Monday, April 26, 2010

chicago 2010......


I don't know exactly when the food bug crept under my skin and burrowed down deep in my being. I guess it had always been there and that over time, the layers slowly melted away to reveal the beautiful and sometimes ugly and demented beast. At culinary school I delved deep. I was 21, surrounded by 17 or 18 year olds mostly. I felt behind in the game. I became a sponge...due to whatever motivation I felt at the time or once again maybe it was already ingrained in me. Recipes, technique, names, restaurants. I marveled over Trotter's 1st book. I had never seen food like that....had never heard of 1/2 the ingredients. I wanted to know, I wanted to taste, I wanted my hands and palate to be able to manipulate food in a new way. Food somehow became 3 dimensional and much, much bigger than me.

Years have passed, things have changed, things are still the same. My list of must dos and must sees keeps growing. One thing I have learned is that for me, nothing is more inspirational, therapeutic, or encouraging than eating someone else's food. I think back to school and my mental list of restaurants I had to try one day. It's changed some but the top 5 or 10, not so much. The food cultures I have most revered are the same. Frontera, Topolobampo, and Rick Bayless sit high up on some metaphysical pedestal. I read his books, marveled along with everyone else at how easily and humbly he mopped the floor of competition on Top Chef Masters. But it was all 2D. Like watching Avatar on a 13 inch black and white TV...with commercials.

That was until last weekend. Finally....two long paragraphs of sappy nonsense just to get to the point. I bore myself, I swear. Anyways, somehow my wife kept 6 months of planning under the radar. I'm very, very perceptive in a kitchen. Obsessively so. Take me out into the sunshine and normal life and I'm a dense, spacedog idiot. So, she had help I guess. Long story semi short, camping turned into "you need to not stay up late cause we're leaving @ 4am and shutup, I'm not telling you where we're going," or something like that. Something kinder sounding at least. I was actually sad that I was not gonna lay drunkenly in a canoe for 2 days. But my bag was packed....had been so for a week I found out. She's sneaky. A short jump to Houston had the wife and I wandering through the airport at a tad before 8am staring sleepily @ people drinking bloody marys and mimosas in terminal connector walkup bars. Insanity I said to myself, what is wrong with these people? It's barely breakfast, the sun and "today" a relatively new concept........Ten minutes later, there I am with the wife and sister-in-law, munching on the celery stick in my bloody mary. Peer pressure....or something. A couple hours and more surprises later, I was walking down the street in Chicago with my boy Brennan and the ladies on our coattails. We were in search of Bayless. All it took was a gust of wind to turn 8 years of sensory input into 3D. I didn't need to see Topolobampo, I smelled it.

The food was a revelation. Maybe not so much in presentation or delivery but in depth and range of flavor profiles. Heat by god heat. I had never had a meal, ok, I need to tread carefully here cause I'm already disagreeing with myself....I had never had a meal in a restaurant of that caliber that blatantly played with heat. Classical french cooking does nothing in the matter of heat. Bad mexican restaurants show little of the matter. No fine dining meal I could recall whispered even hints of the joyous wonder, the playful, lively, pulsating, salivating goodness that is heat.

Tis why I asked which of the 3 tasting menus I should go for. One had a fantastic sounding lamb ribeye and belly dish, the third had offal and goat.......the second our server said, had heat and was named after the Michoacan state in Mexico......I don't want to go too much further. It had ups and downs but two of the best plates, scratch that...possibly the two best plates of food I have tasted in my life at least in terms of their power of revelation or epiphany in the arena of taste. Slow-poached egg and seared pork belly with roasted tomato-habanero sauce, black beans, orange-dressed pea shoot salad, rustic tostada...... Smoky walleye capped with roasty arbol chile-peanut salsa. Uchepo crumble, roasted tomato-guajillo sauce, Nichols Farm beets, wood-grilled knob onions....

