Finally, the pictures. It was fun. Brennan is a technician beyond description. My house, my zone, I was off my game, sloppy, and I feel like an idiot. But I can still make some bread. The duck dish. My how it was so close. 4 day cured breast, pickled napa cabbage, gruyere/reggie parm broth, yolk ravioli, so close to working awesome if I wasn't such a retard that day....redo maybe. Brennan is an honor to cook with....
Nothing like doing an eight coarse dinner for nine people out of a home kitchen. And oh yeah, plating up on a wobbly beer pong table. All things considered though, I think we pulled it off. It was a little shaky at first and not the prettiest service, but no one noticed and all of the food was money. Sorry that my brother couldn't make it. He hates missing out on all of the fun. Duty calls though and there's always next time bro. Anyways, time to talk about the food. Mike made some breads. One was the five day starter Altumura bread that he mentioned in his last blog and the other was an olive loaf. I had to interrupt his toast after cutting into it and having the aroma pour into my olfactory. It seemed greedy to keep it to myself and not pass it around the table. The first course was African squash tortellini with ricotta and foie gras emulsion, pickled onions and bacon shards. Second coarse: Fritto misto of calamari, artichokes and puttanesca with banana pepper emulsion. Third coarse: Oyster mushrooms and Arugula, tomato gelee, aged balsamic, pecorino crisp. Fourth coarse: Chianti braised beef agnolotti with bone marrow(some tasty duck liver was also incorporated into this dish). Fifth coarse: Roasted Lamb, marinated olives and kumquats, sage gnocchi, garlic jus. Sixth coarse: Duck Reuben( Mike will want to explain this one). Then we threw in a cheese coarse and ended with Balsamic sorbet, olive oil tuile, mascarpone mousse and chocolate straws.
I thought long and hard about this one. It's been eating at me for weeks. But I hesitate. What is this blog about? I see plenty of food blogs just about product. Technique. Ok. What about a little story line. Mystique. I think it makes it more interesting, more personable; especially to the non professional who is equally interested in our jargon. Maybe this blog was supposed to be more technical or structured than anything I though that people might find interesting related to the subject. But that's all I have. Random thoughts. Believe me, food is at their epicenter, hope and encouragement underlying, and my one wish is that; this is understood. Please don't delete me. I put lot's of time and effort into this. Let the people decide.
On the shallowest of levels, my world was rocked a few weeks ago. Conan was getting pushed out. I did think long and hard about this. I wanted it to make food sense. I work early to late, eat late, watch TV late, always have and it's fitting that Conan relates so heavily to food at least for me.
If Jay Leno was a food he would be a TV dinner. Not even a good one. Maybe a Banquet or Lean Cuisine. The whatever, it'll fill you but nothing more, cheap shot, easily forgotten, adored by the lame, lonely, and eldery. When you are hungry/restless or just want to pass an hour before sleep overtakes you, this will do. Plus, not all the parts heat up well together. It starts off warming up from stone cold frozen; has pockets of heat, potatoes are raging, and the salisbury steak is a hockey puck. Jay Leno sucks.
If Conan Obrien was a food ...wow, this was really, really hard to work out. On my first attempt, he is like Sushi. Young, hip, good for you, sometimes kinda out there, based on revenence and loyalty to great product, no matter how much you get you are always hungry 2 hours later, and adored by the drunk or stoned. He made a home for me, a lap of Totinos pizza, a late night, and a place Phish used to rock out the mainstream media, besides Lettterman.
15 years. When I think of Conan I think of Simpsons, APT, cold Bozanans, and soupedy sups. I fell into this profession by accident, lots of prodding by those I'm grateful to, and most importantly, many long nights of debauchery. I had a house full of friends and I was the salvation. Whatever we had to work with, it would happpen. A night that will remain untouched is when Matt Malinowski asked me in the morning how me and my best comrad Micah ate a whole jar of mayo the night before. Don't recall, but it got me here. You all helped get me here. Team Coco all the way....and team Golden Eye big head paintball mode......
The list could be endless. What food would you be? Better yet, what food would those closest describe you as? I'm sorry but when I leave this place I would rather be described as a memorable taste than a "good person". Shout out to APT. I miss you guys more than you could imagine and hope everyone is well if not as awesome as Soom always seems to be. Nice status. Till next time...
The picture is a great shot of Becca's dinner. A place setting,a 5 day starter Altumura bread and the menu.
