Friday, April 19, 2013

Fiery Grilled Chicken Wraps

Do you ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of a photo shoot for a cookbook?

I got to find out myself this past weekend when I was fortunate enough to participate in the shoot for Chris Lilly's newest cookbook.

Chris is a restauranteur and multiple time BBQ World Champion. Chris also wrote one of my favorite cook books, BigBob Gibson's BBQ Book.  Even if you don't BBQ and/or grill much, you probably still know him from his numerous television appearances on BBQ shows (Best In Smoke, Kingsford Invitational, BBQ Pitmasters, etc). 

I can't go into detail about recipes or show any plated shots.  Per a confidentiality agreement, if I divulge any sensitive information prior to the book's release, Mr. Lilly will confiscate our Big Green Eggs and include a declaration in his new book that I boil my ribs, use a crock pot for my pulled pork, and am a closet vegetarian.  

That being said, here are the bullet points
  • Chris assembled an amazing production team.  I thought my photography and food styling was getting “good” but after seeing them work, I realize I have only gotten “better” and have a ways to go. It was humbling and inspiring!
  • NOTHING is by accident or chance, every detail is planned, developed and photographed, down to how a piece of slaw drapes across a taco.
  • When accidents DO happen (despite previous statement), there is always a plan B, C, and D.
  • It takes a lot of work, smoke, and mirrors to make things look easy, natural and not posed.   
  • We were always working on 2-3 recipes in varying stages at the same time.  
  • Despite scheduling, the pace is hectic.  It was rush, rush, rush, wait, rush, wait, wait, rush. 
  • I lost track of how much Kingsford charcoal we used, but it was a lot and all we used. 
  • Chris has a great support system of family and friends that were johnny on the spot for anything needed.
Chris grilling a tuna dish.

The brown butter sauce smelled "to die for" on this trout dish.

This grill is Chris' Komodo cooker, a gorgeous and well designed kamado like my Eggs.

Ken making his paella on the grill.

Chris checking on some rednecked panini (not the real name).
For two days, I helped out any way I could.   We used five grills so I was getting the next one fired up and set up in advance for Chris.  I helped Ken Hess prep anything he needed from veggies to shrimp.  I cooked garnishes and mixed marinades/rubs as needed.  Hold a scrim up, find needed tools, and basically anything they needed an extra hand for, I did. 

During downtime, I carefully watched Ben Fink, Jeff Cavanaugh, and Pam Lolley work their voodoo on food styling and photography.  I took mental notes of what they did, especially the little things because everything was done with purpose.  I learned a lot but here are my takeaways:
  • Food styling - use more props but do so in layers, vertically and horizontally.  Focus on how props complement or contrast.  Use the props to tell the story.  Discover new settings around the house, quit using the same location. 
  • Photography - start using a card shot and then apply those white balance settings to the actual shot.  Learn to shoot tethered to a laptop with Lightroom.  Keep practicing. Get a camera set up like Ben's the next time I have an extra $20 grand or so laying around. 
I owe a ton of gratitude to Chris for allowing me to be a small part of their team for a few days.   What I can tell you about the recipes is that they were all impressive and several were "the best I've had in years".  This cookbook is going to be as good as his first book.  You will want a copy when it comes out next year, I promise you that.

Okay, back to the grill.   Alexis and I came up with this marinade standing in the produce department.

The base of the marinade is roasted habanero chiles for heat and juice from cara cara oranges to complement the citrus notes of habanero and corriander.  Cara cara oranges are very sweet.  You can substitute blood oranges if you can't find cara cara oranges.  The homemade, fire roasted salsa verde and ranch make a smoky difference but I guess you could use the jarred stuff if you HAD to. 