If you have never tried/opened up/researched a little....true Mexican cuisine, you're an idiot. I'm sorry but the walleye dish sang like nothing I have ever tasted and you know what? It was unflinchingly simple.
Oversauced at that but I did not care. You walked into Frontera and it was warm, it was busy, it was Mexican and it offered no apologies for preconceived notions, just the hint that not just good but fantastic things were to come and they did.
Biased you may say.....well maybe. I was not thrilled with my soup course and the desserts were kind of a mess but I didn't care. Does that make sense to you? A taste, a combination of them that is so raw, new, and revelatory that it didn't matter. A new color was introduced into the world.
Then Brennan, my most favorite sister-in-law Michele, and I took a shot of highly recommended and poorly received tequila, and onto the kitchen tour. Now, now, I could go on and on. Group consensus is that Brennan and I were gone 45 minutes. All I know is that I met a fantastically enthusiastic and driven dude whose name eludes me, ask anyone... names don't sink in....but we walked the line, squeezing past cooks and service staff bustling to get out of there. Walked the back prep line, the basement mise coolers, the produce coolers, meat, fish, and ended up standing in a refrigerated room talking about farm to restaurant onions, tomatoes, and smelling dried versus smoked pasilla chilies. We talked a lot of shop. I asked a lot of weird questions. Well, weird enough that we talked for that long moving from place to place. It was again a revelation, all of it.
We did lots more. What else did I learn? That I need to go back. Next time with a gameplan and a barf bag if the L is congested and I'm wicked hungover. My wife was trying for a great 30th surprise. What I got was more than all of these words could do justice....Thanks Becca. I love you always......

Sunday, April 25, 2010

almost up to present....

I have nothing.....really. not yet anyways. Tomorrow me thinks but until then....any Netflix subscribers or internet junkies check out I Like Killing Flies. A great minikitchenmentry of a place in NYC.....if it sounds boring or you have any doubt, look at this then tell me you don't want to see the mad man behind it..... until next time.......

Friday, April 23, 2010

As The World Turns...

Where has it gone, what time is it.....too much time away. Too much to not include a recap, like in a 2 part MacGyver special. Last weekend I turned 30, started as a camping trip......then had the suprise of my life ending up in Chicago at Tapolabampo doing a tasting and a 45 minute kitchen tour then beers and burgers at the Billy Goat......I have lots of stories and lots of pics. and LOTS of food to discuss but had to finally make my way home, say goodbye to my grandpa for the last time, and work a week of specials into 2 days. But all is well and then some. The things I tasted in Chicago turned my palate sideways a notch. The short term...3 killer sauces...tomato arbol jus, tomato fennel horseradish jus, "french onion" jus.....lots of explaining to come and many words. I missed the forum....

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More Pressed Pork

Last week we got in a whole pig from North Carolina, the first step in changing some aspects of our food culture at Tomasso's.  We have been researching local farms and different breeds to try and find what works for us.  What I have really enjoyed is the fact that we get so many uses from it.  Chops, T-Bones, pressed pork belly, braised shoulder, different types of charcuterie(including our first batch of head cheese), we even ate the tongue for a snack last night.  Hopefully we keep moving forward with this, I would like to eventually get my hands on some Mangalitsa or Duroc. 

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pasta Rice Crispy

I've been playing around with some different pasta shapes lately.  This one I wanted a flat sheet so that I could basically create a brand new surface on the plate.  I did squares, rectangles, all sorts of circles.

After rolling out two even sheets, I spread toasted farro and ground local shrimp.  We crisp the sheets up with some brown butter and finish it with pea puree, radish, and sage foam.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Local Swordfish....

The local swordfish here in Charleston really is delicious, here it is getting ready to go into a hot pan for a taster. The flavor is very clean and light but at the same time you enjoy the meaty texture and richness when seared with evoo and sea salt. Finished with a basting of brown butter is the way to roll.

I decided to break it down into smaller cubes so I could make a segmented plate with tulip shaped pasta stuffed with pesto and crab meat.

After the pasta is blanched we toss it with lump crab and hazelnuts and round out the dish with lemon foam. I use the Ferran Adria Texturas recipe.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Cooking scallops is probably one of the most gratifying experiences I know. I can only eat maybe one big U10 per sitting but I could cook them till the end of the world and be content. It kills me that so many people and establishments cannot or will not cook them correctly and with care and respect. This dish needs a couple tweaks but made me happy and some guests including V.I.P. critic, the wife. Once again.....Bouillabaisse of seared scallop and shrimp, israeli couscous, golden beet, blood orange fennel broth, roasted jalapeno basil rouille. Till next time.....

Service Friday April 9th...