This is what made it past the cutting room floor...I get it and yes, sometimes I need an editor...
So Pick put this tracker thing to show how many people check this blog out. Kinda jazzy. Which brings me to my next point. If you know me at all. I'm talking 20 years ago, last week, whatever; most of the time I'm pissed off about one thing or another. Even when I'm gitty like a school girl, no care in the world; you can bring me back down in no time with I don't know, "so...what sucks?" By the way, I discovered ; today. As in (;). I was reading something written by someone that remembers grammar and it looked cool and I think I know how to use it so I'm gonna throw it in a bunch just cause I can. My English teaching degree having dad and brother probably think I'm an idiot and by God; they're on to something.
Anyways, for real, things piss me off. Pick thinks it's funny to get me going. Today I am pissed off about expensive togo plastic cateringware. Let me elaborate. We did an off site function tonight. Jacksonville magazine Top 25 restaurant party. Sounds fancy. It isn't. There are maybe 25 decent, non chain restaurants in JAX most of whom if not all; advertise with JAX magazine. See where I'm going with this? Well, whatever, that's fine and all, good exposure, and the like but this is my point. Fancy cocktail party, fancy people, the who's who of a town that I didn't know had who's, 25 restaurants trying to showcase what makes them stand out from the rest and mostly what I saw was a lot of laying up. Taking the easy stroke to save par.....what a poor excuse for a human being; I am using a golfing reference; great to make movies about, horrible to imagine any real person enjoying. I should be dragged outside and... spare ol' yeller; put me down 1st for sucking so badly.
Really; my wife, my beauty, my love, someone who has spent the last 6 years putting up with me and has developed a truly hard, sinister persona for food critique (something I have many blogs to write about); said it first. There were many restaurants that I do respect with safe, cold, or from a chaffer; scoop and serve dishes with really, really, really, nice plastic spoons and bowls. Hot diggedy dog; nothing sells me like some fancy, made to look like silver mini spoon, made by some poor third world kid pocketing 15 cents a day. Good effort though poor third world kid, sorry to bring you into this mess. It's just that I feel the food should count for something.
I am no saint. I am no Bayless or Batali or T.K. I'm not the gum on their shoe; but I just want it to taste good. We've done....lots of these events. Let's say you got an oven that makes 5 pizzas at once. You got a car that holds 50 pizzas. You need 2000 people to sample your pizza 30 miles from your restaurant and oven. It's a challenge and that's an easy example of what I'm talking about. But I've never sacrificed what I thought we should put out so it can be in a fancy package. Brennan...just hush up. What you did and saw last October don't count. That was rubbish. You just go back to sleep...
At the restaurant we do lots of lamb. Lots. So I decided to do lamb sliders. 500 people, whatever. lamb shoulder/pork tenderloin blend, pickled cucumber/red onion, roma tomato, tzatziki. Simple. Me and my wife. Once again god bless her for putting up with me and these things I get her into. 1 18" by 12" electric grill, 1 chaffer, and 576 mini rolls that did not want to cut with the serrated knife I had brought. Sorry about your finger Becca...
But we cooked them there. 1 ounce scoop, 12 quarts of ground lamb; but it was fun. Mini lamb burgers in a random paper bowl w/ a bev. nap. Other chefs/cooks mingled, sampled. Becca and I got out butts worked.
Again, I'm not saying that we're better blah, blah, blah...but we had aroma, we had a little show going on, and....we had a line. That's all. Take it for what it's worth. Sometimes it's good to play it safe. I'm not a consumer; well, I'm not who we cook for. Maybe they like the bells and whistles. Maybe I'm totally wrong. I know this. The little engine that could. That's what I call us at big events.
When you cook, do whatever feels right. If someone comes back for seconds or thirds...just for an instant, you're never wrong.
Thanks again Becca, you astound me with your elegance under heavy fire.
Organization is the key to everything for a cook. Everything has a place and a reason for being in that place. When I look back 8 years ago, when I started my career, at my standards for cleanliness and organization compared to where they are now, I can't believe I was able to get through the day. Soiled rags laying unfolded on prep tables, cooks standing in piles of their own mis en place, dishes and utensils scattered all over the place with no rhyme or reason. I was the least anal person in the Georgian Room and these things still drive me crazy. No matter how good you are, your always going to feel busier without organization. If your in a little rush, you'll feel busy. If your busy, you'll feel like your in the weeds. If your in the weeds, you'll feel like your going down in flames. "Clutter creates chaos." Chef Scott said it to me when I first started at the Georgian Room and I'll never forget it because it couldn't be more true. If your obsessively clean and organized, the most difficult menu with the most covers under the worst conditions can feel like child's play.
