The secret is out that Rami Rassas is no slouch in the kitchen. The homegrown MasterChef hopeful celebrated his culinary success at Avenu Lounge last night with family and friends – Darren Woodson and Shawn Marion, to name a few.
Rassas has always had a creative streak . He grew up in the kitchen cooking Mediterranean food with his mother, former owner of Leonardo’s Italian Restaurant and the driving force behind his culinary perspective. As he watched people enjoy his food, he discovered he had a passion for creating things that brought people pleasure. When the Mavericks were in the NBA Finals last summer, he took a leap of faith and designed a championship belt celebrating their impending victory. Once the title was officially won, Mark Cuban loved the idea, so Rassas began designing belts for the individual players.
When he heard that MasterChef, a competitive cooking reality show hosted by Gordon Ramsey, would be in Austin holding auditions for the show, Rassas saw another opportunity to use something he created to inspire enjoyment. After some encouragement from a close friend, he drove to Austin, and set up shop in the kitchen of an extended stay motel where he built the Chicken Guiseppe – a dish similar to chicken marsala with fresh marinara, mushrooms and green onion – that would land him a spot on the show. Groups of twenty potential contestants presented their dishes to the judges to be evaluated on taste and presentation. Rassas advanced to the next round, where he wowed the producers with his personality and on-screen charisma. Ultimately, he was chosen for his passion for food and grasp on the city he grew up in.
Everyone was tight-lipped, of course, about the outcome of the show. Rami did share with us quite a few of his favorite Mediterranean bites, including Lahmeh Awara, or Grape Leaf Patties, which he will prepare on Monday’s episode of MasterChef. This layered dish is a tapestry of flavors and textures composed of a cutlet of tender beef wrapped in a tangy pickled grape leaf, topped with a fresh slice of tomato, all seated proudly atop a potato slice and served in a peppery gravy. He also prepared for us traditional tabouleh and humus, as well as a delightfully refreshing cucumber yogurt salad seasoned with mint his mom grew herself. Appetizers included spinach, herb, and meat pies of ground beef, tomato, red pepper and onion. The herb pie was my favorite. It was a simple concoction of ground zarar (that’s thyme in English), and sesame seeds in a touch of oil spread across a simple bread dough, and baked until crisp on the bottom and fluffy in the center.
On meeting Gordon Ramsay, Rassas comments “He’s a good guy. He’s much more himself on MasterChef than what you see on Hell’s Kitchen.” He added that Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliott were enjoyable as well, but that the best part of being on the show was building relationships with the other contestants, many of whom were people he wouldn’t ordinarily connect with. Don’t miss Rami Rassas making his grape leaf patties on MasterChef Monday night at 7 p.m.