I've messed around with bouillabaisse from time to time, mostly when I had an abundance of fish scraps. For the new menu, I decided to revisit it and try to spin it a little more while keeping it simple. Kinda the running theme here....simple and comforting.
Pan seared diver scallop and shrimp, israeli couscous, golden beet, blood orange fennel broth, roasted jalapeno and basil rouille. I'll upload a pic when I get home tonight. Till then.......

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Butter Poached Sea Bass, truffle custard, lobster gremolata and braised shitakis

I'm still trying to feel out my new clientele to find out what sells in this restaurant. It's a little more casual of an environment than I'm used to. This one sold great. 13 out of 40 covers at 42$ a plate. Butter, lobster and truffle are usually good selling points. Not necessarilly a spring dish but it didn't seem to matter tonight.

Truffle potato custard:

1 russet potato sliced thin
1 cup truffle mousse made with chicken livers left over from the Easter buffet
1 qt. heavy cream
6 egg yolks

6 whole eggs

1 tsp. truffle oil

Bring the heavy cream, truffle mousse and sliced potato to a simmer. Cook just until the potatoes are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Blend on low until smooth. Temper the hot cream into the eggs and cool down immediately. Once the custard base is cool, pour it into your flex molds or what ever mold you'll be using. Cook in a 250 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes with a good amount of steam. If you have a combi oven, do 3 steam injections. If you don't have the luxury, put a pan on a burner until it's screaming. Just before going into the oven put a handfull of ice into the screaming pan and close the door quickly(the same technique Mike talked about when baking bread at home). That should work out for you. The steam is important because it helps the custard release from the sides of the mold and cooks it more evenly.

He's still alive

Sorry about my recent absence in participation lately. I just started a new job as the sous chef of a restaurant called the Ocean Grill on Amelia Island. My hands are full and I'm still trying to get adjusted to the changes. It's nice to be working with an old friend again(hide your printers). Thanks for bringing that story up Mike. Dale's got different ways of coping these days but that one is still a classic. Anyways, I'm excited about my new gig. There's a lot to be learned and I feel like I can make some positive changes there. Bare with me. I'm coming back.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pullin' out weeds before the heat...

What I have on my mind.....well had on my mind about a month ago when I wrote this.....

Beer actually. I think this fits in nicely. A few weeks back, after having sampled it's creations on occasion, some friends and I trekked across to the dodgy part of town to Bold City Brewery. Who knew that JAX had a brewery let alone a pretty great one at that. Friday night, I showed up late as usual, in dingy whites, to what looked like a semi abandoned warehouse. Cars were parked at random and a small crowd stood in the lot, shivering through cigarettes, in front of an open warehouse garage door. Was I at a really dull rave or some kegger gone askew? I walked on in and there sat my wife and friends at a card table in the middle of gargantuan walkins, piles of empty kegs, and stainless brewing drums. It was awesome.

At Bold City and as a newby, you are offered a free couple oz. sampler of all the brews. I went right for the stout. A pint was presented to me and a piece of paper with a penciled in slash next to pint. That's how they roll. No tabs. In the small closed-in bar, you get your fill, wander around, and turn in your paper before you leave, and pay a set amount per slash. The honor system is alive and well.

The beer is actually quite fantastic. Good stout. Becca likes the Killer Whale Cream Ale I think and my go-to is Duke's Cold Nose Brown. Truly inspiring sitting in amongst all that equipment and the totally humble scene of brewer to patron. Very cool. A family put all in on a dream and successfully created something special. After my second full round of cheesemaking, specifically havarti, it's on to beer. Pictures, notes, and cheesing/brewing diaries to come....and hopefully samples of cheeses.I said I'd do it and alas, never got past cutting and waxing. But they are aged and ready to go. Till next time....