I had the true fortune back in 2002 to do a stage in France. For those not familiar, that is an unpaid internship of sorts at a restaurant. It changed everything. I wish I had better words or maybe just more of them to tell you how deeply it changed me. But I don't and sadly enough, time, and pressure, and life has robbed me of some of the clarity of those memories I hold so dear and that truly hurts my heart to say so. France made food come alive for me even though at the time I didn't quite know it. After two months plus, living and working in Burgundy, I came home and tried to adjust and process whathad happened. Life went back to "normal." But it wasn't. Part of me was never......will never really be back. I wrote an email a couple days after I had gotten back...to no one in particular. I never sent it. I had some things inside that I guess I just wanted on well...not paper but I wanted them said and maybe one day I would know where or to whom or how to share them. It's not complete. After rereading it all these years later, there's so much I left out. Maybe one day I'll fill in the gaps. It's a good story I think...I hope it's well received. I hope it makes you want to travel, to open up your senses to the possibilities food and culture offer us even close by. I hope I get to go back someday and find those parts of my soul that refused to leave.
August 12, 2002
Many kids dream of one day being astronauts, exploring new, uncharted worlds and encountering alien life and situations. Looking back on the last few months, I’ve realized that you don’t have to even leave the earth’s surface to live these experiences. Take a hazy mix of plane rides, free wine, jet lag, and a few scoops of delerium and Notre Dame looks like one of the mountains of the moon, reigning high over thousands of martians babbling in tongues and weilding their vehicles of destruction at inhumane speeds on search and destroy missions for American tourists. There was no way to prepare for an experience like living in France. It was too surreal. The places you read and hear about as a child only live in the imagination, then one day, you are there.It took me about twenty-four hours to begin to come to terms with the fact that I was actually in France. I awoke by six a.m. the first full day in Paris. I got dressed and slipped quietly out into the sunshine. I still have not come back. Eating breakfast at a cafe near rue St. Germain was a humbling experience for lack of better words. I sat in silence reading and pausing now and then to take a deep breath, and watch life as I had never seen it before. The old women waddling past, muttering to themselves as they reposition their bags overflowing with crusty baguettes or small tactical nuclear warheads, one can not be too sure. The businessmen and women rocket past, perpetually late for this, or that, or nothing at all. Old men on bicycles wearing plaid caps and beaming smiles glide past effortlessly with their arsenals of baguette. A bird landed on the chair across from me. He hopped onto the table, past the ashtray, the sugar cubes, the orange juice, and pecked at some crumbs of my now vanished, first true taste of France. I half expected him to shout ‘merci messier, a demain!’ as he flew up over the stands of the morning market. I found myself greeting each day with an unquenchable enthusiasm. Paris was beautiful and it quickly became comfortable. But it still seemed to be missing something. I was still hearing english. The feeling of alienation and culture shock did not last long. I felt like a damn tourist. Then we left Paris and again, the world turned upsidedown. For being around cars my entire life, I have never appreciated riding in them more than riding through Burgundy. The long rolling hills speckled with small villages and vineyards is the most peaceful and relaxing landscape my eyes have ever seen. Every inch of earth was exciting. Every shop, home, and church was hundreds and seemingly thousands of years old and they captured my attention everywhere I went. After the first morning in Paris, I made it a point to go off on solo morning or late night constitutionals to think, to explore, to meditate, to breathe, and take in every inch of France that I could. I will admit that the social customs of the french people take a little getting used to. I did like everyone else, and flinched a little the first time a new aqaintance presented her cheeks to be kissed rather than a good ol’american handshake. What I soon came to realize is that the good ol’american handshake or head nod sucks. With every meeting, with everyday, the french people took the time to greet you with real contact, to ask you how you were, and maybe chat if time permitted. I think some of the elderly men and women in Entrains purposely planned their route each day to pass by the Maison Des Adirondack and see what the Americans were up too. The local children would peer in the window sills to catch a glimpse of the strange speaking beings they saw getting in and out of cars, playing frisbee in the the street, or working on their third bottle of vin blanc at the Hotel De France.The French are a very proud people and I believe that they have more than enough reason to be. There is history, tradition, and culture everwhere you look. A french market is one of the definitive aspects of their culture and by the end of my time there, I found that there was no place more thrilling, more french. The last morning in France I awoke by five. I walked a few miles outside Entrains through the dark, silent streets, past farms, and corn, and fields. I listened to the soft morning breeze, to the shuffle of my feet, to the bark of a far off dog, the occasional whine of a donkey, and to the rooster, high atop the world, the first to spot the morning sun and proclaim it his. I walked past crumbling stone walls and I thought of how many others had walked past those very walls. Had they been the remains of an ancient castle, had they been placed there by the Romans, had they been dividing this land for hundreds of years ? It all seemed possible in a place like this. I walked past the fields and thought of the markets in Cosne, Paris, and Avallon. Had I seen some of these vegetables in amongst the incredible cheeses, the sauccison, the fruits, the wine, the olives, and the flowers ? I sat in the middle of the road and watched as the sun slowly lit the morning sky and warmed the still earth. I had come to this place a stranger. The people, the land, the food, the customs, and the language were all alien to me. I still laugh to think that I actually spent two months here. I know what Epoisse tastes like, I’ve touched buildings older than my country, and I know what it smells like inside Versailles and been in her gardens. I’ve found a second home and it hurts to be away.
