Cast Iron 101 w/ Leila & Tito

I met Leila Schardt and Tito Marino at a outdoor, over fire cooking event, we instantly hit it off and have enjoyed countless afternoons of grilling and open fire cooking and many laughs together since then! Most people can imagine what an image of the Hollywood cinematic version of what chefs in a panicked kitchen during dinner service might act like; demanding, intolerable, lots of yelling coming from the helm (etc..etc..) then you meet chefs like Leila & Tito and their calm demeanor and presence and dynamic duo-shows you how it should be! I’m always inspired by the atmosphere they create…and how well they work together as a true team…each extremely talented in their own right but stronger together. I’ve never met people who have as much fun as they do while working. The constant laughter, joking around and being silly (creates an incredibly positive atmosphere that is fun) YET extremely professional! They are great. When I am with them and working on a project-that’s the happiest I am in a kitchen (or standing near a outdoor fire) cooking, taking notes & pictures. They make it fun and enjoyable.
Several months ago they started a catering company called Embers & Ashes. This is not your normal catering company that hand you preset menus to choose from. Each menu is individually created for the client and their particular event and 100% customized each time. In a era of preset everything and assembly line cooking…they are breaking away from the norm and doing something special and their clients are keeping them in high demand and busy. Along with their unique approach, your food is being prepared by (2) very well respected: CHEFS! They believe that each person and their event deserve to be personalized and they are living their dream of making amazing food for people who want a different kind of experience. They have traveled the world and have brought many of the flavors and techniques they have experienced and encountered back from their travels and implement them in their daily cooking. I love what they are doing and highly recommend calling them for your next event (everything from backyard family bbq’s to full on-large scale weddings).
For this segment of our series, Leila and Tito decided we should photograph this project in a setting that we all enjoy and often do together in real life…which is backyard open fire cooking (at my house)…without hesitation I agreed:) It was a sunny and perfect day to make such a lovely and decadent meal! Ignore the messy backyard scenes in the photos and tripod over the fire-we made a really cool time lapse video while cooking this recipe, that can be seen on my Instagram page. Enjoy and make sure to have your s’more supplies ready for dessert…no need to let the end of a good fire go to waste!

 Leila & Tito’s Tips, Advice & Suggestions

Q. What was your first piece of cast iron cookware? Where did you get it from and how did you decided on that piece?
L&T: We purchased our first piece of cast iron cookware at an outdoor shop, about 7 years ago, when we started a lot of open fire cooking. At the time we didn’t look for a specific brand, just a piece that would hold up well over an open fire.
Q. Who taught you to cook with cast iron cookware?
L&T: We learned different ways to cook with and care for cast iron cookware while at The Culinary Institute Of America.
Q. What are the benefits that you enjoy with cast iron cooking?
L&T: Cast iron cooking is definitely one of our favorite ways to cook. The sear and flavor you can develope is much better than with a regular stainless steel or aluminum pan. Cast iron pans are so versatile. You can use them to sauté on your stove top, bake in your oven, or throw it in a camp fire.
Q. What are some of the difficulties that you (have experienced or currently) experience with CIC?
There are definitely people who think it is an old fashioned and less refined way of cooking, but most fine dining restaurants have a fleet of well seasoned cast irons in their arsenal. What they should know is that when used properly, it can bring some of the best and most unique flavors out in your food.
Q. Do you think there are any misconceptions that people commonly have about CIC?
L&T: Controlling the heat on a cast iron, especially over an open fire, is a bit of a challenge at first. But once you get the hang of it, you won’t want to cook with anything else.
Q. Please list 3 tips that people should remember…


1- Although they are heavy, a cast iron pan will be your best friend during any camping trip.
2- Always season your cast iron pan. Seasoning your pan prevents rust from building up.
3- Never put a cast iron pot or pan in the dishwasher!

Q. Do you have a fond memories of a family member or friend cooking using cast iron?

L&T:  Leila’s mom has a cast iron pot that she uses for soups, stews and an incredible Bolognese. It has been passed down all the way from Leila’s Great Grandmother.

Steak with Eggs in Purgatory

Serves 2


For the Steak:
2 tbsp Olive Oil
1 (8oz) Ribeye Steak
Salt and Black Pepper, to taste
4 tbsp Butter
3 cloves Garlic, smashed
6 sprigs Thyme

For the Eggs in Purgatory:
3 tbsp Olive Oil
1 pint Grape Tomatoes
1 Yellow Onion, sliced
3 cloves of Garlic, sliced
1 cup Red Wine
1 (14.5oz) Can Diced Tomatoes
2 sprigs Basil
Salt, Black Pepper, and Chili Flake to taste
4 each Eggs

Crusty Bread, i.e. Baguette

Method of Preparation

For the Steak
1. To start, gather or buy fire wood and get your fire going. The fire will be ready to cook on once you see embers forming.
2. Place your cast iron pan on the embers and allow the pan to heat up. Season the ribeye with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot, add the olive oil and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan. Place the steak in the pan to begin the searing process. Once it is seared evenly on its first side turn it over to finish searing on the other side.
3. When the second side is seared tilt the pan toward you a little bit and add your butter to the base of the pan (near the handle). As the butter melts and starts bubbling add your smashed garlic, thyme sprigs and a small pinch of salt and, with a spoon, begin basting the steak. Check the doneness of your ribeye by using the finger test (if you’re familiar with it) or get it to an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit for a perfect Medium Rare.
4. Remove the steak from the pan and place on a plate or tray to rest, this will allow the meat to retain all of its natural juices.

For the Eggs in Purgatory
1. Using the same pan, remove the garlic, thyme and some of the excess butter. Make sure the pan is hot and add the olive oil. Again, swirl the oil around to coat the bottom of the pan.
2. Add the Grape Tomatoes and blister them on all sides. The tomatoes will break up and release its juices as they are blistering. Now add the onions and caramelize them. Once the onions are caramelized add the garlic and cook until it has softened, about 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook it down 3/4 of the way. Add the canned tomatoes and allow to cook, at a low simmer, until the raw tomato flavor is cooked out completely. Make sure to stir consistently to avoid the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan. You may have to move the pan around on the fire to find the perfect cooking temperature. Finish the sauce by seasoning it with salt and pepper.
3. Crack the eggs into the pan. Season them with salt and pepper and allow the eggs to cook in the sauce, without disturbing them. Cook them until the yolk is soft and runny and the white is completely cooked. Now the pan is ready to come off the fire.
4. While the eggs are cooking, place the bread near the fire to toast.
5. Cut the steak into slices, making sure to cut against the grain. Take the slices and place them in between the eggs and garnish with torn basil leaves.
6. Grab a spoon or fork and a piece of bread and Mangia! *Italian for Eat*