Fiery Grilled Chicken Wraps
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Ingredients (6 wraps)
You'll need
  • 2 lbs chicken cutlets
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tomato, thin sliced
  • 6 leaves green leaf lettuce
  • 3/4 cup Monterrey jack cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup fire roasted salsa verde
  • 1/2 cup fire roasted chile ranch dressing [RECIPE]
  • 6 mission style sun dried tortilla wraps
For the marinade
  • 1/2 cup juice from cara cara oranges (about 2 oranges)
  • 1/2 ea white onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 ea habanero chile, charred, seeded, and diced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 tsp dried coriander
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dried Mexican oregano
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  1. Whisk together marinade ingredients. Place chicken cutlets in a Glad zip top bag, cover with marinade, seal and refrigerate for 4 hours.
  2. Preheat a charcoal grill to high. Remove cutlets from marinade. Season with salt and pepper to taste and grill until the internal temperature reaches 160f, about 2-4 minutes per side (depending on the thickness of your cutlets). Remove and slice into thin strips.
  3. On each wrap, place 1 lettuce leaf, thin sliced tomato, one fourth of the chicken, and cheese. Top with a heaping tablespoon of the salsa verde and a tablespoon of the chile ranch dressing. Roll up burrito style (roll bottom third up, covering the filling, then tuck in the sides, and then continue rolling up into a cylinder).
  4. Slice each wrap in half and serve with extra ranch and salsa verde as desired.
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2 chiles was moderate heat, I'd go with 3 for a bit more kick.
TIP:  Habaneros are small and a pain to char stove top because you can set them on a gas burner like you can a larger bell or poblano chile.  A grilling basket over the burner makes it easy.

The salsa verde I do is roughly 1.5 pounds peeled tomatillo, 2 jalapenos, 1/2 white onion, 2 green onion, 1 habanero and 3 cloves garlic.  Char it all for about 5 minutes, turning until all sides black.  De-seed and peel the chiles.  Chop it all up in a blender, season with salt, cumin, and pepper and then simmer until thickened.

Much better than jarred sauce.

The cutlets are thin, so you need to cook them hot and fast.

Perfect for a summer dinner.
TL;DR -  Hung out at cookbook photo shoot.  Chicken wrap, yo!


  1. After all that I think I must send this comment to my editor before submitting it.

  2. Chris, what a great experience. I am oozing with envy. I can imagine what can be taken away for future ideas, guidance and good plain advice. Experiences like this one are priceless.

    Hey, your wrap rocks too-I am just caught-up in your experience.


  3. What a fantastic experience Chris. Lucky you! Your wraps look amazing. The photo above the recipe is cookbook worthy.

  4. That brown butter sauce on the trout sounds amazing. And what a great opportunity to participate in this shoot. Very cool. I'm interested in the fire roasted ranch dipping sauce. I've looked through the post a couple of times, but without reading every single word when I get to the recipe part, I'm not seeing how to make it.

  5. So basically, if I read your post right, you are now a Sous Chef to the Stars!? How cool is that! Which can only mean one thing, YOU are going to need a sous chef soon! Please let me ride your apron strings when the time comes! I know nothing about everything, but I'm really, really good at eating! That should count for something! Love this recipe, will make it tonight for dinner.

  6. That salsa verde has me ready to cry for my old gas stove. Gads, how I dislike electric sometimes! What an awesome experience to get to be in on the action for a pro shoot like that!

  7. Lea Ann - sorry, I forgot to include the link, it is from a previous post.

  8. What a fun afternoon. Did you eat any of the food from the book? You said it smelled good but what about taste? GREG

  9. Great adventure to share. Lucky you. Remind us when the book comes out.

  10. The wraps look wonderful (as always) but I'm so jealous of the photography tips. I have so many areas to work on. At least I don't boil ribs...

  11. I love anything with Habaneros! Slightly envious of your weekend with Chris- sounds like you learned a lot! And ate well!!!! :)

  12. what is the name of Chris's new book and when is it coming out?

  13. I am so incredibly jealous!! What a great way to spend your weekend!! You are a lucky man!!
    Oh.. yes, and the wraps look fantastic!! :)

  14. I am not sure about the name but I do know the release date is May 2014. I'll blog more about it when we are closer to that date.

  15. How fun! What a cool experience that was for you.

    The wraps look delicious & so does that salsa verde.

  16. Wow what an amazing experience to be able to see the behind-the-scenes of photography and food styling from a pro, even though I look at you as a photography pro too! His grill looks so cool. Your wraps look magnificent, I'm craving that fire roasted chile ranch dressing. And that marinade sounds pretty delish too. Definitely let us know when the cookbook is coming out!!

  17. What an outstanding opportunity. I am green with envy. The threat that "Mr. Lilly will confiscate our Big Green Eggs and include a declaration in his new book that I boil my ribs, use a crock pot for my pulled pork, and am a closet vegetarian." would definitely make me keep my trap shut. Looks like your photos are already better, I don't know how I can ever keep up. Love the wrap recipe and the inclusion of the Shiner in that one picture. Obviously, you recognize good beer. Try some Lone Star Bock if you ever see it.

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