Maybe it was Brennan whatever... I am psyched. Really, I am psyched. Pick, sorry not Pyk (that is lame dude), had an awesome post with some very real truths about this business. So here's the story...we both had a hard week. We have our perspective issues to deal with. We talked for a long time tonight to vent blah blah blah but here's where the fine line drops. We all have obstacles. No one doesn't. We are blessed to live in a country where our potential personal disasters are so few and far between. And where does that get us? Look in the eyes of someone when they come into the kitchen....scratch that, look at their hands. Watch them. For the new year I posted my kitchen new year's resolutions, one of which is....no negativity. It gets into the food. It dulls it. It poisons it. It makes food suck. Watch their hands. I try, I really try to make the connection every time. When you pick up a piece of fruit, a fish, an onion...truly...it's a blessing. This is not some man made BS...we don't deserve this. It was REAL, living, it deserves respect and it tastes amazing. Your hands suck. I see you manhandling that tomato. Yes, it's bruised. So what. Cut out the bruise. Dice what you deem usable and throw the rest in your stock. Hold it and make spag. sauce one day, dry it out and make a powder. I can hear how dull your knife is. Do you not care? Do you not have a soul? Making fun of a little kid, do you not have soul? (I can do movie references too pick!) But I digress, do you not care? If I were a clerk, scratch that, an illustrator, and my pens always kept running out of ink, I'd be like, "man this sucks, guess I need a new pen." Trust me, here's my analogy pending copyright..never trust a cook with a dull knife....cause he's a retard. Maybe just the 1st part! Guess I just wish there were more people in my neck of the woods that really saw food. I still say that every cook in America should go abroad. IT WILL CHANGE YOU. No BS. It will. I see bread and cheese different now among other things. Innards too. I love the feet, the livers, the tongue, it's all relatively usable if not delicious. I have a story I wrote years ago about living in France I think I would like to post someday. Pick is right. We care. I'm glad to know people who do. I surround myself with them. We eat, sleep, and breath the same life and language. I love what we do. It's how we share joy with the world....
Brennan and Mike are getting together this weekend for Rebecca's birthday(that's Mike's wife by the way), I couldn't be more aggravated that I can't join in the festivities. Why I can't?... you might ask....well that's because I am still in the middle of this rather tumultuous relocation to Charleston, SC. Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful for the new job, new scene, new everything, but camaraderie is lost in the process.
So what is the point of me posting this, is it to air out my personal life??? Not exactly.
The point is to illustrate the fact that successful people surround themselves with SUCCESSFUL people. This proverb applies to any profession from the President to the quickstop clerk(love that movie). I am where I am today because of the people I have worked with, mentors and peers alike. Of course there are other factors, the individual must have drive and intensity, but a chef needs that competition.....that hurdle to jump, that mountain to climb, otherwise he/she slides into the mediocrity surrounding them, and where does that reflect.........in the food.
One of things that bothers me the most is when I walk into the kitchen and there is no focus whatsoever. I'm not saying that everyone should be head down with a scowl on their face, but.....there should be FOCUS. Not focus to impress other people or focus to simply get through the shift, but focus on ingredients and technique. I've seen it so many times, cooks will walk into a kitchen and not shut there mouth until they clock out, oblivious to the work they have done. These people are destined for failure........but....there is hope, another breed exists!!!
