opportunity to go on national TV and expose herself to such antagonism were offered today, she’d gladly pass. “It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says Burruss. “After I was eliminated from the show, I questioned myself and my talent, but now I understand that the real lesson was to remain true to myself and to who I am. The producers were expecting a certain type of drama for their show from me, but drama is not what I’m about. So, no, I would definitely not do it again.”
Today, at age 24, Burruss says that becoming a chef wasn’t an obvious choice for her. She was unaware that food lovers, chefs and amazing cooks were part of her family heritage, and took for granted the meals she enjoyed when her extended family got together and shared “some of the best food in the world.” As a child, her first love was art and drawing, though she later studied Latin and science as part of the preparation to become a pediatric neurologist. This was the plan until, in her freshman year at the James Bowie High School in Austin, her older sister, Simone, talked her into sitting in on a culinary arts class.
“What I saw in that class became love at first sight. After that, I did everything I could just to hang out in the classroom, even if it meant volunteering to wash dishes.” The next year, she changed her program, dropped the Latin classes and was eventually elected president of the Culinary Arts Club. In the two years she was president, the entire program was changed, and Burruss became a confirmed foodie.
By industry standards, Burruss is still quite young to be an executive chef, but her list of accomplishments is undeniably impressive. Graduation from high school in 2003 was highlighted by offers of scholarships from Johnson & Wales in Miami, the Culinary Institute of America in New York and the Art Institute of Houston. She chose AIH – “It was close to home and my family” – and earned an Associate’s Degree of Applied Science in Culinary Arts. Before heading off to AIH, she placed second in the national Best Teen Chef Competition and during her studies, won other culinary awards, made the dean’s list and graduated with honors.
It seemed like the natural order of things when, soon after graduation, Burruss landed her first job as a corporate chef for Dow Chemical. At age 20, just a week-and-a-half after starting, she was promoted to sous chef. “There were no recipes for anything, so the chefs had to invent them,” she says. “This method was both different and difficult, but it was fun to discover just what I was capable of doing.”
Since then, Burruss has always worked as both a sous chef and an executive chef. “I won’t allow myself to start all over again,” she says. “In this economy, it’s hard to find the perfect position. Ultimately, I know it’s going to be about me owning my own business,” which is exactly what she and her sister, who is now an executive pastry chef, plan to do.
The two siblings have a new concept that Burruss is absolutely certain will work in Austin, but shhh, she’s keeping it a secret for now. They’ve found the perfect location for the restaurant, but both feel it’s prudent to wait until there’s an upturn in the economy before committing funds to such an important investment.
One project that hasn’t been put on hold is their new line of clothing for female chefs. The label, called SiCo (short for their two names, Simone and Coi), features attractive pants and jackets made for women and their different body shapes and sizes. “I believe that if you look good, you feel good,” says Burruss. “Finally, girls will be able to look like girls in the kitchen. We’re tired of wearing the male, one-cut-fits-all model…this is really going to rock.”
Burruss says she misses being in a kitchen with a crew, and keeps on top of things by developing new sushi recipes – her favorite project at the moment – and catering private parties. For a glimpse of what you might expect to dine on when she and Simone open their place, try her recipe for Spicy Curried Lobster with Coconut Jasmine Rice, the dish that impressed “Hell’s Kitchen’s” Chef Ramsey enough to get her on his show.
Tuna Sashimi over Wonton Crisps
Recipe by Coi Burruss | Serves 8
4 oz. ahi tuna (marinated in soy sauce 30 min max.)
2 oz. wasabi aioli
4 oz. wonton crisps
4 oz. chive (sliced in half on bias)
1 oz. black and white sesame seeds
8 oz. orchids (lavender)
*Place wonton crisps on a decorative plate. Using a spoon or squeeze bottle place a dime sized amount of aioli in the middle of the crisp.
*Thinly slice the marinated tuna and roll them loosely to look like a rose.
*Position the tuna on top of the aioli.
*Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top of the tuna. *Rest the orchid right next to the tuna.
*Put the chive directly between the orchid and the tuna straight up.
1 tsp wasabi powder
1 egg yolk*, at room temperature
1/2 lemon juiced
2/3 cup pure olive oil (not extra virgin)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Large pinch coarse sea or kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper
Place egg yolk, lemon juice, wasabi and salt in a food processor fit- ted with a metal blade, or in a blender and pulse for two seconds, pulse on and off until blended. Turn on and begin adding the olive oil (pure first, then extra-virgin) in a thin stream. If it becomes too thick, thin it out with some room-temperature water and continue adding oil until you’ve used it all. Finish with pepper and (if neces- sary) a bit more salt. *The reason for using 2/3 pure olive oil is to keep the flavor of the oil from becoming overpowering. (This is a perfect example of how by using fully-flavored extra virgin oil you can use much less, thereby saving money and getting better flavor.)
4 each wonton
2 oz. Canola oil
In a large saucepan heat oil on low. Slice the wontons in half, diag- onally. Once sliced, place wontons in the hot oil and fry until crispy golden brown. Remove and drain on paper.
Spicy Curried Lobster with Coconut Jasmine Rice
Recipe by Coi Burruss | Time: 45min
1 oz. Extra virgin olive oil
3 each Carrots (peeled and rough chopped)
1 each Red bell pepper (julienne)
1 each Yellow bell pepper (julienne)
1 each Red onion (julienne)
3 tbsp Curry powder (toasted)
2 tbsp Unsalted butter
3 lbs Lobster meat (large chunks, chopped)
4 each Scallion (sliced thin on the bias), garnish
2 tbsp Tarragon leaves (whole), garnish
2 tsp Cayenne pepper
3 cups Water
1 cup Coconut milk
2 cups Jasmine Rice
1 oz. Kosher salt
1 oz. Ground black pepper
1 oz. Fine granulated sugar
1 cup Coconut flakes (toasted)
Method for Lobster:
In a large sauté pan, heat two tb. of olive oil on medium-high. Sauté the carrots until tender. Add the onions until translucent, then add the bell peppers until tender. In a small sauté pan, toast the curry. Once aromatic remove the curry from heat and add to mirepoix (vegetables) and mix until all vegetables are coated.
In a large sauté pan, melt the butter. Add the lobster meat and coat the lobster in melted butter and add cayenne pepper. Sauté until meat is coated completely and pepper is mixed in well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix in lobster at very last minute to prevent overcooking.
Method for Jasmine Rice:
Rinse the rice 3-4 times until water is clear. This will prevent the rice from sticking. Sauté rice in oil over medium high heat until rice is coated. Add sugar. Add water and milk until it comes to a boil. Once at boiling peak, turn rice down to medium-low and cover 10-12 minutes until rice is done. Once rice is done, fluff with a fork and add toasted coconuts. Stir well. Salt and pepper to taste.
Method for Coconut:
On a standard sheet pan, line it with parchment paper. Set oven to 350 ̊. Pour coconut on sheet pan and lay in thin layer. Put in oven for 3-8 minutes, checking often. Lightly bake coconut. Should be the color of café con leché. Remove from oven and let stand until ready to use. Add to rice when ready.
On a serving plate, place the mold on left center. Place the rice midway and put the curried lobster up to the top. Garnish with tar- ragon and onions on the plate. Drizzle plate with sauce from lobster and serve.