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Cooking Under Pressure

Armed with a good recipe and well-planned prep, anyone can turn out a fantastic dish like Rocco DiSpirito's five-minute steak.

I travel all over the world to teach cooking classes and perform culinary demonstrations for the public.

It's always a tricky proposition, though -- while I love the real-time interaction with people, you never know what kind of a situation you're going to walk into.

Because it's not feasible to travel with your crew, equipment and food, you really have to depend on the kindness of strangers.

Recently I traveled to Tampa, Fla., and Santa Barbara, Calif., to do a series of cooking classes and demonstrations and tastings for Lincoln -- I'm working with the company on a campaign for its new luxury SUV, the MKX.

In Santa Barbara, I arranged for a local chef, Paul Becking, from the restaurant Elements to provide the support staff and prepare 1,000 tasting portions of the dishes I was to demonstrate.

We'd never worked together before, but Becking seemed bright and competent over the phone as we figured out the details; there really is a camaraderie among chefs and a willingness to help out whenever we can.

When Becking and I discussed the food for the demonstration and the tastings, we decided to handle the same dish two different ways.

The demonstration dish, one of my recipes, had to be done in under five minutes, so we decided to cook it as written.

The 1,000 tasting portions were to be served over a period of six hours, starting at noon, so we would have to prep those another way, to keep them as fresh as possible.

My flight from Florida had me arriving in Santa Barbara by 11:30, only a half hour before I was to start my demonstrations -- barely enough time to check the preparations and get started.

Of course my flight was delayed, and by the time I got to Santa Barbara it was 12:45 -- almost an hour late. But when I finally arrived, the setting was perfect.

It was a beautiful, balmy, Southern California afternoon. Just over 800 hundred people were gathered around the cooking stage, all eager to learn about my five-minute flavor cooking. I took a look around and after a short panic attack I quickly saw that Becking and his staff had done a great job of preparing both the showcase dish and the tasting dishes. Phew.

The demonstration had to be done right then and there, in front of everyone.

One of the recipes I prepared was steak, pizza-man style, from my most recent cookbook

Rocco's 5 Minute Flavor

TheStreet Recommends

.

In the recipe, it calls for four 7-ounce beef round sandwich steaks, a tender but inexpensive cut of beef that isn't too thick.

One key to five-minute flavor is buying strategically, and this tasty cut cooks up quickly.

Becking had suggested flatiron steak instead of beef round for the demo, and I suggested we use beef short rib for the tastings because it holds up well over time.

(Flatiron steak is a little-known cut of beef from the upper shoulder area; it's also referred to as chicken steak. But any tender cut of beef will work here: New York strip, rib-eye and tenderloin all are excellent choices, as long as they are thinly cut.)

Another parameter of

5 Minute Flavor

, however, is that each dish must cost $5 or less per portion. That narrows things down a bit. Flatiron is a high-quality, reasonable choice. At about $6 a pound, you can buy four portions and still have plenty of room in the budget for any remaining ingredients.

In my demonstrations, I like to involve members of the audience who can't claim they cook to show them what they're capable of.

Storm Casey, a local high school student, volunteered to be my sous chef for this demonstration. I walked her through the process and as she cooked the steak on the grill, I noticed how beautifully marbled the beef was, and couldn't wait to taste it.

At the end of five minutes, the steak (and the dish) was done, Casey was thrilled and it was time to slice and serve.

In addition to a novice chef, I like to invite another person onto the stage -- an experienced cook, to taste the final dish and give an evaluation. This time, Angelina DeFazio, a local food writer who was in attendance, fit the bill.

As I sliced the beef, I was struck by how juicy it looked. I plated the dish and offered a bite to DeFazio, whose eyes closed in delight after her first taste; I figured it had turned out well.

Then I tasted it and had the exact same reaction. Casey took a bite and let out a great laugh then gave everyone an ear-to-ear smile: Her first dish was a brilliant success from start to finish, thanks to Becking and flatiron steak.

If an inexperienced cook can turn out a dish like that, so can you. Here's my adapted recipe from

5 Minute Flavor

, the round steak replaced by flatiron steak.

Quick Steak, Pizza-Man Style

Serves: 4

3 tablespoons corn oil

4 8-ounce flatiron steaks

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 10.5-ounce package diced green, red and yellow bell peppers

2/3 cup dry red wine

2/3 cup beef broth

2 1/2 cups prepared hot dog onions

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saute pan until smoking. Season the steaks with salt and pepper. Add to the pan and cook for about 2 minutes per side, for rare. Remove to a platter and let rest.

2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large saute pan. Add the peppers and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add the red wine and simmer for about 1 minute, or until the liquid reduces and becomes syrupy.

3. Stir in the beef broth and onions, and simmer for 1 minute more. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Spoon on top of the steaks and serve.

For more info on Rocco DiSpirito, please visit

roccodispirito.com or

click here to find his cookbooks.

Note

: Rocco is shooting his new TV show, and he's looking for people with a dramatic situation in their lives involving food. Worried about that engagement dinner with your picky future mother-in-law? Trying to win back that ex-girlfriend who's still mad at you for cheating on her? Trying to bury the hatchet with that outcast uncle at your family reunion cookout? Rocco wants to help you! Please

email with your problem and we will contact you!

Enjoy the Good Life? Let us know what you'd like to see in future articles.

Rocco DiSpirito was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens. His culinary experience and love of "the good life" through cooking and dining began at age 11 in his mother Nicolina's kitchen. By the age of 16, DiSpirito entered the Culinary Institute of America, graduating with honors in 1986. DiSpirito's career highlights include opening Union Pacific in New York City's Gramercy Park as chef and owner in 1997, being awarded three stars from the New York Times in a 1998 review, and three more in 2002 from the New York Observer. DiSpirito was also named Food & Wine's Best New Chef in 1999, and "America's Most Exciting Young Chef" by Gourmet magazine in 2000; his show "The Restaurant" first aired on NBC in 2003. DiSpirito is the author of three cookbooks: Flavor, Rocco's Italian American, and

Rocco's 5 Minute Flavor.