This breed is the artisan, the renaissance, the conscious chef. This is the person who respects the food, the one that is constantly pushing to get better. Why??! Because they care about what they are doing, not just for ego, but for their own professional integrity.
That's what Brennan and Mike are. Brennan and I met Mike somewhere around circa 2003, in a little beach town called Fernandina Beach(a place that Mike refers to as the armpit of America). We were all working at Amelia Island Plantation and it was a huge turning point for myself. Since then we have all followed very different paths, from major hotels, to private clubs, to private restaurants. Between the three of us I think we have covered everything except catering.....oh wait, we've done that too. Anyways, my point is that I am thankful that I have people around me to push me to get better, any young culinarian who reads this should do the same. Brennan and Mike are cooking a coursed dinner for Becca's birthday and despite their brotherhood, you better believe there is an underlying competition. THAT IS A GOOD THING. If there wasn't, Becca might as well have her birthday dinner at IHOP.....
Every now and then you have to take a break from refined food long enough to enjoy one of the best things in life. A well executed burger, cooked to a perfect medium with hand cut fries and a frosty beer is the utopia I'm talking about. Make sure to enjoy it at this little bathroom themed shack of a bar. Le Tub in Hollywood, FL started out as a Sunoco station in the 50's that was forced to close by the energy crisis in the 70's. Bought under new ownership in 74, it was refurbished with flotsam and jetsam that consisted largely of old toilet seats and bath tubs. To this day you can still go and enjoy their 13 oz. burger and stare at their wall full of local newspaper and magazine awards(including Hamburger Americas top 100 and GQ magazines best burger).
I wanted to rant about Totinos and I will but I just wanted to share a few words about some excitement. I liked Pyk's post about the mental and physical process of creating a dish. My wife's Bday is next monday. Brennan and I are doing what is currently a 7 course dinner. She asked for italian. He has shared his thoughts with me for his courses but I'll leave it to Brennan to tell you the specifics. I've been rolling it over in my head for a few weeks, constantly looking for inspiration. A reuben at Katz's then pig's feet and marrow bones at Publix. I am looking at 1st..fritto misto of calamari and artichoke, puttanesca, and banana pepper puree. 2nd..chianti braised pig's foot agnolotti w/ roasted marrow. 3rd..Duck Rueben....pastrami cured duck breast, caraway ravioli of nappa cabbage and fresh yolk, pickled radish, and gruyere broth. 4th....some dessert. No idea. Very exciting. I'll post the final menu and pictures after sunday night...
Part 2...Let's say you got an oven. In that oven is a 600 pan of duck legs taking a little bubble bath in fat, garlic, and star anise. What I want you to do is get real close. Like right up on it. Close your eyes. Exhale all the way. Now open it quick and inhale through your nose like Rick James at a free crack giveaway. (I claim no responsibility for disfigurement)..... it's probably the closest thing to what you'd smell at the hot dog cart outside the gates of heaven....What? There's probably a really long line and I doubt most people pack a snack. And why wouldn't there be food vendors getting in on a very lucrative venue. Probably no one selling watches though. I hear there's a big hello kitty clock on the wall. Anyways, why not let your first taste..ahh...smell of the afterlife be something as glorious as confit.
I love me some duck and more specifically, confit. I try to have it on hand at all times. Make a big batch, run some as a special, and pack the rest away for a rainy day. The best part, as far as my cooks feel I think, is when I shred it for lettuce wraps cause there, left behind is the epitomy of glutony, duck skin. I'll render a big mess of it in a nonstick pan, dump it onto a plate, and drench it in maple syrup. Oh my....
And I really have a problem with people that don't utilize fat. I read a little blurb in Saveur or something that asked Jon Besh what fat he uses for a roux. He said that he waited till chicken stock cooled and used the fat cap on top. GENIUS! Really, "should a cook squander anything." It's hard enough for us to make a profit in this business. But at the heart of everything, it's more than money. When I was crisping up duck legs last night, I kept a pan on the side to catch any extra fat that came off. Throwing away duck fat is just wrong. Like punching a baby wrong....ok, an ugly baby.
Now, induction cooking. Not sure where I was going with this part.
