Come Into My Kitchen

May 19, 2014

KC Symphony music director Michael Stern shares his recipe for Tandoori Chicken

A well-orchestrated meal is music to Michael Stern’s ears and inner epicurean. As music director and lead conductor of the Kansas City Symphony, Stern has a palate that is as varied as the music he enjoys from around the world. Indian cuisine is favorite, and his Tandoori Chicken works equally well on a gas or charcoal grill.

A well-orchestrated meal is music to Michael Stern’s ears and inner epicurean. As music director and lead conductor of the Kansas City Symphony, Stern has a palate that is as varied as the music he enjoys from around the world.

Married to Shelly Cryer since 2006, Stern says the couple’s daughters — Hannon, 7, and Nora, 5 — are foodies-in-training with adventurous appetites. The family enjoys preparing and eating meals together that feature variations on a tasty theme.

Residences: Kansas City and Old Greenwich, Conn.

Special cooking interest: Global gastronomy

How are you celebrating the first official weekend of summer? This Sunday before Memorial Day, I will be conducting the Symphony at the Bank of America Celebration at the Station concert, which is the largest free Memorial Day weekend event in the Midwest.

With Union Station as the backdrop, this concert is a wonderful way to hear the Symphony in a relaxed, outside venue. People bring lawn chairs, blankets and can pack a picnic, enjoying what is really one of the nicest events on our symphonic calendar.

Musically, I like the idea that we can make evident the pride we feel for our country and those who serve it so bravely. It’s wonderful to see how a concert can galvanize the entire city in solidarity.

So many musicians are wonderful cooks. What is the connection? Making music is a visceral part of life. As humans, we experience rhythm and melody in our everyday lives, and we can’t live without it.

The same is true of food. You can’t live without food, and the enjoyment of it is a wonderful intersection between nourishment for the body and pleasure for the being. Cooking is a way to share, and music is a way to share.

I build a concert program in the same way I build a menu. There may be an underlying theme to a concert or a dinner, but variety is still the spice of life.

Why did you choose an Indian recipe to share? I love eating and cooking Indian food, and, in my experience, there is always something festive in the idea of investing a lot of thought and care into food that is delicately spiced and then sharing it with friends.

But some really successful Indian dishes don’t take a lot of time or ingredients, and this is one of them. Tandoori Chicken is a favorite for many, and, happily for an easy summer dinner, this recipe adapts perfectly to either a gas or charcoal grill, since very few have a tandoor oven in their backyard.

With very little advance preparation, this gives anyone a delicious and different twist to a traditional summer barbecue. This chicken is moist, intensely flavorful and — with its signature color and texture — is a wonderful alternative to hot dogs and burgers.

I came to love Indian cooking through some lifelong friends, and after traveling to India, I’ve learned of the subtlety of its cuisine. I do not claim that this is the only or ultimate recipe for Tandoori Chicken. My inspiration has always been the great Julie Sahni, whose inspired and informed love of her native cuisine informs every word of her great cookbooks and makes me want to experiment even more with Indian cooking.

Many consider music a universal language. Do you think the same can be said for good food? Both food and music have processes attached to them that just invite people to engage. When preparing a piece of music, it must have your focus and attention for an outcome that is enjoyable. The same can be said when you are preparing food for a meal.

In both instances, the outcome isn’t about you, as the person preparing it. It is about the experience of sharing the music or sharing the food. It’s beautiful when people can come together to experience a seminal moment of grace during a concert or meal. To help in creating those moments of connection and reflection — whether in the kitchen or at a concert — is part of my life’s work.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at to nominate a cook.

Symphony at the Station

The Kansas City Symphony’s 12th annual Bank of America Celebration at the Station will be at 8 p.m. Sunday at Union Station (Pershing and Main streets). Free admission. For more information, go to or call 816-471-0400.

Tandoori Chicken With Mango Chutney

Makes 4 to 6 servings

For the chutney:

2 cups diced mango or 2 large mangoes, diced

2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup dark brown sugar or Indian jaggery sugar

1/2 teaspoon saffron

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 tablespoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons raisins

2 tablespoons slivered almonds

For the chicken:

3 1/2 pounds chicken legs, thighs or breasts, skin removed

2 large lemons, juiced

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger

3 cloves minced garlic

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon achiote or tandoori red dye, optional for red coloring

2 tablespoons clarified butter or Indian ghee

For the garnish:

1 large onion, thinly sliced

2 lemons, cut into wedges

Fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

To make the chutney: In a cast iron skillet, stir together mango, salt, sugars, saffron, optional cayenne, cardamom, cumin, raisins and almonds over medium-high heat on stovetop. When bubbling, reduce heat to low and simmer about 30 minutes more, or until mixture reaches a syrup consistency. (Add about 1/4 cup water if mixture becomes too dry.) Remove from heat and spoon into a small serving bowl and allow to cool.

To make the chicken: Using a paring knife, notch chicken pieces to enable the marinade to penetrate. Place chicken in a large glass bowl and cover with lemon juice. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for no more than 1 hour.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse cardamom, cumin, turmeric, ginger, garlic, yogurt, cayenne, paprika, salt and achiote (or red dye) together until well combined. Pour contents over chicken, making sure to coat each piece. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place back in refrigerator, allowing meat to marinate at least 2 hours to overnight.

Preheat grill to 400 degrees. Remove chicken from marinade, discarding excess liquid. Lightly brush chicken with butter or ghee and place pieces on grill. Allow meat to cook for about 8 to 10 minutes on one side, then turn over pieces and cook another 5 to 7 minutes on other side. Baste with butter or ghee throughout grilling. To test for doneness, a meat thermometer should read 165 degrees when inserted into meat.

Remove immediately to a serving platter, garnished with onion slices — which can be grilled or raw — lemon wedges and cilantro. Serve with prepared mango chutney and Indian naan bread.

Per serving, based on 4: 614 calories (25 percent from fat), 18 grams total fat (7 grams saturated), 131 milligrams cholesterol, 77 grams carbohydrates, 42 grams protein, 1,220 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

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