Monday, April 5, 2010

Kitchen Tales Part 1

All I can think about is Duck Tales or that one with the bear that flew planes....Tale Spin maybe? Anywhoo, I digress yet again. Kitchen tales it is. How great a thing. Anthony Bourdain reinvented the American love affair with a subject that countless others harped about way under the radar. Namely, Peter Mayle. A Year In Provence. Really, if you have never picked up a book before but love food, give it a go. It's brilliant and authentic. It's what Paul Sorgule, my Dean @ Paul Smith's, made us read before going to France. He truly captured the heartbeat of life in that part of France and told some pretty amazing and hilarious stories along the way.
That's my point. Being in this business is great. There are lots of characters, lots of pressure, and some unreal situations when colorful people succumb to the pressure. I have lots of memories, lots of stories, some good, some bad, all very real. I'm remembering these out loud for myeslf as well as you readers cause I forget a lot and remembering is what keeps us humble and honors the past and all those who have come and gone through our lives.
But I wanted to start off with a bang. Something truly burned in my memory and too much fun not to share right off the bat. This one I'll never forget. No names or places neccessary but some of you know this one already.
I was maybe 6 months out of culinary school. I had been in the business for 6 years but had only recently had my eyes really opened through school and travel. I worked the pantry at a very busy higher end seafood restaurant. It was great exposure to volume, stress, heat, and above all else, speed. For a few weeks in the peak summer season, in the middle of service, let's say 7:15ish, the printers in the kitchen would go down. Maybe not the pantry one but always the hot side printer. It led to 20 minutes of mass chaos and the chef having to refire and reorganize based off of handwritten dups from servers whose script was not only worse than doctors but individually coded in some mix of Swahili and Navajo. It was miserable. It slowed everything down. And it wouldn't stop happening. At a large property such as this, kitchen problems of any sort, technical, equipment, etc., were by no means priority. I am reminded of a time at another restaurant that underwent a 1/2 million dollar renovation in the dining room, in the kitchen, for weeks, we used a broom handle to prop the convection oven door closed. I named it, and taped a cut out of the Quaker Oats guy to it. He was to me like Wilson was to Tom Hanks. And I digress again....
So, no printer at crunch time for weeks. It was large line. Big pantry, saute, expo, grill, fryer station. One night, chef had too much. Way too much and what ensued was one of my most memorable kitchen moments. As per usual, it got crazy. Tickets flooding in. Noise, flames, the usual. I was in the pantry slinging out apps, salads, desserts, and the system went down again. I still had a head full of orders and went about my business. All of a sudden, wires taped or faceted down began popping out, my printer disappeared from sight, more wires flew this way or that. I looked down the line in time to see the chef ripping the hot printer from the window, cords and all, barrel down the line, rip the baskets out of one of the fryers, and give said printer a bath in 350F oil. Down to Davy Jones' locker....ok, maybe Long John Silver's. He did beer batter it first! Anyways, there stood 6 cooks, dishwashers, servers all in stunned silence. It was one of those not sure whether to laugh or cry situations. He was upset to say the least. I don't recall the rest of service that night. I know that no more tickets printed up. I remember a moment of clarity in the eyes of the chef and sous. They popped the printer in the convection oven to dry out or salvage what probably wore a sticker of more than just a couple dollars. After that, french fried printer disappeared. Fancy enough, a brand new one appeared the next day.
That was good. A story told over and over again among cooks who were or were not even there. Years later, I got it. That level of stress and what it can do to you. Better crispy printers than heart attacks. Till next time.....

Orange Shrimp with Broccoli Rabe

Just playing around with this one, craving soy sauce spawned this little snack....

Phishing for summer

Short but sweet.....
Just excited that Phish is again in my life. What does it have to do with food? Well, some of the tastiest things I have eaten were in the lot at a show. Grilled cheese, burritos, goo balls.......and really, buttermilk pancakes with local maple syrup and bananas and toasted walnuts. A long time ago in a land far, far away. I lived a different way but looking back, food was always there.
I paid a bunch to do it again but it's ok. I get to show the girl I love what I've been raving about for years. I get to spend the 4th of July weekend in a crowd of amazing lunatics. And now that I'm older and over shenanigans, I get to vend.....tacos+Phish+more tacos=some much goodness. Looking forward to more posts soon.....I got 2 drafts in the works....

Friday, April 2, 2010

Braised Brisket Tortellini's

Brennan has me on this tulip shaped tortellini kick. This shape just makes using pasta more fun, it adds a second dimension by being able to not only fill the pasta.....but also the well created by the tulip shape. This guy was finished with tomato butter and finely sliced haricot vert. I also like the versatility added for small plates by this shape. Thanks bro, got any other shapes??

Braised Brisket.....Pasta Dough....Hmmmmm

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