You ever been to a food show? Cheney Brothers, a florida food distributor had their north florida one tuesday. It's cool. They put you up in a nice place and have a reception the night before with shitty food and all the booze you can double fist. It's an opportunity for the elite, the degenerates, and the in between to mix and mingle and spawn another generation of misfits. Then, when everyone gets good and sauced...by 8:30, they cut you off and say "be free, run, play, harrass and disgust a hotel full of employees, on the same side mind you, and destroy everything in your path. It's awesome!!
Next day there is a food show. 60 to 80 vendors displaying all their newest goodies. Convenience products, ass loads of fried crap, chemicals, warewashing, meats, seafood, you get the idea. Somewhere down the line a bunch of these company big wigs got together and said "we need people to represent our products, sell our products, and make us a household name.......I got it, whores." Seriously. Girls in bikinis near the seafood, cowgirls near the meats, and some random gogo dancer on a pole?
These kind of shows don't have much to see for cooks who COOK everything. Last year I was looking for par baked breads and specialty desserts but I spent the last 12 months working on bread and pastries so now I go for one real reason. Don't get me wrong there are some things to see and there are rebates on items the restaurant orders and it's a free trip but I digress. The one real reason starts with a duffle bag.
They give out bags for you to stock with goodies and samples. All of these vendors have nice displays of products but alas they are "for display only." Yeah right. I am right here and now admitting that my wife and I do laps, strategize, and case the whole joint before devastating the place. One particular booth, I shall name no names, carries all the specialty items, imports, etc. and that guy is good. Same with the Dececco pasta guy. These are free products the company sent out to be looked at and these guys have the nerve to be guarding them like schmucks at Alkatraz. We have our system which I will not discuss here and we always come out on top.
This year, I did an Iron Chef battle right in the middle of the show with an old chef and my Cheney rep. We crushed the competition and I got this bad ass induction burner. Induction cooking, that's right, the future, even though it's not that new. The end.
Protien + Starch + Veg + Sauce + Garnish = Dish......its a simple formula, one that a lot of cooks I have been around tend to forget. I was making a catch the other day and normally I don't think of it written out like that but for some reason I just kept mumbling it to myself ("finkle and einhorn, einhorn and finkle," please someone get this movie reference), maybe I hadn't had enough caffeine yet. Anyways, after standing in the walk-in for about twenty minutes I had the dish in my head. I knew I was using swordfish, yukons golds, fennel, chives from our garden, roma tomatoes and olives. Here is where the fun begins, how do all these ingredients go from the cooler to plate. This is also where things can go horribly wrong. I decided to cook the potatoes slowly in the oven with oil, garlic, thyme and some slices of pancetta..... ......about two hours at 325 with a foil cover will do. Since I knew I was using fresh fennel, I decided to also use roasted and ground fennel seed to crust the fish, that way I could let the fresh fennel stay fresh by making a little salad garnish(which by the way I am obsessed with doing ever since I left the blue zoo). Thats a lot of rich flavors so it was a good thing I had the acidity of the tomatoes to help cut it a little, they joined with the olives to make a quick pan sauce. A pan sear on the potatoes here, butter sauce on the bottom there, Medium Swordfish and Boom.......we had the sum of the equation.
It appears that we are not fulfilling our duties my Pickren brethren. We were all together saturday night. We even talked about how much fun this blog was and yet, where have we been? There must be some sort of online blog etiquette right? It's our duty to post something every couple days I imagine even if it's rubbish. Brennan is in Pennsylvania talking to squirrels or something, Pick's getting backhand slapped by resort world, and here I am priming the kitchen walls watching Jersey Shore. So I got a three parter but I'm not sure in what order?
Let's say that you have never considered making cheese. But let me assume that 99.9% of all people have some sort of secret love affair with it. Imagine a world without cheese. Honestly. I have always been a cheese whore. As a kid it was land o lakes orange slices and port wine cheese spread at Xmas and the weird fake ones you get in those lame gift assortments from Pepperidge farms. I started in restaurants and a new city or maybe county of cheeses opened up. I remember being the Pizza guy @ Sienna, pounding shredded asiago and prosciutto in the walkin when no one was looking. Then, a few years later, I found myself getting off a metro in Paris. Where in NYC you get off the local and smell rust, old gum, and sewer, in Paris I could literally see this trail of scent wafting through the air, curl around the wino mumbling to himself on a bench, past the Orangina machine, and punch me in the face with funk. There was a cheese shop a stone's throw from the entrance to the metro station and when I fell into it, a whole new world of cheese erupted....it didn't come out of no where, it had been there for thousands of years, had the odor to prove it, and was like "where have you been?" I'll never be the same. Now I could go on about all the varieties and techniques that exist and until recently make cheese in this country a joke but I guess that's for another day. Besides, two of my favorite cheeses are Epoisse and White American.
