Dr. Meatball has something up his sleeveNow, that’sa meatball!
So said the chef-judges – as well as patients, staff and friends – about dentist Thomas Kwiatt’s meatballs, which made the final cut of recipes competing in the annual meatball cook-off last summer at the iconic Rosebud restaurant on Chicago’s Taylor Street.
And he has something up his chef’s sleeve for this year’s competition, as well.
Dr. Kwiatt, who with his partner Robert Duffy have operated Duffy and Kwiatt Dental Associates in Vernon Hills for more than 30 years, said it all began when he received a promotional email last spring from Rosebud, “my absolutely favorite restaurant,” announcing the upcoming meatball cook-off.
The challenge was on.
Dr. Kwiatt enjoys cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, and he comes by his cooking chops honestly. “My dad cooked at home almost as much as my mom,” he noted. A little extra practice came by way of a local gourmet cooking group he and his wife have belonged to for many years, as well as a few cooking classes at Chicago-area kitchen stores.
Riffing on his family’s meatball recipe, he added crumbled Italian sausage to beef and veal, along with Romano cheese for his signature recipe. Out of more than 150 recipes submitted, Dr. Kwiatt’s was selected as one of 12 finalists.
On June 1, he donned his official Rosebud Restaurant chef coat and joined the other contestants in the restaurant’s professional kitchen, where staff had assembled and chopped the necessary ingredients. Each cook then made his meatballs, which were presented and fed to the judges, friends and well-wishers under tents set up in the parking lot.
Though he didn’t make the top three, Dr. Kwiatt did earn kudos from the judges for presentation of his meatballs, which were set off – Italian-flag style – with pasta, chopped red and green peppers and marinara sauce. “I had a lot of fun,” he said.
Their taste buds tantalized, staff and patients back in Vernon Hills convinced Dr. Kwiatt to prepare his meatballs for a customer appreciation event a couple months later. He and his wife, Barbara, cooked up about 500 meatballs, which they served to some 200 patients, staff and friends in the office parking lot, which was decked out with canopies, a DJ and desserts.
“It was fun to give back to the patients,” he said, “and fun to be in a social situation with them.”
Local media reports about his meatball exploits landed him in a follow-up newspaper article about holiday cooking, and the word was out. “I started getting calls (from friends) all over the Chicago area,” he chuckled. “Because of an event I did on a fluke, it keeps growing and growing.”
Dr. Kwiatt is experimenting with a meatball recipe containing chicken that he hopes to enter in this year’s cook-off. Chicken struck him as a promising ingredient, “with everyone watching their weight these days,” he said.
Ms. Sisk is a freelance journalist working in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Dr. Kwiatt’s Meatballs
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound ground veal
1 pound Italian sausage – casing removed
2 cups Italian breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
Saute the chopped bell pepper and sweet onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat until softened. Add minced garlic for the last 2 minutes.
Whisk eggs and add all the ingredients in a large bowl; blend together or mix in a mixer. After mixing, cover container with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Remove from refrigerator and form into balls. Brown meatballs in a heavy pan with remaining olive oil over medium heat. After browning, place meatballs in a roasting pan and bake at 325 F degrees. Baking time will vary depending on the size of the meatballs. Serve with pasta and sauce.