What I can say is that the process of making cheese is really quite..I don't know bonding, celebratory. Let me elaborate and get all mushy. I have found that much in the same way as working on the art of making bread, cheese making gives you this sensory connection to thousands of years of history and the billions of people who have done this before you. It's all about time, patience, and respect for what you have.
I started making cheese back in September. I sucked. I got better. There are 5 aging in the fridge outside. Real quick....you add cultures, curd the milk, set it, press it, dry it, and age it. I made 2 bleu cheeses and that's where the dead body comes into play. Even aging in a fridge @ 50F, it was bad, real bad. Eventually I had to wax them cause the neighbors were asking questions and I kept having visions of me standing over a pit in the garage going "it puts the lotion on the skin." They are all aging fine now. In fact, I just got 5# of wax cause I promised to mail out samples to my brothers. If anyone is interested I have gouda, jack, gorg., buttmilk bleu, my own italian brie-ish one, and one yet to be determined. Just ask I'll send out samples. I need feedback.
It's late. Induction cooking is next me thinks. Hold up. Wheat...that's quick. A book Soul of a Chef asked famous chefs their desert island top 3 wish list foods. #1 for me is wheat. I was making pasta today and had an hour of cutting ravioli to ponder the uses of wheat/flour. A man can not live on bread alone.....yeah right. Well, maybe some cheese, and beer. Good night....
It's funny and ironic how things start I think. I reread my 1st couple posts and here I am worried that I will be as wordy and sentimental as Bourdain about food when in this installment, all I want to talk about is the word f*#k. Relax, that's only a half truth. There's a big picture and underlying truths and grand generalisations, but in the beginning there was only F!@#.
I, like all teens, rebelled in all sorts of ways one of which was picking up such a word. Use it here or there for a laugh, whatever. But where along the line did it stop being offensive and further more what does it have to do with food?
There are secret handshakes, secret codes, behaviors, rules, attitudes, language, dress that make us recognize one another. Cooks/restaurant folk as a whole can smell their own kind absolutely. As far as the kitchen goes, it is hopefully one of the last great cynical secret societies left. Feed the masses, make them content. Work when those that rule are off, play when they that rule sleep. It seems that in the slightest of ways, it's only fitting that some of us don't mind social courtesies as well as others. I'm socially awkward. I don't do well around new people, never have. But in a kitchen, everything, every chaos makes sense. It's calming. I'll say ten times an ugly word while using the slightest touch, look like a schizo while doing river dance, because that's what we do. Is it strange that God or some form of him put pirates and artists together and came up with cooks?
We can be rough yet tender. Crude yet incredibly delicate. In a sense, we spend our time learning to manipulate some products like ourselves. Is that cliche or weird?
Have you ever had that conversation that goes: "hey lets go eat here tonight" "no way thats to expensive" "its cool, I got the hook-up" Im sure all of you have at one point in time. Now, Im not talking about sending food out the back door, but I do love the oppurtunity to send special unexpected courses to our guests. It allows us to create more personal experiences with them, and hopefully......create loyalty. Its become a staple in most professional kitchens to have an amuse, or midcourse, or even a shared sweettreat at the end of a meal. For me, I really enjoy it because it allows us to step away from the menu and, for a brief moment, be unpredictable. Here is a midcourse I did this afternoon: Green Risotto, Shrimp with Bacon, Sundried Tomato, Fresh Mozz, Balsamic
I've heard of intramuscular fat but holy cow. This heffer didn't miss any massages growing up. At the restaurant we only charged a 50 dollar suplement on it to break even, but talk about an instant morale boost during a ball busting week. Handle this like foie gras when cooking it, no fat in nice hot pan. I would avoid the grill because too much fat will drip onto the flame, causing it to flare up and ruin the flavor of the beef.
Well it seems that the blog along with the year is off to a good start. I think that 2010 is going to be a great year for the three of us along with chefs all across the globe. Being in the industry day in, day out I sometime get a feeling that something is beginning to bubble in our little world. Maybe a deeper level of care or consciousness, how else can you explain the rapid movement of the Progressive American food scene. Chefs now look for artisan local products and technique well......lets just say that when you learn how to make your first mother sauce you have only scratched the surface of all the new possibilities with food. Don't believe me, go watch the first season of Top Chef and then compare it to the last one, things are definitely evolving. Anyways, here is one of our small plates we did for our New Years Menu: Petite Veal Osso Bucco, Mepkin Abbey Oyster Mushroom, Madeira Demi.
Sorry for the picture quality, I should have that issue fixed shortly....
Honestly,....you'll notice I use the (...) for dramatic pause and abuse it to no end but I'm no writer......really, where does it come from? Thomas Keller talks about feeling like shit or something along that line and going for ice cream. There in the midst of three melty scoops of haggen daz he has a vision of salmon tartare in a cone. From what it seems, it's become one of his trademarks. Inspiration from despair? Perhaps it's just that when we are most vulnerable or thinking so outside the confines of the world of the real, that the abstract or the "that ain't gonna to go together;" just seems to work.
It doesn't always work. I think we can all burn a couple candles for dishes we had to send off to viking funerals because they just didn't work, in fact they sucked ass and failed miserably. But sometimes, more often after time and the longer you've been in it. The longer your taste has seen and wrapped it's paws around flavors. It seems you kinda tap into this collective whatever, let's say it's pipped through the exhaust, but you find yourself combining things that shouldn't work but your tongue tells some part of your brain, yes.......and sometimes it's brilliant.
I was looking for a picture to post. I dug through the computer, found a bunch of shit I don't remember, probably from old iron chef battles @ 3am w/ chris or bennan, and I found this picture. I was maybe a year out of culinary school and for some reason was stuck on halibut, avacado, and making a cilantro pink lemonade syrup. I have no idea why, but it worked.
Nothing is better than being able to use produce that's still dirty from being picked the same day. Getting fresh farm eggs that are still warm or cane syrup that you helped grind. It makes you cook with more appreciation and respect for the product. I feel privileged to have met Betty Anne and Gabe, the farmers of Sapelo Farm. If you ever need to be inspired, all you have to do is walk around this place.
Why did we choose this life? Was it even our choice? Over the last 13 years, I've found myself asking these questions time and time again. It's not always easy. The hours suck. The pay sucks. The conditions and physical demands often suck. The stress makes you crazy. But in the most hectic of times, the ticket machine vomiting out dups, smoke, flame, heat, yelling, whipping around like a speed freak....everything slows down, almost stops completely, to balance a beautifully seared scallop on a line of brunois vegg and morels, or ladle veal jus over a piece of shortrib that just came out of an 18 hour bath in chianti......and it's fucking...Zen. Or perfection I guess. For just a few seconds, the world is perfect. And the goal...hopefully some of that moment is still in that plate of food when somebody tears into it. That's why I cook. Pick (chris) put this blog together and asked me to share. I think it's awesome. The three of us have very different approaches to food which makes this concept even more interesting. Anyways, let's talk food. The picture is of a twisted up version of Pho I did for Brennan's wife's b-day dinner. I'd get into the specifics of it but maybe later. I gotta throw out an idea I have for my wife's b-day dinner. We ate at Katz's Deli in NYC a few weeks back. Their reuben, a $16 reuben was unreal. As I gorged myself I thought about deconstructing it and dropping it in Italy. That sat in my head for a few weeks and I started experimenting with making pastrami. Here's the dish so far: pastrami cured duck breast, caraway pasta (fettucini or ravioli)....I'm still juggling the russian/sauerkraut/swiss. Maybe put a raw egg yolk in the ravioli so when you cut it and mix, there's the sauce. So..... I'll keep up with the evolution of the dish and also post pics of the new cheese I got aging in the beer fridge. See ya...
This is a dish I made for a recipe contest using hiramasa or yellowtail kingfish for the chance to win a trip to Australia and a good bit of cash. Cleanseas.com.au is a website that promotes sustainable seafood and has these contests all the time.
Hello, my name is Christopher Pickren and I am starting this blog to document the food musings of Mike Barbour, Brennan Pickren (my little brother), and of course, myself. We are all three chefs on the east coast from Charleston to Jacksonville. Hopefully we can provide some interesting thoughts, pictures, and stories that we have experienced during our collective journey's as chefs and maybe even make some friends along the way. More to come soon....